Why I don’t think you need a coder as a cofounder

I read a post on TechCrunch today where the author claims that you can’t start a new company unless you can write code. I disagree.

I started my tech career as a computer operator at a bank and later worked at AOL during the mid 90’s where I built my first website in 1996 as the first Technical Account Manager in Europe – my team helped to launch technologies and clients such as AIM, 56K modem speed, Internet Radio, Games, integrate browsers and more. I also built some very complex applications using one of the first ecollaborative technologies in a RAD environment when ecollaboration was a new term in 1999.  Yet, I write this post as a non-coding founder as I don’t have the ability to write a single line of code that’s meaningful to our company. I designed this blog by editing the CSS but that’s the extent of my code writing (exactly, that’s not writing code). Since then, my career has led me down a fantastic path, made up of both technical and non-technical roles across the Internet and mobile industries and later, the mobile web. I’m one of the seven original founders of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative and helped to write some of the compliance specification, yet I don’t posses the ability to write the code for a site that would work on both desktop and mobile browsers.

TechCrunch and many bloggers and indeed investors, believe that you must have a cofounder who can write code. This isn’t true. However, as a founder, you must posses the following:

  1. Ability to hire the best coder possible
  2. Ability to motivate the coder so they can work to the best of their ability
  3. Ability to ensure that the coder is motivated and working in a comfortable environment
  4. Ability to measure the performance of the coder, helping them to understand and take advantage of their strengths and feel ok telling you their weaknesses so you can support them
  5. Have a backup plan to ensure that another coder can take over should the original coder leave the project at a moments notice to ensure continuity of product development
  6. Ability to hire the best coder possible to take over when point 5 comes into play

My most recent experience with MetaCert is relevant too as we are closing a series A round and our investors see the strength of the team, yet the founder doesn’t have the ability to write code. At MetaCert our main coder Kamrul, sadly left us after 5 years of R&D. Everything was backed up and well documented. As a result, there was minimal disruption to the development of our crawling and labeling platform when we hired Paraschos, another awesome coder. What happens if Paraschos leaves? Hopefully he won’t. But if he does, everything is well documented so we would hire another coder to take over. After writing this post I will revisit point 3 to ‘help’ ensure Parschos stays with us until we’ve managed to launch our kids browser for the iPad and beyond.

Giving a title of cofounder to a coder just because you think it’s necessary is all about ego. A non-founding coder run over by a bus as TechCrunch puts it, is equally damaging to a company than if the coder was a founder – it makes absolutely no difference.

Note: if you don’t notice at least one typo you’ll know I’ve hired a ghost writer 🙂

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