Starting a High Tech Business: Getting Started


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I’m starting a new business called Kynetx. As I go through some of the things I do, I’m planning to blog them. The whole series will be here. This is the ninth installment. You may find my efforts instructive. Or you may know a better way—if so, please let me know!

Today I got a cold call at my office that essentially went like this: "I read you blog and would like to tell you my business idea and get your opinion on it." I said that I had a few minutes to listen and so the guy launched into a description.

Actually, that's not quite accurate. The first thing he did was say that he didn't think that I'd want to sign an NDA and that he wasn't inclined to ask for one. Good thing. When people ask me to sign an NDA, I always say "no." Like I'm going to keep track of dozens, even hundreds of NDAs and who said what when. There's not enough time in the world. So, he was right and scored points with me right off.

His idea was an interesting one, if I'm being honest and I told him a few places where it intersected with some other trends I saw and thought were important. He then asked "how do I get started?"

My first instinct was to tell him to build a demo, but then I remembered something even more fundamental than that.

I asked what his background was. "Media," he says. Uh oh. Not that there's anything with media types, but how's he going to build a demo. I told him he needed a CTO and why.

"Can you recommend some people who might be my CTO?" he asked. Nope. I can't. I asked him if he thought he'd see much action from a list of folks I recommended he call and asked for money. He understood that this wasn't the best way to raise money; when you're asking people for an investment, they need to trust you--especially at this stage. That's why friends and family are the most likely investors in your early stage start up (if you don't have a plane to sell).

I explained that anyone he asks to work with him on his idea will be making a huge investment of time and commitment--especially on the margin. They need to trust you. They need to feel your passion for the idea. They need to believe that spending the next three to six years with you 14 hours a day will be fun.

This is why successful founding teams have usually worked with each in the past, gone to school with each other, or are otherwise friends. That's not always the case, but it often is. Collaborations among strangers just aren't likely to happen without a pretty significant bonding first.

Every founding team needs to have a technical member. I've seen more ideas killed by ignorance of this fact than I care to remember. I told my newfound friend to look to his friends, co-workers, and old classmates to see if he couldn't find someone to be the technical yang to his marketing yin.

Once he's got the technical founder, he can get a demo working--that will make people believe it's real. After that, you're on your way.