What to look for in a tech cofounder? - with Philip Camilleri
FoundersList Podcast

Full episode transcript -


Welcome to the Founders List Podcast. The official podcast of Founders list dot com plates for founders and entrepreneurs to connect, find potential co founders, relevant events, business partners and search vetted service providers to help build their businesses. And now here's your host, Christopher Kim. When Welcome to Episode three of the founders of this podcast, I'm here this week with Philip Camel. Eerie. Now Philip is the founder of Founders List. But besides that, he was the co founder and CTO of Smart Asset, which is one of the biggest consumer facing Fintech portals out there. And he's here today to share his wisdom about finding a technical co founder and what it takes to do the job. Now Philip is from the island of Malta. Something we share in common is that we're both from Islands Me from Hawaii and and Phillip from Malta. We've both been all over the world, but I'll that fill it, fill you in on the rest.


Sure, well, firstly, Chris, thanks for taking the time to do this quick background into myself. I've been tinkering around with tech and computer since as long as I can remember, but on the entrepreneurs side at say, I remember as a kid. We were some reason locked out of school of a long story. But my brother and I ended up selling herbs from our garden just to keep busy during the day, some time in high school as well, or university. I started a small theater company with some friends moved on to create the university newspaper. So I guess I'd say I've always had an interest in entrepreneurship. Essentially, though, after university,

I joined a company called I Will, which was a business incubator. Nothing. There are gonna be more of a grounding in building startups. But after that I moved up to the UK and I think at that point I needed to. The corporate world started working for its investment banks, but then, I guess sometime around 2000 data, So I started getting the itch to start something again. Andi. Thankfully, in 2010 I met Michael, who ended up being my co founder in my most recent startups more, That's it. And we grew that essentially from zero to basically where this today, which is pretty successful company, every one of the best known spin tech consumer information pulled those around.


So before starting Smart asset, you were basically working as an employee and an investment bake and co founding. A start up is a lot different from working as an employee, isn't it? Be


honest, are it's a co founded. A start up is anything but like a normal job. I mean, just being in a place where essentially you don't really have a bus, you are the boss. You and your co founder or co founders are running things, setting deadlines, setting targets, at least for me. I don't say like Professor you months of running the start up. We're probably the most shocking Andi Unusual time of my life.


So in that early start of phase, everything is kind of chaotic and ephemeral. It's very important that your co founder in yourself are on the same page and working toward the same goal. And I think personality fit probably plays into that quite a bit. Can you tell me a little bit about how personality effects decisions and finding a co founder? So this is


this is probably a really interesting question, but lots of folks starting businesses or startups are are asking themselves finding a techo found Berries? Yes, one of the hardest things to do. Many folks say it's like it's like dating. So I would generally advise people looking for tech co founders to look for individuals. Obviously, who they connect with. They definitely believe in the same idea. Are very enthusiastic about the project until your tech co founder needs to be your biggest advocate, your talk promoted if they don't believe 100 and 1% in what you're spending, and it's gonna be very hard for them to really be a valuable co founder. Other than that, though, I'd say Tech co founder needs to have the skills to really work independently as a tech co founder and CEO of a startup. There's nobody overseeing. There were is nobody managing what they're doing.

They are ultimately responsible for everything, So you need to be able to, firstly, to trust that they know what they're doing on. Believe that or understand that they can get things done to completion. I would do anything as a tackle. Farmers, you need to have a personality that's a bit probably bit crazy, being able to work from the highs and lows of a starter. If you talk about four grand startup curve, there's many. There's many highs that many, many more low is as well. Dilemma. Start that, Andi.

If you don't really believe in what you're building on the potential success of that product, those lows can really bring you down and hamper your work. So you're techo family needs to be somebody who either can work through those or can work with you to. And if power through those nose another. I think about a thing of the tech of amorous finding someone who is collaborative linger, start up Tech Starter is a straight situation is that you don't have lots of folks around. You don't have a lot of supporting team members. So both you and your co founder need to be able to really be on the same page, understand what she's building and work collaboratively to get things done.


Getting things done is important. Skills are important, but it's not really just about the coding and skills, though, is it?


Yeah, Chris, far from its I would want to say your tech co founder needs to be a jack or Jane of all trades and got one person. Essentially, when you started, what's you and your co founder or maybe co found this? But essentially a tech co founding needs to be able to do, if not everything, almost everything on the tech side that might be picking the right tools. The right technologies planning for the future, of course, but also bearing in mind that you've got to be extremely frugal and efficient when you're in your very early days because otherwise started for out of money. So casing points. One of the company's I'm advising right now is in the pre seed stage, and they're planning to bring on against two develops on a D. A. On my big piece of advice was,

that's going to massively increase your burn rates. Is that something you really right now, or is this something you're a tech co founder can take on? It is a lot of stuff to take on, but that is the role of a tech co founded. Being able to get things done with as little, I guess, budgets as quickly as possible in order to get a company moving forward.


