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Am I considered "technical"?

I am starting my third company, and in the process of doing so, I meet investors. They seem to be all caught up in whether a startup has a technical co-founder. Ok. So what makes a person technical?

Here's some info about me. You be the judge.

  • I have worked for software and internet companies for 18 years.
  • I have built web sites.
  • I am starting my third company.
  • My business partners build the web architectures for the businesses I dream up.
  • I've successfully launched technical products for mobile and web in the US and Internationally.
  • I do the rest of the work.
  • I have a Github account.
  • I've built my own gaming PCs.

But I may be taking the question too literally when asked "Are you technical?"

  • I don't code, but I can read code well enough to copy/paste it.
  • I've worked on command line editors like emacs and vi, but it's not my forte.

Or should I just lighten up and answer "Yes" when asked?

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closed as too localized by Jim G., Walter, World Engineer, GlenH7, Robert Harvey Nov 28 '12 at 6:41

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I would say, yes. –  Monster Truck Nov 28 '12 at 0:42
I think you misunderstood the point of the question. They're asking whether all the founders are business people who just hired others to do the actual coding work. For example, going by the film The Social Network, Facebook had one technical founder and one nonetechnical founder. –  user16764 Nov 28 '12 at 2:47
Wait, what's the github for if you can't write code? –  Erik Reppen Nov 28 '12 at 3:31
The word "technical" has a lot of meaning used in this context. –  KyelJmD Nov 28 '12 at 5:14
@ErikReppen: Versioning your dotfiles would be one reason. –  ThiefMaster Nov 28 '12 at 12:43

6 Answers 6

"I don't code ..."

No, you are not technical. You may be a great many good things, but if the product is code and you don't code you are not technical in this context.

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exactly that. if you don't code, you have to pay others to code. therefore, you're not the one making it work. –  Javier Nov 28 '12 at 3:13
Yes, but what problem is he solving, and what do investors consider "technical?" –  Erik Reppen Nov 28 '12 at 3:41
Like I said, the word context can be used a lot of ways in his context. –  KyelJmD Nov 28 '12 at 5:15
Programming is a small subset of activities that are considered technical to an investor. Using this measure of "technical" means you have limited business skills and no investor will interested. –  mattnz Nov 28 '12 at 20:44
@mattnz: You can down vote if you like, but that wasn't his question. Potential investors apparently are hung up on having a technical co-founder of a web/code startup. He wants to know if he can claim to be that, but he can't, not really. If he tries to do that and there is just one person on the investors' side who is technical (and they probably will have someone there who is), then a) they will call him on it, and b) they will walk. Trying to fake being technical in the presence of a genuine techie doesn't work. Not ever. –  Peter Rowell Nov 28 '12 at 21:59

I would say that you have a technical background (since you have proven that you possess the skills in the past), but that your current job is non-technical (since you don't currently use those skills in your job).

How you answer depends on what you feel the questioner is asking about.

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When speaking with your investors, ask them what their expectation is in terms of a technical co-founder. You may find that the investors:

  1. don't really know what they mean because they are relying on advice they read in a business magazine.
  2. think that they know what they mean, but are hoping you are more technically clued in than they are so that they feel confident that someone in the company will know what they are doing.
  3. have a very clear understanding of the requirements of at least one of the company founders being technically competent in the field in which the business is to operate.

The thing is, what do you mean by technical? Is it knowledge of the problem domain, or knowledge about how to apply technology to solve the problem? These are the sorts of questions you should be trying to elicit answers for from your investors.

If there is one thing that gives an investor confidence, it's that they will be able to ask and answer questions in relation to the company they are investing in. This is particularly true of the early investor in a start-up, because these are the types of people who don't just want to feed money into the company, but to have a participation in how the company will develop, even if only silently. This requires establishing a relationship with your investors which allows them to feel valued by having something to contribute, but also confidence that you will work hard to understand their needs and to communicate with them clearly about such things.

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I think it's reasonable to tell investors you're technical. I wouldn't try to convince programmers though. Especially client-side web devs who know you mean Drupal or something equally horrifying when you say you've built sites without really knowing how to code.

But I wouldn't be offended if you were establishing tech credentials with investors to get some cash for a startup venture I was an early participant in and I don't think they'd take it as misleading if they had all the facts in hand. Hell, I'd encourage you to do so.

Unless you suddenly and unexpectedly insisted we start doing everything with Drupal. Then I'd probably just hate you no matter what. But you wouldn't do that to me because we're both technical, right?

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Maybe they are wondering if you have the ability to lead a technical team. If you are a co-founder, I would imagine you'd be working in an executive capacity should your company grow enough to hire several developers or designers. Would you feel comfortable leading them?

If you don't picture your company's staff growing significantly, you might end up being the most technically-minded one on your team. Depending on what your product is, that might not be a problem.

They may also want to know that they have someone who will stay current with technology.

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All successful start ups have a businessman and a geek in partnership. The investors are trying to determine which one you are. It is likely you have come across as a competent businessman, and they are wondering where or who the geek is. It is very common for start ups, when sourcing investment, to keep the geek hidden from view, as we all know the the best are socially inept.

Maybe that is going a bit too far..... but the gist is they are really probing to find out what they are looking at, and what the dynamics are. Based on this, the correct answer it the truth. Tell them what you do, and what any other key people or organizations do for you, and who holds the key(s) to unlocking the value in the business. Show them you have planning in place and their investment is on solid ground, both business and technically.

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