With building startups being the latest trend in the employment scenario, more and more creative ideas are taking tangible shape in the form of products and services offered by companies run by highly motivated entrepreneurs. A huge proportion of such firms dabble primarily in technical domains, so launching a startup as a non-techie has its own perks as well as downsides.
First, let’s look at some stats:
Well, the cold, hard fact is that most successful tech enterprises were founded by those with a substantial background in engineering, or in most cases, software to be precise. Think Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and the like. A study conducted on the undergraduate qualifications of S&P 500 CEOs revealed that 33% of the group had a degree in engineering. By contrast, business administration graduates comprised only 11%.
Before you get discouraged any further, here’s the good news: non-technical founders are slowly on the rise in the startup ecosystem, too. The key to this is that there are only some things that techies are good at doing, and a lot more value addition would come only from someone who knows other aspects of running a firm.
Let’s face it: a techie can get the job done, but many times, non-techies are the more creative ones, the ones who ideate and bridge the gaps in the structure of the company.
Don’t believe me? A hundred new examples of this phenomenon are popping up every day to no end. Just to state one, the co-founder of Airbnb Brian Chesky is a designer. And when we say ‘non-techie’, we are not just referring to business graduates. But before you go ahead and put all of your money and energy in building your dream startup, check out these 10 tips to becoming a successful non-tech founder!
1. Never stop learning
Just because you have the tag of a non-technical founder/CEO, doesn’t mean it is too late to brush up on technical concepts. Coding is not very difficult to learn after all. You may not be able to match up to the expertise of your company’s seasoned developers, but a basic knowledge of the required language or software will go a long way in helping you manage your startup. Also, make it a point to stay abreast of recent news concerning the product/service that your firm provides so that you can ride the trend before it goes obsolete.
2. Communicate with the techies!
Now that you have a basic understanding of your tech team’s lingo, talk to them about the project. It is the best way to understand what’s going on and how you can contribute as the non-technical founder. It may look easy and convenient to step back and let the tech guys do the work, but it is generally a good practice to get involved in your company’s ventures and stay informed. If you want to go a step further, recruit a dedicated CTO so that he/she can aid you in communicating with your tech employees.
3. Recruit a CTO
In your quest to conceptualize and conceive a tech startup, a solid, trustable Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is your key to success. If you are not great at a particular domain, why not find someone who is an expert at it, and also will give you a hand in managing your company? While recruiting a CTO, make sure that he/she is transparent and dependable. This will ease a lot of worries about bridging the communication gap between you and the tech team, plus you’ll have an extra pair of shoulders to bear your professional burden.
4. Get your concepts straight
Okay, so you know the basics of whatever your startup is working on, and you can communicate decently with your developers. But wait, your job does not end here. As much as knowing the technical aspects helps, you’ll also need to be very clear with the algorithm – or in other words, the exact sequence of steps that need to be undertaken in order to achieve your goal – that concerns your project. Sketch out a clear plan that your subteams need to follow and be informed of which department in your company does what. Strategize the work distribution accordingly to avoid any clashes or discrepancies.
5. Aim for the MVP
This is one important rule of thumb that any startup leader should follow, non-technical or not. Instead of aiming to build a sophisticated project from the start, look to fulfill the minimum viable product (MVP) first. That way, you’ll still have something to back you up in case your main product or service fails.
6. Ask for opinions
While working on any technical project, it is natural to hit a block where no one knows what should be done or how to resolve a tough spot. In such cases, remember that there is always more than one solution to an engineering problem. Ask opinions from engineers pursuing diverse domains as each one will have a unique perspective or solution to offer, thereby giving you a ton of alternatives to choose from. This is a general rule in running a company, and not just limited to engineers. Asking opinions from people from myriad backgrounds only increases your own understanding of your project, so don’t be shy to talk to as many people as you can!
7. Do not underestimate yourself
It can be surprisingly easy to get lost among the tech talent in your company and drown in the despair of ‘not knowing anything worthwhile’. The truth is, no tech company can ever lift its wings to fly, if not for the non-techies who bring to the table new and creative ideas and perspectives. First, start believing firmly that your company needs you. Then look for ways in which you can contribute. Most engineers are often trained to think in a set way, which may, while bringing efficiency to the work they are doing, also introduce an element of monotony. Non-techies do not have this limitation; so put it to good use! Without a non-technical manager to steer the ship, no developer team, however talented, can make the cut.
8. Focus on the aesthetics
While you may not have a great engineering or programming background, you are sure as well an ordinary human, right? And ordinary humans have a great eye for user interface design and aesthetics. To take any product or service to the next level, it has to attract the customer visually and provide a great user experience. Most engineers and coders try to develop a crude product, that is, they focus mainly on the utilitarian aspects of an entity rather than making it user-friendly. This is exactly where a non-technical person would have a clear upper hand since they would have a decent understanding of what a customer would like and what kind of experience they would be looking for. Completing a project is just half the work; making it intuitive and appealing is what packages it into a product or a service.
9. Networking matters
To recruit good developers for your startup and keep an eye on the professional moves of the who’s who in your industry, networking is inevitable. It allows you to review a potential job candidate’s profile and previous experience as well as contact them for further details. If you are utterly unable to get a suitable employee, that’s not at all an issue. Outsourcing is always an option that you can explore at any point in time. Finding the right outsourcing partner is certainly not a matter of Googling; again, you’ll need a good professional network to identify that one company that will suit your needs.
To make it easier for you, have a read: 7 tips on choosing the right outsourcing partner
10. Test ’em out!
Finally, at the end of the day, a project is a success only if it is a hit with the actual end-users. So make it a point to test your product with people who will actually use it in future, before you release it to the general public. This way, you can gauge their experience and pass the feedback on to the concerned departments in your company. As a CEO and a non-technical one at that, always remember to take others’ perspectives into consideration while making your own decisions. Being broad-minded and at the same time firm, is a trait that all leaders need to inculcate in themselves.
It is true that it takes a lot for a non-technical founder to build a successful tech company, but it is certainly not impossible. With a little effort and patience, anything is certainly possible. If you are someone with an inherently non-technical background who made it big with a tech startup, do share your experience in the comments section below!