Finding a Technologist for Your Great Idea: 5 Traps To Avoid

So you’ve got a great idea for an online/mobile/technology product/business/venture, but you’re not a technologist.

You’re the Idea Guy.

To bring your Great Idea to life, you need a Tech Guy.

Easier said than done.

Having watched and participated in this process more times than I can count, I can vouch for the fact that most Idea Guys do it wrong.

If you’re one of them, here are some traps to avoid:

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of technical effort it will take to execute your idea. First-time Idea Guys often believe that the complex, multidisciplinary exercise of building a successful technical product is the kind of thing a 22 year-old can hack out in a weekend. They hear those stories from breathless startup propaganda blogs and magazines and from tech guys who have something to sell. It’s not true. Online products take time and effort, and always require iteration after they launch. One rule of thumb: assume that your product will need at least one full revision before it’s right – so however long/expensive you think it will be, double it and you’re closer to the truth. Keep that in mind when recruiting your Tech Guy.
  • Don’t undervalue the technologist’s time or skill. Many non-technical founders bring an inherent “IT guy bias” to the table. For whatever reason they consider technologists to be tools for the execution of their vision: in many cases just a necessary evil to be tolerated. I’ve seen the non-technical founder of a four-person company end a meeting and shoo developers out of the room before discussing “business issues.” Don’t do this. A successful technologist is a partner, and the most successful are those with intimate knowledge of the business. Sure, they have a specialty – so do you – but it’s better if they know what you’re doing and vice versa. Nothing annoys a Tech Guy more than being treated like a second-class citizen, and don’t think they won’t pick up on your disrespect at your first meeting, if it’s there.
  • Don’t think that cheap coding is all you need. The skills necessary to create an online product (requirements analysis, user experience design, project management, scripting, hosting, operations, maintenance) are almost never present in a single individual, and when they are that individual is on the far end of the bell curve – with a pricetag to match. Great products can’t be created by cheap, quick coders without good strategic leadership. A bad, cheap coder can build in weeks what a good coder can do in hours, but a good technologist can sometimes engineer solutions that don’t require code at all.
  • Don’t imagine you’re all that. Ideas are the easy part: execution is hard. Most technologists get approached by Idea Guys regularly (not to mention actual employers), and most have a list of their own great ideas waiting in the wings for attention. The idea that a Tech Guy is just waiting for the right Idea Guy to walk into their lives to give it meaning is false. To stand out, you need to be the real deal, you need to be able to deliver, and you need to be willing to risk more than you’re asking from others. I’ve seen Idea Guys who refuse to quit their day jobs get offended when a technologist decides not to work indefinitely for free.Asking someone to invest their time now to earn rewards later only makes sense if those rewards are likely to materialize. And your ability to risk what it takes to make good on the business side is almost always more important than the technology. If you’re not willing to risk your money on your idea (not to mention your time), why would someone who has less to gain do so?
  • Make it a business relationship from the get-go. Yes, team chemistry and shared passion are vital to the success of any venture, but let’s be real: if a technologist is working for free or cheap, when a better offer comes along she’ll most likely take it – which means either abandoning or deprioritizing her previous commitments. This happens all the time, and leads to awkward recriminations and damaged relationships in both directions. The presence of a formal engagement and some compensation – even a small amount – makes it harder for a Tech Guy to walk away and harder for an Idea Guy to expect the moon for free.

Here’s the bottom line: technology is not a necessary evil, and finding a technologist to execute your Great Idea is not a business requirement that can be met by the first person who agrees to work for free. If you and your idea are worthwhile, you should have no problem investing in the right people to make it happen.

Michael Sattler

With a career spent in founding and technical leadership roles with new and enterprise-level organizations, Michael Sattler is a veteran in technology strategy, operations, and product management. He’s spent decades in B2B and B2C SaaS product development, software and application design, engineering operations, new venture creation, and innovation practices.

He has scaled and managed technical teams from 2-50+ across three continents, led large-scale cross-functional program management, and founded or co-founded six companies.