In search of a CTO, what information to share?


4

We are actively looking for a co-founder/CTO. Tomorrow we are going to our first Meetup event to start meeting people and shmooze. As of now we have a wireframe 95% complete, but we have only shared the idea with a few of our close friends and family, as we are carefully protecting it.

Question: What is just the right amount of information to share, without giving away the whole concept?

There is one piece to our puzzle thats extremely important, and really, its that piece that will make us successful...but its the one piece that should be held privately for now. So how do I generate interest, yet keep the best part to ourselves?

Also, should I request an NDA before showing of the wireframe and our main idea?

CTO

asked Jun 28 '12 at 14:54
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Derek
164 points
  • Please [read the FAQ](http://answers.onstartups.com/faq) to avoid posting overly broad, subjective questions in the future. – Dnbrv 8 years ago
  • I had a feeling I was going to get down voted on this one. On my behalf only half the question was overly broad. lol – Derek 8 years ago
  • As the NDA question is concise and easily answered. As for the rest of the question I agree, but we will start meeting people tomorrow and Id really like to get some helpful input if possible. I will try to post better questions in the future...promise! :) – Derek 8 years ago
  • This seems like a reasonable question to me. I'm sure a concern many co-founders have had. – Ekoostik Martin 8 years ago
  • Are you presenting at the Meetup? Or just plan to show the wireframe to an individual after the schmoozing generates interest? – Ekoostik Martin 8 years ago
  • Look, 1 good idea is nothing much. I have 50 very good ideas every day, I tell everyone about it, some people use it, some are laughing, some make money, some silly guys thinking they have stolen something. The fact is, nobody pays for the idea, so you dont need to tell anything. There will be lots of dummy CTOs who will just be sitting and watching as you do your job. – Andrew Smith 8 years ago
  • @EkoostikMartin...thank you. I guess each of us will give just a small presentation telling about our idea, but not too in depth. I would like to give enough info to make it compelling, then talk to a few CTO types after. Maybe even showing them the wire frame. Im wondering, when showing to a coder if I should have them sign a NDA first? – Derek 8 years ago
  • @Andrew. Thank you for your input. This is more then just an idea now. We have spent the last 6 months designing it, and it is almost completely wireframed. I know that there are many people that say that you shouldnt worry about theft, but the fact is...it does happen from time to time. I dont mind telling people about it, but to me, if someone is going to steal the idea, it would be someone who can build it. I.E. a coder. I know everyone thinks there idea is 'the one"...but this one is! :) – Derek 8 years ago
  • Thanks for the edit on this. Much better. – Derek 8 years ago
  • The fact is, that in long-term, the idea doesnt matter, but the way the business is managed does. The good idea is good but only for the good start to gain some little interest. And the first and last thing about good idea is to tell others about it without being afraid somebody will steal it. This is the way to run the process, to improve, to deploy and to sell. You need to share it. And design is the same phase as the idea itself. From that you should move to implementation, and then to scalability (like support) and then to selling, and with the customer feedback go back to designing. – Andrew Smith 8 years ago

4 Answers


3

I would give a definite yes on the NDA before showing the wireframes and discussing more details. I am a software developer myself, and have been approached several times by potential startup founders with ideas. They have always asked me to sign an NDA, and I never hesitated.

As far as how much to reveal, in your group presentations, I would say just enough to tease/entice. Be prepared though with your approach to take if people start asking specific followup questions before signing the NDA. You don't want to get super defensive and turn them off, but you also want to protect the details of your idea and the work you have put into it so far.

A question for you, more big picture, but why do you think you need to go the co-founder CTO route, and not just hire a salaried lead engineer/architect (with profit sharing or small amount of vested equity)? There are many more risks in the former, especially if you and your cofounders are not technical.

