[advice] tricking talent to join your startup

I was hoping some people on the list might give some insight from experiences. I've been developing an idea for an internet media site over the past few months, and after sounding it off everyone I can -- from friends in the VC world to friends in the entertainment industry -- I'm confident that it could be very successful. However, being a young developer just out of college living in a new place (brooklyn ny), it's been difficult to navigate the next steps. I've come to the conclusion that I definitely need a talented person to join me, however it has been more than difficult to find someone I feel comfortable sharing the idea with, never mind someone that would be willing to work without pay.

So, does anyone have any advice as to how to move from idea to development? Would it be most ideal to find an angel investor that would function as more of the CEO role, while I hire a few people and do development with them? Or should I try to find another person to help take the load off of me, develop together, then go back to the VC friends once there is a demonstrable prototype of the site? It's hard to decide the best way to do it, without risking having ideas taken and equity lost. Thanks in advance to anyone that can contribute.

best, Mojo

First things first, get over your fear of having your idea stolen. It's not that valuable, I promise. There are no new ideas, only ones that haven't been well implemented, marketed, etc.

Whether to seek an investment or work on a prototype first depends on the nature of the project. Set concrete milestones, and figure out what you need to reach them. Shoot for a working prototype to be completed in 2 months. If you know you'll need another developer to hit that deadline, find one first.

If you want to find someone to work with, you will definitely have to open up. Your sales pitch has to convince someone not only that the idea will be successful, but that you are dedicated enough to follow through on it. You need someone who will be as passionate and committed to the project as yourself, and to find them, you really can't afford to keep ideas close to the vest.

A great many of smart people have said this, starting with Einstein - ideas are worthless, it’s those that get implemented that count.

– Mitch

My two cents: - Move yourself to a low expenses place, where you can work on your next-big-thing on your own budget for about a year. - Get it to a state where it actually does something - Start building real clients for this (even though it doesn't have all the cute features you're thinking about) - Then, and only then, you can try to raise money for supporting the rest of the development.

Bottom line, if you're not ready to risk some of your own time and money getting this off the ground, it's difficult to ask someone else to do.


The title of your message concerns me... "tricking talent to join your startup"

The thing is, talent does not like to be tricked. My suggestion would be to open up and be candid with people that you would like to work with. As others on the thread have said, there are really no new ideas out there, just ideas that havent been implemented well.

A candid conversation with a potential partner is much better for long term success than creating that partnership surreptitiously.

Here's some perspective from someone who works for a startup. I can't promise you I have any talent, but I do have some perspective.

First of all, what the hell is with the "tricking talent" attitude? If we make the reasonable assumption that talented programmers are also intelligent, then (a) you probably won't be able to trick them and (b) they sure as hell won't like to feel or be tricked.

So, that's your first major problem. The second one is in finding someone who you feel "comfortable sharing the idea with." I've talked to a bunch of people over the past few years who have a cool idea, and want me to work on it with them, but won't give me any details. A few have even asked me to sign an NDA before they shared anything! (to give you a hint, the proper response to that sort of an NDA is the middle finger). I know you think you have a cool idea, and it probably is. The thing is, ideas really aren't worth anything. It's only the implementation and execution that has any real value. I think Paul Graham wrote an article about this. It's good, google it. Hopefully this will put things in perspective for you.... you've got this great idea, and are spending all this time and energy trying to get it started. You really believe in it and love it. Yet it's all this work and you still haven't gotten it going. So do you really think some random ass dude is going to be like, "omg what a fantastic idea I'm totally going to steal this" and 5 years from now you're thinking, "fuck I could have gotten rich but he stole my idea." No, it won't happen. If you, the main supporter of this idea, hasn't been able to work up the motivation to really get it going then it's absurdly unlikely that someone else will after having an hour chat with you. Bottom line is it's a tooooon of work, and the initial idea represents such a tiny part so as to be almost inconsequential to the success.

So, with that said, here's how you get people on board. You have to be really really really excited about what you're doing and convince people it WILL be successful. The catch is that we all know statistically that 99% of businesses fail (9 out of 10 in the first year, and then 9 out of 10 in the first 5 years). So, yeah, it's hard. Get over it.

When I was talking with my current employer (before I got hired), I asked them how long they had been doing this. Three guys had quit their jobs out of the blue and had been doing this WITHOUT PAY FOR TWO YEARS. I can't tell you how attractive that was to me. It's one thing to say "hey I should start a company" and quite another to say, "fuck it, I'm starting a company and that's how I'm going to eat." These are guys that believe in what they're doing, know what they want, and are going to do whatever it takes to get it. That's how you avoid the 9/10 that fail in the first year (but doesn't say anything about the first 5 years :P)

What's interesting, to me, is that this is really still just an employee's perspective (#2). I don't have huge stock options, I've gotten a paycheck from day 1, etc. But I was still wary of working for a company that might go belly up in a few months. I can't even imagine what it must be like to attract a founder.

It's going to take a ton of work. The main point of all this is that you have to get behind your idea 100%. If you don't, then it'll be impossible to get anyone else behind it even 1%.


Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate it. I was actually joking with the title, I didn't think people would take it so seriously, so I apologize for being misleading.

Anyways, more background on where I'm at. I quit my hedge fund job and have been working full time on this, but it's been increasingly clear that attempting to do absolutely everything from meeting with investors, lawyers, music execs, etc while starting the design and programming is just too much for me to do myself. Unfortunately my connections are limited as far as development talent goes, so I guess my question was supposed to be more of "what are some experiences in finding a technical co-founder" rather than sounding naive, which I guess I came across as. I'm fully 100% behind my idea and indeed have shared it with many people -- however I've been getting a lot of "sounds great, tell me when it's done" comments, especially from investors.

So I'm in a tight spot where the idea is in a market that is huge and rapidly expanding (internet media and advertising -- probably my focus segment is worth around $20-30 billion and growing rapidly), and the concept is for a product to compete with every music/media distributer around, from Sony/BMG to iTunes and Amazon. The industry is into it, and I am confident I can pull major partnerships and contracts through my contacts. I guess the problem is that this is a huge project with limited resources and time, in an industry that is trying to fix itself and find the next big thing. Do I just go out and try to get some seed capital to do this first, or do I try to find another young, talented hacker and go back out and shop around once things are more tangible? I'm putting a lot of weight into every decision I make right now, because I feel that it is a crucial time in the development of the company, and I have to be very deliberate with each of my steps in order to avoid that awful startup failure rate that hangs over all new companies. I think I know my answer, but I of course would love to hear input from experienced people.

Thanks again, Mojo