5 Key Tactics to Excel as a Non-Technical Founder

5 Tips For Non-Technical Founders

There’s a frequently repeated fallacy in the world of business that you have to be tech-savvy to launch a startup. However, this simply isn’t true. While it helps if you have a technical background, it’s possible to be successful without being fluent in things like coding and networking.

Take a Deep Breath and Let it Be

It’s easy to feel a bit discouraged if you have an idea for a business, but recognize that you don’t have the tech skillset to code or develop it. And while it would be nice to be both tech-savvy and business-savvy at the same time, the vast majority of entrepreneurs lean to one side or another.

“We see some amazing technical founders such as Mark Zuckerberg who have mastered the business side as well, but these are extremely rare,” says Ben Erez, a non-technical founder of multiple businesses. “I have not seen any reverse stories of a founder with a business background becoming a world-class engineer.”

Erez brings up a good point. You’ll occasionally see technical founders adapt and learn the business skills they need to be successful, but you’ll very rarely see a business-minded founder suddenly turn into a coding rockstar or technical genius. Surely it’s happened somewhere, but it’s not a common occurrence.

There’s something to be said for working hard and making a commitment to learning, but don’t get all worked up about becoming proficient in some highly technical pursuit. There are hundreds of cases of non-technical founders starting tech businesses over the past few years; there’s no roadblock keeping you from doing the same.

Still not sold? Check out the following examples:

Small Business Deals

  • Nirav Tolia founded Nextdoor.com, a private social network that enables neighbors to communicate with each other, and raised $100.2 million without having any tech skills.
  • Michael Dell founded Dell, one of the largest computer companies the world has ever seen, all without having extensive tech experience. He was able to experience success by surrounding himself with the right people.
  • Believe it or not, Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky didn’t know much about tech before launching the company. Today, Airbnb is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and is valued at an estimated $31 billion.
  • Evan Sharp, founder and CEO of Pinterest, is another example of a well-known, non-technical founder. But instead of letting his lack of tech skills hold him back, he did what he could to raise more than $762 million.

Yancey Strickler of Kickstarter, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, Chad Hurley of YouTube…the list of successful, non-technical founders goes on and on.

You can let your lack of tech skills define you and prevent you from acting on your business ideas. Or, you can let stories like these motivate you to keep pushing forward. You might fall on your face if you decide to continue, but there’s also a chance that you make it happen and experience success.

5 Tips For Non-Technical Founders

It’s extremely challenging to launch a business without having any technical skills to speak of.  Let’s be clear on that much. However, you can overcome your lack of tech skills, so long as you’re aware that they exist.

Whether you’ve launched a startup or are merely in the idea generation phase, it’s helpful to create a game plan of sorts for tackling the challenges you face. Having said that, here are some practical tips to help you succeed:

1. Hire the Right Technical Help

If you don’t have the technical skills needed to flesh out your business idea, you’re obviously going to need someone who does. There are multiple routes you can take — including outsourcing development to an outside firm, bringing on a partner or co-founder, or hiring a freelancing contractor. In the early stages, it might make more sense to do the latter.

While you’ll eventually want to bring on a technical partner, don’t rush into any decision like this prematurely. You’ll have to give up a large percentage of the company when courting a co-founder and a rash decision will run your startup into the ground before it has a chance to soar. Start by working with a handpicked contractor and you’ll retain all of the control.

“As a non-technical founder, you simply don’t know, what you don’t know,” says Paul Towers, a non-technical entrepreneur who has founded multiple successful businesses. “Working with a contractor gives you more control over the relationship. It also lets you add and amend the scope based on early feedback you receive.”

2. Consume as Much Knowledge as You Can

While you can’t force yourself into becoming someone you aren’t, you can improve your technical skillset by committing yourself to learning as much as you possibly can about the basics. You don’t need to know how to develop an app or code a piece of software, but you do need to have the vocabulary and an accurate understanding of the process in order to lead your team.

At a bare minimum, Towers suggests learning how to code. Coding is something that you’ll find useful for the rest of your life and, even though you’ll probably leave the development side of your product up to your technical team, it’s nice to have a firsthand understanding of what they’re doing.

There are plenty of online courses — both free and paid — that teach coding to beginners. Try to carve out 30 to 60 minutes every day for the next three months and you’ll be amazed by how much you pick up.

3. Be Smart with Investments

As a non-technical founder, you have to be really careful with how you spend your money. It’s easy to get swindled into thinking you need a particular piece of hardware or software, without fully understanding what you’re purchasing.

The best piece of advice is to be smart with your investments on this front. If you have a technical partner, talk with them before buying anything. If you’re on your own, do some due diligence online.

When it comes to hardware, it’s a good idea to start off buying used equipment. Companies like BrightStar Systems sell leading brands like Juniper, Cisco, and Arista at a fraction of the cost. With software, always take companies up on free trial periods and get familiar with the interface and features before pouring a lot of money into them.

4. Don’t Try to Fool People

Non-technical founders often feel a sense of inadequacy when they find themselves in large rooms filled with other technical entrepreneurs. It’s easy to feel like you don’t belong, or that you’re somehow “less” than them — but rest assured, this isn’t true.

The worst thing you can do is try to fool people into thinking you’re a technical entrepreneur. First off, 9 out of 10 people will see right through you. Secondly, what are you really gaining from trying to fool people? It’ll ultimately force you to live a lie. Be upfront about what you bring to the table and don’t feel guilty about anything you’re lacking. Building a business isn’t a one-man job. It takes a whole team of people.

5. Don’t Micro-Manage Your Technical Team

As the founder of your startup, it’s natural to want to manage everything, but you have to be careful not to micro-manage your technical team when you don’t really understand all of the little things.

“What you must do instead to be in a continuous update loop is to set a process of communication and delivery between yourself and the team. Do a daily standup with the tech team to get an update of the previous day’s tasks, any challenges they faced or came across and the milestones for the day,” entrepreneur Rahul Varshneya suggests. “This will ensure you’re on top of the milestones and can fix issues as they come up without wasting days or weeks.”

Don’t Be Someone You’re Not

At some point in your life, you’ve had a friend, parent, teacher, or loved one tell you that you should stop trying to be someone you’re not. Most of us deal with this desire to change who we are during our teenage years.

Social pressures tell us that we need to be skinnier, taller, smarter, more athletic or more charismatic. However, as you’ve hopefully learned by now, social pressures are bogus anyway. You are who you are and you have to be comfortable with that.

The same goes for your career as an entrepreneur. You might feel the pressure to pick up some amazing technical skillset, but that’s not who you are. There’s nothing wrong with being a non-technical founder and it’s time that you become okay with this.

While you’ll have to take strategic steps to overcome your technical deficiencies, this article hopefully provides you with a clearer picture of what that looks like.

With a few simple choices and smart decisions, you can give your startup what it needs to succeed.

High Five Photo via Shutterstock Comment ▼

Larry Alton Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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