How To Pick Business Partners for Engineers

[This is an original thought-piece by YK Goon]


At some point in your programming life, a hotshot business guy would've approached you with a "great idea". Depending on where you are in your career, you're either overjoyed that someone think you're a prized possession or you're cynical of another exploitation attempt at your hard-earned engineering chops.

If you're a noob, your thought immediately goes to thinking about how to pull off this product. Execute, like the good worker you are.

Maybe you're not a noob. You've wised up to evaluate product idea, and better business idea, with some competency. "I think there's moderate demand for this product" you would say, struggling not look smug, hoping the business guy would think of you like an equal.

Boy, he sure looks like he does.

Your judgment of the business idea is not as important as the substance of the hotshot business guy. You're probably in no position to judge his business strategy anymore than he's qualified to judge your code.

What you are in position to evaluate is extent of which this person is a real-deal. There's a straight line to the cause of your career failure by the choice of your partners.

Here's the driving principle: success is not acquired by doing a series of things right; you get there by avoiding fuck-ups (paraphrasing Nassim Taleb).

In this context, you're first thing to learn about is not the million-dollar idea itself, it's the person driving it. Don't look for points for success, look for these red-flags.

  • He speaks **`managementese <>`__**. This is equivalent to you throwing map/reduce and Linux container jargon, maliciously hoping unknowing people will be impressed. Only you know you're fucking poser. Business school people similarly ask you to "give full commitment", "show passion", "be innovative" without substantiating them with real action plan.
  • Excessive self-praise. Business guy say things to elicit the desired behavior from you (taken to the extreme, it's called manipulation). Sometimes the behavior wanted from you is admiration, followed by obedience. When substance run out, business guy resorts to bringing up past successes for the fifth time. The truth of the self-praise is immaterial, the action suggests he is truly out of ideas and not fit to lead the business.
  • A history of falling out with partners. This one is obvious: the next one he'll burn is you.
  • Never built a business from scratch. This is tricky to tell for noobs. Business guys attempt to impress you with his glorious history in McKinsey. He helped bring McDonald's from $400mil to a $500mil business. That's $100mil bitches, surely he can build a new business from scratch. Sit back boy, doing it from ground up with an unproven idea is a totally different game. Look for signs of humility and acknowledgment in this department. If there is none, the ignorance will burn you and him alive.

This is not meant to be a listicle, neither it is comprehensive red flags. Each point rightfully deserve a whole post by itself.

As an engineer in a venture, the odds are tilted against you. You're not armed to dictate business terms; you're surrounded by a severe fog of war in your business landscape. Ironically, you're more likely to deliver the product you promised than the guy delivering business traction.

Business guys can make the same bet with ten other engineers like you, but you can only make one bet with one of these hustlers. So pick wisely.