And I think that's an interesting point right there, because a lot of things can be done really cheaply. But also, if you're not looking like the budget for tools and developers, it all kinds of outsourced projects could really add up really


fast. Yeah, for sure. When we started Smart ass it back in 2010 I guess I came from a background where I was tried to be a scrupulous possible. So using things that are either three open source for had very low cost. Four early states started to me that was always a bit of, ah, keep book. It's in fact, I find it a bit funny back then when a source startups using, well, things like Microsoft tools that had pretty high licensing costs at the time. To me, one of the big things over a tech of number is that person needs to build things but also needs to select the right tools within, obviously, budget constraints. If you're in early stage,

start up most of the time, you don't have the massive budgets to spend on on tools and technologies, so being frugal, being efficient, I think would be a good skills. Abaza, Tech co founder when my co founder and I raise our first round, we allowed ourselves a little luxury of espresso coffee machine, and I'm practice a 10 years on or nine years on that expressed that little Nespresso machine is still in the office.


All right, so frugality, watching your burn rate all very important things. When it comes to actual text skills, though, what should I be looking for when I'm evaluating a tech co founder?


So I say this policy varies a lot, based on the type of products on the business you're building at a high level of the one of the key skills is finding someone who has a broad sets off technical skills, whether they can do back in front and databases system, administration, whatever it is, just because that person really has to be doing everything themselves. They should also be able to take very high level ideas most open without respects on build out the product. And that, I think, is key. As in, you need somebody who I guess some folks today would call a products engineer someone who can take an idea, think about all of the ifs and buts and caveats on build out fully fleshed product. Taking a concept and figuring out what questions need to be asked on putting it all together. I want to say nothing is about being able to work. To completion is kind of ties in with the highs and lows like running the start of sometimes to be very depressing and be motivating. But you're not getting the numbers you wanted with the funding we hoped you would get, despite all of that's if you really believe in the product and the company in the business, you need to keep powering through. So having about mental mindset of just being able to focus on what needs to get done on Bond shutting out all of the noise, I think that's a really important scared to have.


Okay, so what about when it comes to pitching investors? It could be an exhausting process, but often all hands kind of need to be on deck, including the tech co founders, and that's not always within their comfort zone. Eso what you have to share about that sure


had so much do. Unwrap on this One of the key points the rays of the year is tech co founder is really a partner in the business a lot of time they're going to be with you act investor meetings, investor presentations. So they need to have the necessary skills to presents, to make a case on, to really express their belief and their determination to build up the company in front of investors. Having set back again doing a sort of is Aziz. One of my friends that said is You gotta learn to ride the waves and the hires and the lows on being able to take rejection. Unfortunately, doing the start up means getting lots of rejections, whether it is from people you're trying to hire, a partners you're trying to work with, or, as often is the case with investors. I guess the joke I used to say is, if you have 100 best of meetings, you're going to probably get 95 nose for absolutely knows and maybe one possibly maybe yes,

and all of those knows taken their toll. So just be able to power through those or they ignore them and not take those rejections personally. But probably more importantly, being able to support your compound. All the co founders or anybody on the team missile support each other through the through the highs and the lows. So you're techo found. It used to be someone you get along with someone you enjoy weapon, but but somebody who you can both rely on for support


When you're talking about getting 95 out of 100 rejections, it's got to be pretty de motivating sometimes. Did you ever during that process suffer from imposture syndrome where you felt like, Well, maybe I'm not doing the right thing. Maybe I shouldn't be here. And if so, how did you overcome that and power through and get to where you eventually got to, which is a pretty successful startup? So


that's, Ah, interesting question. I might have been a bit facetious about 95 rejections, although it took us a good 11 months for us to raise our first Cedrone. So I think the monkeys are pretty much up there. I think it's a bit of a weird situation, as in, I think, with smart asset. We got lucky. We kind of powered through and kept on dradis determination to build what we had in mind on granted. Yes, things changed and we we got lucky and stumble across twists or ideas on the product that really got us to where we are today. And sometimes I do keep looking back and wondering at what point might we have for the plug on and it's just given up. And I think this is something One of our West Coast investors said that after a year, two or three small assets growth wasn't the hockey stick that species look for on.

I think he had said something like, If this were a West Coast company, we would have pulled the plug on sale you're on. But I don't think we got lucky. And our focus and determination allowed us to yes, stumble across ideas that made the company successful. I think the key thing is one really listen to your customers to use as secondly believe that's what you're building. If you believe in it enough, then you can somehow make it a success, obviously, without being made to overconfident but believing in your own talents, honest, like when I look back and think, maybe I wasn't both my co founder and I were crazy when we started this, but it has no, there's no certification. Mawr, Yes, just having a Yale degree or Stanford degrees isn't enough to just say you're going to be a good co founder. Good start a founder.


