The Survival Kit For Non-Technical Founders In A Tech World
What does the life of a non-technical founder look like?
There’s no easy answer.
According to Dharmesh Shah, “As a non-technical co-founder your job ranges from product to hiring to taking out the trash.”
But you need to understand there are two types of people in a tech company:
If you are not the person who loves to code (or wants to learn) then you MUST know the other traits of running a business.
You will be the ‘Business-founder’ (or co-founder) to the company.
So, instead of being this guy:
Be this guy:
By that, we are not talking about running and getting an MBA degree. As in the startup environment, it takes much more than an MBA degree.
This famous saying on valuing startups sums it all up:
Earlier, it was often frowned upon when you say “I run a software company, but don’t know coding.”
As the market was like that.
Andrew Chen, said in his blog, “There’s an illustrious track record of engineering-founded companies succeeding, spanning from HP to Facebook, there’s a lot of datapoints that say that a 20-yo Stanford computer science major can do it himself, or at least with his other CS roommates. Similarly, the very best alums out of places like Facebook and Google have lots of access to capital, advice, and people- these are all recipes for making you (the biz founder) completely irrelevant.”
But things have changed now.
Melody McCloskey, Founder StyleSeat, Micheal Dell, Founder of Dell, Sean Rad, Co-founder of Tinder, and Brian Chesky, Co-founder of AirBnB, they are all non-technical founders who have came out on top doing excellent work and building amazing tech products.
However if you are not contributing to any lines of code, you would be expected to do other jobs. Non-coding founder can bring excellent product management skills to the board.
- Market research
- Selling stuff
- Ensure delivery on time
- Making money
- Getting partnerships and marketing
- Distribution of the product
- Getting funds for the company
- Monetization strategy
- and the list goes on.
There are a lot of things which a non-technical founder can contribute to scale a company, but here are some extremely important traits you must have to be an asset to your company:
#1 Non-Technical Founders: Have an eye for visuals
Having an eye for the visuals will always help you tell your story. You probably are not designing the app but you should certainly have a layout for what’s going to go in that design.
It will be easier for you to put down your thoughts through visuals, rather than explaining in words. Building a product prototype is the first step towards building a successful MVP and eventually reaching the Product/Market fit.
Your prototype doesn’t need to be anything fancy. A simple sketch on a piece of paper or whiteboard works. If you wish to put that extra effort in it there are a number of prototyping tools available at your disposal. You don’t even need a technical know-how to learn how to use these, its that easy.
Being the non-tech guy, Alex TurnBull of Groove HQ started drawing sketches. And then those turned into wireframes.
“I learned how to use Photoshop and built mockups of the app. It bridged the gap between the thoughts in my head and my cofounder’s understanding of them, which meant that we saved a lot of time on changes and iterations early on,” he explained in his blog.
Similarly, another non-tech co-founder Perri Gorman of Unroll.me explained, “If a prototype looks good from the front end, you’ll have an easier time persuading talent to help you work on the back end. With visual designs, it came alive and engineers and others started to see what I was building.”
Balsamiq Mockups and Axure are both wireframing tools which can help you get by.
#2 Non-Technical Founders: Set the ground rules
You are not going to be doing the programming yourself, but still you will have to be able to describe exactly what needs to be done.
The question here is ‘Can the engineering team speak your language?’ Or ‘Can you make an effort to understand their language?’
Learning and communicating with the engineering team in a tech language will make yours and their tasks easier. This will require you to build on your tech vocabulary.
“You need to know the landscape, programming languages, databases, API integrations, and how things fit together. You need to learn how to speak to engineers in their own language,” Perri Gorman.
In fact, another way of having control over your business is to learn the basics right and know the starting point of each. For example, keep a database for logins, passwords, important details about the engineering process etc.
Scott Allison of Teamly, puts it bluntly and says, “What if your technical person got run over by a bus tomorrow; could you access the code repository, reboot a stalled server, or edit something in the database? The starting point of this is to know what all the constituent parts are that make up your web app. Do you even have access to the above?”
#3 Non-Technical Founders: Put your networking to right use
If you are the non-technical founder, it is your job to hire a developer. But not just by posting ads on job boards, but actively seeking out top-tier talent.
But don’t be in any sort of illusion that you can access the technical abilities of your applicants without knowing it yourself.
Because you can’t.
Paul Graham, a well-known venture capitalist, said in his blog – “In practice what happens is that the business guys choose people they think are good programmers (it says here on his resume that he’s a Microsoft Certified Developer) but who aren’t. Then they’re mystified to find that their startup lumbers along like a World War II bomber while their competitors scream past like jet fighters. This kind of startup is in the same position as a big company, but without the advantages.“
Here’s a good practice would be to get someone on board to interview the candidates for you. On the other hand, you can assess them for a cultural fit and their soft skills.
Ian Crosby, Find an interviewer who works at Google, Amazon, Facebook or a similar organization if you can. Someone who’s technical ability has been validated by an objective third party that you can trust. Don’t know anyone that meets that description? That’s where determination comes in. If you want to start a tech company, you need to know talented people. So make it happen. You will face challenges far more difficult in your startup’s life. If you can’t solve this, you should rethink whether being a startup founder is the right role for you. I don’t intend this last comment to be flippant, I intend it to provoke introspection.”
At the end, you must know it is your idea and you have to put in your best to make it a success. Do what you’re good at and for the advantage of your business.
All the best building your tech startup!
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