Do I really need a technical co-founder?
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon at home relaxing with my family. My in-laws were coming over for dinner later. My phone rang, and I noticed it was “Julius”, our new VP Engineering, calling. Julius had been with us for about one month and he seemed to meshing well with the team.
“Hi Julius, what’s going on?”
“Uh Brett, I don’t know how to tell you this…..but I don’t want to continue being VP Engineering anymore.”
The words didn’t register for a minute.
“Brett, are you there?”
“Yes,” I said. “You want to what?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m just too burned out to continue. It was wrong of me to ever accept the job in the first place.”
Everything stopped. In the next couple of seconds I went through several calculations.
- We had already started raising money, so what do we tell interested investors?
- What do I tell my other co-founders about Julius?
- Where on earth am I going to find a new VP Engineering?
- Was there a way that I could keep Julius working with me?
You’ll find it really difficult to raise VC funding without a technical co-founder.
My heart rate spiked. First things first, I had to deal with Julius. I decided that I would play for time and ask Julius if he would agree to help us in the interim until I found a replacement.
My doorbell rang. It was my in-laws of course. I just opened the door and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m trying to save my company right now.”
Blossom was in the shower, so I just told my in-laws to watch TV, and I kept speaking with Julius.
It took over an hour, but he eventually agreed to keep helping us in the interim. One down, three issues to go.
I decided I would tell my other cofounders what was going on during our Monday meeting. Their reaction was positive. “What can we do to help?” That’s what I heard.
We had a few investors that were moving forward with us. I scheduled calls with all of them, so they knew what was going on.
Each investor thanked me for my candor. If only I could tell you they said they would keep going with us because two of the three told me to come back when I had a new VP Engineering.
One investor, Gill, decided to keep going with us. The rest of the possible investors dumped us.
No matter how good your company might be, you need to find your technical co-founder to close your funding.
I immediately started interviewing potential replacements for Julius. However, I wasn’t meeting anyone that was wowing me, so I kept looking.
At the same time, we kept meeting with potential investors. The same question kept coming up, “Who’s running engineering?” My answer was always the same, “I’m looking for a cofounder, VP Engineering, but I’m running engineering in the interim.”
The investors would say (if they liked our story), “Come back when you have the role filled.”
And, of course, bad luck being bad luck, the economy was going in the tank, so finding another investor was getting more difficult. Right around August, I was introduced to another investor named Jack.
Jack was a very well known VC who really liked our story. Again we heard a similar refrain, but it was a little different this time, “I really want to invest, and I’m somewhat comfortable with you running engineering. However, I think I’ll wait until you at least are interviewing someone I like.”
When you find a great technical co-founder, investors will see your team as complete.
Finally our luck changed. Then it changed a little more. I met for coffee with Jeroen in Santa Clara.
I knew Jeroen from Maxim, where we had both worked. He was managing a fairly large team of engineers, so I knew his experience was spot on.
Everything just clicked with Jeroen. Jeroen loved the company’s vision, and he was excited by the prospect of building a company. Plus, he was disillusioned at Maxim, so the timing was perfect.
We arranged to meet again, and I arranged for Jeroen to meet with the other founders and Gill. Everyone felt that Jeroen was going to be great in the role.
I excitedly sent Jack an email telling him Jeroen had joined us as VP Engineering. I attached a copy of Jeroen’s resume. Jack wrote back instantly saying, “This looks good. I’ll contact Gill about putting together a deal.”
That was all it took. Having a great VP Engineering as a co-founder made life so much easier for us. We had significantly reduced the risk from our investors perspective.