Previous Employment: Development Manager at Delta, Sprint, and General Motors. CTO for a startup called Zinch which was acquired in 2011.
I won’t lie – not having a technical background makes launching a tech startup significantly more difficult. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think this quote from Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) sums up the reason why quite well:
“Startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
I would add that startup success is not a consequence of knowing everything. Whether you like it or not, the fate of your startup will rely on multiple brains, not just your own. Creating a tech startup in today’s world can be done by any smart entrepreneur – the key is knowing how to connect with the right network.
If a non-techy is concerned about how to move forward with a more technical company, I’d recommend following this plan of action, in this order:
1. Start with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Simply put, an MVP is a stripped down version of your product. Don’t worry about having a perfect, finalized product before testing the effects of its core benefit on your market. What is the absolute minimum you need to have in order to start validating assumptions and maximizing learning about your market?
I’ve seen this happen time and time again – entrepreneurs will waste thousands of dollars developing and perfecting their product before testing whether it will even resonate with their target market. Nailing your MVP prevents you from sinking time and money into solving the wrong problem for the wrong customers with the wrong solution.
So create a clear idea of what problem you are trying to solve, make the product in bare minimum form, and start experimenting.
2. Build out your plan before building out your team
Once you’ve defined your MVP and feel confident you’re building a worthwhile product, start outlining your company’s game plan. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to draft a lengthy business plan, but at least get the basic wireframe out.
Consider your unique value proposition. Strategize your marketing channels. Plan your cost structure and build out a list of key metrics to be measured. The list could go on, but focus on getting the core structure down (I’d recommend the lean canvas outline) as opposed to stewing over the nitty gritty details.
The purpose of this step is to create a basic outline of what you are trying to accomplish and, more importantly, to discover the riskiest part of your plan. As you reach out to developers, and possibly a tech co-founder, your fluency in technical language won’t matter as much as your ability to paint a clear vision of what you want them to accomplish.
3. Hire a developer or team to build your MVP
Now that your plan is mapped out, you’re in the wonderful position to put your idea “out there” and start attracting people who believe in what you’re doing.
Not having a technical background can put a damper on your business, so I’d recommend seriously considering the idea of a tech co-founder. Finding the right developers or business partners can be tricky – not only do they need to be proficient in the skills you lack, but they need to share your vision, or at least be willing to listen and learn.
My experience with freelance sites has been horrible, so I wouldn’t start there. Cheap developers are always available but the downside is their quality of work isn’t typically good enough for the successful product you are looking to build. So start with your own network and build from there. Review your LinkedIn connections and web of professional acquaintances and gauge their interest. If nothing comes of that, you may consider even hiring an experienced team, like Zibtek.
Once you’ve built your team, you can focus on learning and validation by listening to your customer’s needs.
In the end, the most important skills for an entrepreneur to master (tech or non-tech) is that of organization and inspiration. As long as you can build the right team and keep them motivated, you’re at least on the right path.