More external validation, right? It's like it doesn't matter what kind of paper you have, what kind of stamp of approval you have. Whatever is if you're building something that doesn't exist and bringing it into this world for the first time, you know it takes a lot of personal fortitude to get that done When there's no real


road map, exactly. It's what made me, for instance, attack around 80 build what we built. That's one asset, I don't know. I mean, I love what we're doing. I believe the Nets sure takes lots of hard work, but I look back now and I can see all the mistakes we did in the past. What I would I would repeat. It wouldn't repeats, but I think that's that's a key thing. And that's an important thing of a techo found that you need to find someone who obviously does pick the rights of other tools technologies that what having but more importantly, that they really believe that what they are kicking is what they they want and what they really believe in. As in,

I've seen a few too many startups spec things because they're the shiniest toy or the newest stew along the block. Not say that's a bad reason. But if you're going to have to sometimes stick with those technologies for 245 years and beyond. And sometimes the newest China stools don't last that long. So finding a co founder who is confident enough to know what is right and what is not right on what they believe will carry their company the product forward. Honestly, I think that is really, extremely important because you can't afford to spend a year building something on after year realized. We have to go back and stuff and scrap patch. Do it again. That's just not start of reality.


A lot of what I'm hearing from you has to do with communication, having been there yourself. What's tips do you have for tech co founders, especially when they're communicating with nontechnical counterparts?


So obviously I think while coming up this from the technical side, so it might be a little bit biased. I'd say one of the key things is maybe managing skills and expectations sometimes tech folks into believe or expect that everybody understands or speaks the same language on often. That's not the case. So having a tech co founder who can explain things in simple, straightforward terms is obviously important. At the same time, that has to be very high level of trust. Then, if you're a non tech co founder, your realism to keep questioning your tech co founder or what they're doing, why they're doing certain things where the facts it into is a weapon. You essentially to trust that you are partners in this business and your tech co founder knows what he or she is doing, and you need to allow them to get things done. I think there's also different ways of working. It's just give you a quick story. My co founder,

King from Investment Banking. So his working day was pretty much 5 a.m. To whatever 11 p.m. versus in the tech world where it's a bit different when you're sitting in front of the computer coding World Day. So it took us a while to get to a balance of what our work they should look like, what strong activity on the text. Atticus really looks like so. It's important for again Tech and Monta co founders to understand that folks work differently for me. Personally, I like to put on my headphones and get a couple of hours off straightforward coding time, and I think this is pretty much lots of developers. Recorders will agree. Every time you're interrupted, you don't just lose a few minutes for that conversation. Sometimes you have to go back to figure out what you were doing and unwind a couple of things. So different. Working skills, different time management. This would be that both Tech and then tech co founders need to understand about each other.


The skills for a early stage founder when you're the only one coding the skill sets required the strategy. The Texas is completely different than when you're hiring teams and you're managing people. And what are the challenges and how did you make that transition


so that Chris is probably one of the most the toughest questions on? But I have to admit I hadn't very tough time growing from its clear an individual contributor building a product to hiring a team leading a team on growing out that technical and product IDs. I don't have any natural progression. You don't just go from, ah, code or developer to a great leader. And in fact, I'm speaking for myself. It took lots of help from my team from my co founder, Andi Vanek. Settled help. I kind of like to sometimes joke I have Ah, when I used to call my organization therapists who really helped formulate the way I guess traded certain things. But I think that's accurate because you need a tech co founder at the beginning who really can get things done right. So can build stuff in when I choose the tools but has focused a lot on building the products before the business. But over time back, same person needs to start hiring people Andi training them and bringing them on board and motivating them and being a leader to that team on interacting with other teams as well with sales of product instead of whatever.

So that's those skills of those personality Skins are extremely important, but they're probably not things you might look for. They want their things might get on the road, so I think co founders want me to do you aware of this? If that's the kind of role, but you know you want to take some tech co founders might prefer to just focus on building stuff from coding on As a team grows, they might. The team might decide to hire whatever CEO our team lead springs different set of skills to the table.


So you've expressed the challenges you had going from being the sole contributor of the tech side toe, having a team and all that. But now he started all over again with the Founders list. And how are you finding being like the main individual contributor now? It hasn't been easy to go back. Do you find it refreshing, or is it difficult to not have a team


that's interesting? So for Founders List, I guess this started off as a bit of a project that I wanted to build because I injured coding. So I wanted to do this because I wanted to keep my skills up to date on build stuff. But it's very different again. Early days you're focused on building things thing as efficient as possible. Sometimes that means cutting corners so it might mean I I'm ashamed to admit, like when we started off Smart ass it. I don't You have a single unit test or test in there, but when I look back, our priority was we had to get a prototype out by a certain date because otherwise, well, we would run out of money. And a company can't survive without money. So So they're certainly things that you do very differently at different stages. When it's just you yourself coding, you know exactly how the code work.

