I want a business co-founder to do three things: deliver customers, extend runway, and be the mom.
Customers – While most startups aren’t able to sell product before launching, you can certainly build strong relationships with key players. You can have them excitedly contributing ideas to your feature lists. You can have them ready to go when you launch.
Runway – Runway comes in the form of cash or speed. If you can make the company move faster or add a couple extra digits to its bank account, you’re delivering value. These are both measured on results, not intent — promising you’ll fundraise successfully after milestone X or yelling at the tech team to go faster is not value.
Mom – Someone has to take care of all the grunt work. If you’re can be executive assistant to the team, that’s a real contribution. This doesn’t have to be done by the business guy — anyone can take this role — but doing so can justify a bigger equity stake (which is meant to approximate your relative value within the founding team). You also don’t have to do this work yourself. Hiring, automating, or outsourcing are all fine options, as long as nobody else ever has to think about it again.
Vision and ideation are popular, but completely bogus, arguments for being high-value.
Although someone on the team needs vision, it doesn’t need to come from a customer-facing or strategy-centric person. It’s also just a starting point and the whole team will contribute to its evolution, so don’t take it too seriously early on.
Ideation is very useful, very rarely. When that time comes, it’s easy to hire a facilitator. Wacky ideation is probably my favourite part of startups, and yet I still see practically zero value for it on a founding team. If you’ve got it, that’s a bonus, but it’s certainly not worth equity.
I mentioned in the runway section that you’ll often hear people justifying today’s rewards based on tomorrow’s activities. There’s no place for this in a founding team. If you want to keep 80% of the company but can’t pay your developers, then you aren’t as valuable as you suspect. A business guy worth 80% would have already closed that round and wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Major warning signs are along the lines of “I can’t sell it and/or do anything until it’s built,” “it was my idea!”, and “I have skills XYZ” (as opposed to “I have delivered XYZ”).
I used to think every founder should be technical, but I’ve since met some truly amazing non-technical founders. They deliver so much value and they unlock business models and markets which are otherwise unassailable. But it’s not about what you know, or which skills you have, or what you will do. The top-tier guys are out doing things now and can show you a big pile of value they’ve already delivered.