It is true. Angel Investors and VC’s prefer to see a startup that has technical people in the founding team.
There’s no denying that.
It is also a completely rational position for these investors to hold.
A startup with a technical team member can continue to fine-tune the product, add new features, or even pivot to a completely new idea with minimal expense.
All it takes is the time of the developer and if you are a two or three person startup getting off the ground that’s “sweat equity” not money down!
But not every startup has a technical founder/co-founder. Perhaps the founder has the financial backing to hire the technical expertise they require, have previously been “burnt” trying to co-found a company with someone else or just don’t have anyone in their network willing to join them.
Regardless of the reason these non-technical founders are likely to face a number of challenges along the way. It’s now been 12 months since the idea for Task Pigeon first popped into my head and 7 months since our public launch.
As a non-technical founder I wanted to share everything I have learned.
Lesson 1 – You Can Do It
Lots of people will tell you that you can’t build a tech startup if you are a non-technical founder. It’s simply not true!
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact it almost certainly is harder, but you shouldn’t let that put you off the idea of building a successful company.
Sure, you may not be involved in a deep-tech startup like autonomous cars or launching rockets into space, but there are plenty of wildly successful startups that required much simpler technology to get off the ground.
Lesson 2 – It Is Critical You Hire The Right Person/People
If you have no in-house tech skills they you are either:
- Going to hack together an MVP using something like WordPress – This can work for marketplace startups, eCommerce stores and a handful of other categories; or
- Find someone to hire or outsource the development of your idea to.
Assuming you go route B the person/people you hire for the job are going to be 100% critical to your success.
I can’t overstate this enough. You need to find someone who can help you review the technical expertise/proficiency of the developer you are looking to bring on-board. This is even more important if you are hiring off an outsourcing site like Upwork or Freelancer.
No matter how many blog posts or article you read you just won’t know the right questions to ask or things to lookout for when reviewing candidates.
Lesson 3 – Hiring An Outsourced Team Has Its Advantages
If I compare a startup with a solo technical founder and another startup with a solo non-technical founder, being the non-technical founder does have its advantages.
Assuming you have outsourced development (per lesson 2) you now have a significant amount of time to dedicate to marketing your product or service, interviewing users to better understand their wants/needs and managing everything else to do with the business.
When I look at all the non-technical work I have done for Task Pigeon there is no way in hell I could have also handled building the application as well. It would at a bare minimum have taken 3 or 4 times as long to get to market and I wouldn’t have done a fraction of the marketing either.
Lesson 4 – Silence Is Bad
Things didn’t work out with my first developer and one of the key lessons from this process is that silence is bad.
Silence doesn’t mean things are on track or going well. Silence means things are bad. Often very bad. Something is wrong and as the Founder and CEO you need to step in quick and get it sorted as soon as possible.
It is also important to have a regular method for communication and feedback between you and your team.
Lesson 5 – Always Budget Extra Time & Money
I knew that things would often take and cost more than I expected but this is still well worth repeating.
Everyone always wants to tell you the best case scenario. But things that you think will take 1 week can often take 2. And things that you think may cost $x, end up costing $Y.
The main reason why I mention this is that as a founder, if you are bootstrapping your startup and have $x budget then you need to be 100% sure you can get to market on that amount.
It would be better to build a product with one or two less features to guarantee you can get there, than risk getting to 80 or 85% and simply running out of money.
Lesson 6 – You Can’t Be An Idiot & Have To Learn
This doesn’t mean you can stay in your box and expect your developers to handle everything. Yes, they will do the actual coding but it is your job to read and understand what is happening behind the scenes as much as you can.
Ask your developers detailed questions, get them to explain important things and how it works. It may feel like you are annoying them, but they will definitely appreciate it more when you understand what they are talking about in the future.
Lesson 7 – Money Is Like Water In A Desert
Your number one asset as a non-technical founder is money.
If you are paying your developers you ability to keep the company going is directly correlated with your ability to keep paying them.
Therefore a dollar saved is equally as important as a dollar spent. You don’t want to waste money on useless things. There is no point paying a ton of money for advertising, consultants, seminars, crazy marketing tools or anything else until you know you are onto something.
This doesn’t mean you should be a “tightarse” and hold onto everything, but be smart and spend money wisely. Saving $100 here and a $100 could make a difference later on down the track.
And whatever you do don’t spend $50,000 or $100,000 on getting an MVP out the door. I know you are unlikely to do it, but I have spoken to some entrepreneurs in the past who have taken out a mortgage or sold their house and sunk everything they have into an idea without even testing if there is real demand (i.e. paying customers) for it.
That’s not risk taking, that’s being suicidal.
And finally remember…..
Just because you start a startup without a technical co-founder doesn’t mean you can’t bring one on at a later date.
In fact, imagine how much easier it would be if you could go from saying “hey I have this great idea” to “I invested $10,000 to get an initial MVP built, and while it’s early days we have 50 paying customers and are making $1,000 a month”.
Chances are someone will take a chance on joining you if you can get to that point!
Also published on Medium.