I'm an “idea man.” I'm really good at brainstorming remarkable, new thoughts into this world (a TV show about narwhal fairy princesses!). The problem, however, lies in the fact that I'm utterly inept when it comes to actually making these ideas a reality. Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft, actually wrote a memoir bearing the same title. The difference between me and Allen, however, is that he's not only an idea man; Allen also has the technical skills that enable him to produce his brilliant ideas. According to Tim Hines, of Business Traveler Social (BTSocial), it's important for startups to remember that they can't survive solely on ideas.
Hines himself is an idea man. Having majored in marketing while in college, and then spending the next 10 years working in marketing for companies like the Tribune Media Group, Hines can't reflect back on a time when he was ever considered “technical.” Hines continues to serve as an idea man at BTSocial – a startup that has created a web and mobile app that helps business travelers make in-person connections with other people while they're on their business trips – holding responsibility for the overall direction, strategy, and marketing of the company and its product. As Hines points out, though, if you're trying to make it in the world as a technology startup, “you have to find a technical cofounder!”
If you have a great idea that could potentially provide a solution to some great societal ailment, it's imperative that you find someone with the technical skills to help you actually produce a tangible form of that idea. But, within the context of tech startups, Hines insists that you find a technical cofounder. For BTSocial, that CTO role is designated to Karl Jackson, an engineer and computer science buff, who develops and leads the company's tech operations.
“Karl was initially [brought on] as a technical advisor…after we went through a bunch of different developers to help us develop [our product].”
Hines soon came to realize, however, that the company needed to stop hiring random people to develop their app.
“[Startups] have to be prepared for the amount of work [you spend] finding the right people to develop your technology. It's important that you have that MVP player out there helping you make these technical decisions. We got really lucky with Karl, in that sense.”
Hines and Jackson have found the right balance in their partnership. Whereas Hines has a tendency to come up with boundless ideas for BTSocial, Jackson's logical and pragmatic mindset helps to reign him in and keep him focused. Their difference in specialties has also helped them to effectively persuade others to use BTSocial. Hines has an easy time talking about and marketing their company, while Jackson is more adept at describing the technical features of their app.
“Investors want to see that special team [of creative and technical], [so] we're lucky to have that,” he says.
Business Traveler Social presented at Tech Cocktail's Chicago Startup Showcase & Mixer last November.