At the end of 2013 with two other skilled developers I cofounded Eventify, a startup providing technological services to conference organizers, whose flagship SaaS product is a web-based piece of software that aims to make the creation and management of a conference website effortless.
We knew from the beginning that growth and sales was even more crucial than coding (in fact we even took the startup class…). Although we had a rough idea of how things worked, we still ultimately failed in this process.
Despite our best efforts and intentions to sell and attract customers we didn't have great results and the fact that it was seen as more of a sideline didn't help.
This tweet perfectly illustrates one of the risks in starting a company up with technical founders.
Especially in our B2B niche, we couldn't rely on word of mouth or hope the product will sell itself or through marketing actions; every customer had to be acquired individually resulting in a major customer acquisition effort which of course needed good sales skills. Offering a high value product (in our case the average revenue per customer was definitely greater than 600 € / year) I think we could bear the high costs of customer acquisition so this wasn't the problem.
It's important to always see measurable growth in term of users and paying customers since they are the fuel for all the team; if you are not seeing it you should stop and find what you need to correct.
After our first MVP and having already a few interested customers, we should immediately have started to actively look to complement our team with other skills. Perhaps three developers in an initial team is too much for a non highly technical product, but I think it was ok since we had complementary skills and interests and weren't working full-time on this project.
If you have a great skilled and acknowledged team it should also be also easier to find other great and interested co-founders. We started this too late in the process when motivation had decreased.
I tend to not like it when salesman sell a product without any substance to it but a great technical team on the other end can achieve almost anything, the moral of the story is to start selling as early as possible.
Another important thing to acknowledge is that it is crucial to be fully involved in the business problem you are trying to solve; it'll be easier to understand the market, sell the product, create a community and engage potential customers through social networks, blog, newsletters… We were highly interested in this sector because we strongly believe in the importance of learning new things and education: conferences are a great way to spread knowledge and we had experience organizing some tech events, but I think it wasn't enough to understand our customers' needs well.
Also be prepared for a co-founder to leave, in particular try to understand what's driving your co-founders: if it's money they are after, they will easily find better opportunities, in fact doing a startup it's not the best way to make a lot of money in the short term.
I hope these notes will be useful if you are a developer and want to start your own successful company with the right co-founders.