You know where everything is. You don't need to explain everything to anybody else. But as you're building a start up, you know that over time that product is going to be modified or what other people are going to be contributing to the code based. So you do need to plan a bit for from and evidence again. It's a fine balance. I think Tech co founders need to be very aware of that because spending too much time initially building unit testing, building massive infrastructure for something that just needs to essentially be an M V P can bring down a company. I've seen unfortunate, seen a few too many startups that spent too much time and money on building really complex systems when all they need is we need to prove the products to X number of users must improve the product, Then we can move on. There's no straightforward don't. Unfortunately, it's, ah, it's a fine line to have to walk.


We've seen on Founders List so far that the demand for tech co founders is much higher than that for business development co founders, at least in our early users. With that in mind, what can I do if I'm a Business development co founder to attract the interest of highly capable tech people?


That, unfortunately, is definitely the case? I guess some people say, like ideas are a dime a dozen. But finding somebody who condone build that idea into a product will bring it to fruition are unfortunately in low supply. It's is basically well, I guess the reality of this in the current environment. That said, I think from a techo found a point of view. What I would look for myself is one somebody and I just best in the business fists and cruise real conviction around the idea of the business, right, so I don't really want to speak with somebody who just thought of an idea yesterday morning in the shower, and now things are gonna build a business out of it. I'd like to speak to folks who have been thinking about the idea, digging, poking holes into it,

trying to do some research. Quick tests, get some data, but essentially a well fleshed out, well researched idea. Having something expertise in the field as well, would I guess? Definitely help or some some hands on experience with the industry, the market that's we're talking about, right? So if I'm my background is in Tech, I wouldn't presume to be able to run the whole and aerospace stuff that I don't understand the first thing about your space. I think same thing with, well, business people. Looking protect co founders,

of course, is a question about background and personality, so running the startup is probably a very had a very tough and very lonely jobs of being able to bring real conviction, really motivation and those leadership skills to be the CEO, the leader of the company. To me, that's something I definitely look for in potential co founders. And finally, I think if you're a non technical founder looking for a check off under my recommendation is, you know, you're looking for a partner. You're not looking for an employee. That's a big distinction. So when you're having these early conversations, like really, if you don't believe you're looking for a partner and I probably say you're looking at this the wrong way a tech co founder does not want to be an employee,

and I'm not looking for again speaking in generalities but not looking for a high salary. But they're looking for hi involvement in the company. So with high equity stakes but a strong voice at the table. So whenever somebody posts something that they're looking for a coat under attack co founder. But the postings to investigate that they're looking for an employee more than a real partner. I tend to shy away from this sort of things, but other than that, I think it is to meet the personalities most important, right? The idea will change over time, but knowing that you found someone who is dependable, reliable, responsible, I maybe knows what he knows, understands what they're going in for, like doing a start up is tough.

Most start ups do not end up at next Facebook or Slack or Google. Most of them, unfortunately, failed. So having somebody who's realistic as a co founder is that's a really important.


It's hard to find that combo, though of like both realistic and ah, super determined to


have something work. The realistic aspect is a bit important. So as an ideas first insure, you need to be visionary, and I agree with that. But coming up with ideas that are you want to build the next major, for instance, whatever even a management system, it's It might not seem like a very complicated system, but it takes work. It's not something that somebody's going to build in a couple of weeks. Maybe you can build a quick prototype or something, but there's lots of things that goes into building products. So I think that's actually important that the ideas person needs to understand that things take time and having a tech co founder who can actually explain in realistic terms or simple terms like what? What is doable today? What's doable next week? What's available next month on what might take a year to get done is important because somehow this is gonna be these earlier negotiations.

About what? What we can launch with Andi is not going to be sufficient for these users. And when we test that out, what happens next? It's a very long process for another fortune. It's part of the final blinker starter,


and working on a start up really is everything that you've said so far. It's got highs. It's got lows. But it is, at the end of the day, quite a lot of fun so far. So thanks, Philip, for talking with me today. And if people want to get a hold of you, how can they do that?


Chris? Thanks. Actually. Thank you. This is, I think, my first podcast. It is Ah, really nice to do this. If anybody wants to reach out, I'm always available. I can be reached at Phillip at founders list dot com. I love speaking to folks who are building things, actually, early stage founders. So happy to carry on the conversation with anybody.


All right, that's a wrap for Episode three of the founders. This podcast, if you want to get a hold of us you can reach, is that podcast at Founders List dot com. I do encourage everybody to subscribe. Rate review Let us know how you're feeling about the part guests so far, what you want to see on the future and thank you so much for tuning in.

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