There was a great question posted on Hacker News last week asking what a non-technical person can bring to a start-up. I contributed the following, succinct answer:
Companies need capital and product and customers. Figure out which ones the rest of your team aren’t bringing and bring it.
First, it is important to note what a start-up is. A start-up is the first stage of company formation. All of the effort is focused on figuring out the core business elements: Who do we sell to? How do we market it? What are we creating? How do we protect it? Is it a big enough opportunity? Is there a big problem we are solving? If we can successfully answer these questions than we exit the start-up stage with a repeatable process and are able to grow the business.
The more I have thought about that simple answer — capital, product and customers is all a start-up needs — the more I like it. (Patting myself on the back :-)) What I am particularly pleased with is how this focuses all attention during this phase on the core elements: How do we pay for this time period? What are we selling? Who has a problem big enough that they are willing to pay for it?
This simple statement is not only focusing on what needs to be done but on the kinds of people that should be considered, too. Those who should work with early stage start-ups are those that bring capital or product or customers (or a combination thereof). Those who can bring these elements in abundance are founders; others are advisors or future employees once the growth stage begins.
I am working on a couple of new products here at Infinity Softworks, any of which could be spun off into a new company. As I think about starting these new businesses, this simple framework has focused me tremendously on what needs to be done and who should be involved to make it happen.