So my question is: Is the non-technology founder of a successful software as a service start up usually between the ages of 35 and 50 with lots of experience? If so, should I use their career development as a template for my development? Additional Info (why I'm asking the question):
I'm about to market a software as a service product that I built, but this will be an entirely new challenge for me because my training by default is software development, not business and marketing. I've been a software developer for about 8 years. I left my full time job 3 years ago and became a freelancer because I love programming and wanted more challenging projects. Over the past 3 years, I focused on my strength and passion: programming and hiring/training new software developers to help me with programming.
Recently, I started studying the team profiles of other successful SAAS businesses. I noticed that within most of these start up teams, there's usually at least one individual who's not a product developer (neither a programmer or graphic designer) and :
a) has formed strong relationships with many important people who can further his business/vision (or people he can sell to)
b) is generally between the age of 35 and 50
When comparing myself to the individual mentioned, I often wonder if I am "too young" and in-experienced in business to make my SAAS business a financial success. I wonder if it will take at least 5-10 more years to form the necessary strong strategic relationships with influential people to further any ideas I have. I'm coming to a very difficult realization that I might have to stop coding, and to leave that to my team because that's what I taught them to do. And now I need to start learning how to market my business and build meaningful relationships with the right people...this is scary because I've never studied how to do this, and not sure how long it would take to ramp up.
In the past, I've made the mistake of partnering with other people who I thought were more business-minded to take care of the marketing and business side of things. Each time, the business failed because these individuals failed. Now I'm reluctant to let anyone else lead my business other than me or the people I've trained on my team.
Age is a factor is you are customer facing, if you try to raise funds, if you deal (physically) with other people, but if you build a consumer self-service product who cares how old you are. I say it's irrelevant. When you go online and look for a product or service, do you look at the founders to see how old they are or what they have done? Not unless you are committing a large sum of money and you want to make sure the company will still be here in a few years. Just put your self in the shoes of your customers, and think about their buying process (if you effectively sell something), often time you will realize that it doesn't matter. The product quality does.
Regarding business partners, it is a never ending discussion, of finding the right partner. You will certainly need some marketing/biz dev skills in your team which will accelerate your development, but during the early days of your business, it might not be as critical because you are building the product. It seems to me that you should build something you really love, quickly test it and refine it with a few beta customers and business partners will come. It's interesting that you have a hard time finding a business partner, usually it's the other way around!
One key point in choosing: Find someone with which you have very strong personal affinity, someone you get along with without a single doubt in your head. It's better to loose a few months in the beginning to find the right person, that spend a few years trying to recover from a bad choice. go meet people in Business schools maybe, meet, dine, go out, do personal stuff to really know the person. Then it's easy to structure a deal with milestones as a test drive.
I don't want to be blunt, but as a technical co-founder you will need to let go of certain decisions, if you build a business, decisions will have to be made that drive the product roadmap, positioning, partnerships and strategy. You have to realize that the product is not your baby but a tool to grow the business. I'm not saying the product is not important, but what is really important? The fact that you build the product you dream of, or to have a successful business, sometimes the two don't go together.. you have to accept that fact to, to a reasonable extend of course, because if you start not liking what you build, then you have a problem to. One important thing: listen to the customers, test against your customers, talk to your customers..
First, don't leave your passion. If you love (or L.O.V.E) programing - stick to it. True, from business point of view, you'll make more money because what counts is who's brining the big fish!
Second, age is an issue (unfortunately) clients like to know that they made the right decision, that they actually put the confidence with someone with experience and who's reliable. If you're in your early 20's - they're unlikely to choose you.
Lastly, don't try to be part of the statistics; if you want to move to SaaS - just do it. You'll make mistakes (like your partnership) but hey... you have something that many people don't have: you know what you want.
Actually, a very common idea is that startup founders are typically a couple of dudes or dudettes in their twenties sitting in a garage...
No, you do not need to have a cofounder with grey hair and "important business connections" (which almost always turn out to be unimportant).
It helps a lot if some or all of the founders are very closely matching the target audience for the startup. That is, if you're selling something for hip people in their early twenties, then being one of those yourself will provide an important native understanding of what your target audiences likes & dislikes.
Thus, if you're planning on selling to large enterprises, then having worked in one yourself and obtaining a MBA degree may help. And vice versa, if you're not targeting large enterprises then grey hair and MBA degrees don't matter much.
Being smart, getting things done, and having broad experience is always good. So all things being equal, being a bit older and having life experience has its benefits, of course. And its drawbacks too, mainly that you can't pull crazy all-night work marathons as when you were twenty...
All successful startups - actually all companies - are a function of good product development and marketing.
Sometimes it's as simple as having a single developer blog about their work. Sometimes it's a whole team of developers and marketing people.
The bottom line is that you need to build both product and an audience. If you're not good at both, you need a partner - regardless of your fears and past experiences.
The upside is that this time you're likely to pick a much better person, assuming you learned some lessons before.