answered Jun 29 '12 at 03:24
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Ekoostik Martin
171 points
  • Thank you...great answer. Thats pretty much what I was thinking. I just feels good to have that confirmation. – Derek 8 years ago
  • As far as your question. We MAY still go that route, but we decided that it would be better if we had someone with a little more skin in the game. This is not going to be an easy, or small project. Money was also a defining factor. – Derek 8 years ago
  • Understood, so a followup question (don't take this the wrong way). What makes you think you and your cofounders are capable of picking a qualified (technically) CTO? – Ekoostik Martin 8 years ago
  • Also, I think it will be easier when we seek funding to have a technical partner. – Derek 8 years ago
  • No THATS a great question. And I dont take it the wrong way. Ive read so many articles about this. One by Paul Grahamn that pretty much says you cant without being a great coder yourself. I think the best answer that I can give is just doing our do diligence. Checking references, asking around about them, looking at work they have already done, and so on. Im VERY open to any advice on this. – Derek 8 years ago
  • I would consider hiring an advisor to help you conduct comprehensive technical interviews. Perhaps you know a talented software developer yourself (but not someone for this CTO/cofounder role). A couple thousand dollars invested in this process could be a huge benefit. – Ekoostik Martin 8 years ago
  • Thats a great idea. Thank you very much for your input. Very appreciated! If your from the Sacramento area...lets talk. lol – Derek 8 years ago
  • I'm in FL, but I wouldn't mind connecting, if for nothing else than networking opportunities :) Any idea how to share contact info on here without broadcasting it? – Ekoostik Martin 8 years ago
  • @Derek please accept EkoostikMartin's answer if you think it is great so everyone else would know you get it answered. – Pdjota 8 years ago

2

If it were me you were trying to shomooze,

I would want to know :

  • Problem you are going to address
  • Where you think the money is going to come from. (Ads, Users, buyout etc)
  • Addressable Market size, don't say millions of people, say we think we get to 3,000 in the first few months.
  • Your expected growth pattern (1, 3, 6 and 12 months) how many users, how much money.
  • Say you have a first cut on the screen designs and you would like their opinion after you sign an NDA.

I wouldn't worry too much about them stealing your idea, technical partners have a lot of options and there is far more to addressing a space than simply some wireframes.

Things like marketing, sales, business management and all the things the tecnical guy is less likely to know about or be able to do without you, much like you can't develop withoput them ... It is partnership because no one can do it on their own.

Any good CTO will already be able to fill in 80% of your wireframes after a little discussion assuming they know your space, and a week later after some research if they don't. If you have wireframes already a technical partner may want to redo a reasonable amount because they will know stuff you don't and the negotation is the bit your hiring them for.

What they should ask you :

  • What is the business model?
  • How is the company structured?
  • What is the revenue model? and then say have you considered X, Y and Z as alterntatives.
  • What are you offering me? Shares and pay. The answer should normally be milestones aceheved, you get more of your shareholding up till the total amount (around 20%)
  • How much say to do I get in the process? Do I get to build my own team? etc.

If they dive off into technical stuff like hosting on Amazon or Azure using .NET, JAVA or Ruby, then this is an indicator they know their tech but don't understand business at all. Your risk here is them going off to develop horizontally scalable, self-replicating, auto-healing architecture.

You need to make a call about can you work with someone if you can't communicate to them.

Really, you want someone who will challenge your ideas, make you think about alternatives but be gracious in defeat if you still want to stick to your vision.

Good luck.

answered Jun 29 '12 at 11:27
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Robin Vessey
8,394 points
  • @Robin...Your post was incredibly insightful. So much great info that I almost wish I could ask you to explain yourself more! Thank you. – Derek 7 years ago
  • Hey glad I could help, find me on linked in and we can take it from there. – Robin Vessey 7 years ago

1

Regarding evaluating a potential technical co-founders skills - find someone you trust who can do that evaluation for you and have them interview your candidate once you find them. One of the people I reached out to in my networking made the offer to do the interview for me. It was a great idea and a great offer.

answered Jun 29 '12 at 14:28
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Steve D
318 points
  • I think thats great advice. Thank you! – Derek 7 years ago

0

Alternative view - many people put too much value in the "idea" (google "ideas are worthless" and you'll see lots of posts like this one published in inc.

I wouldn't feel too comfortable signing an nda and exposing myself to a non-compete suit (and associated legal expenses) just to have a potential conversation.

An oreillynet post in 2005 declared that "The most brilliant idea with no execution is worth $20". I'd say that Lawsuits are more expensive than that.

You have mockups, why not just push through and create a MVP and get customer feedback? Then you can validate your concept idea and then determine what the next steps are. Get a freelance developer to create the prototype if necessary. There's a bunch of posts here about how to find developers.

Do you really need a CTO? There are definitely times to have one - but pre-funding / shoestring budget + no prototype may not be the best time to "hire" one (and no, there are too many "work for equity" jobs out there in companies further along that makes "work for free" programs not worth the time).

(Note: I'm not antiCTO - I've been one for several funded startup companies now. But CTO doesn't equate to "Cheaper Than Outsourcing" or "flashy titled developer that lives on a ramen budget & works for equity". )

answered Jul 10 '12 at 05:39
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Jim Galley
9,952 points

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