A successful tech business is so much more than just developing software. As a non-techie co-founder, you don’t need to learn how to create quality code. Instead, you should know how to get others to code in a way that yields high revenues. Non-techie people with strong leadership and business skills have created some of the most successful tech startups of all time.
In this blog, experts from diverse verticals share insights into dealing with the most challenging aspects of a tech business, especially if you are a non-techie co-founder.
1. How do you know if you have an idea worth pursuing?
Entrepreneurs have a spectrum of different parameters for this. Some keep it extremely simple at this stage and test the viability in the later stages. For example, Sall Grover, Founder & CEO, Giggle, says, “I knew I had an interesting idea with Giggle because I knew I would use it if it existed.”
Christopher Prasad, Marketing Manager, JookSMS adds, “If the idea you have excites you and you believe you have found a gap in the market, note it down and research more information about it, the more you know the more you will understand whether your idea is good enough to make it.”
Most entrepreneurs, whether they are techies or not, believe the problem solution approach should be the foundation your idea is built on.
Mark Bush, Co-Founder & CEO, KingdomPay.com asserts, “(You can ensure the success of your idea) by asking whether it solves a problem or helps heal. Find a need and fill it, find a hurt, and heal it.”
Of course, in many cases, the needs have existed for a long time now. There are competitors on the field already. In addition to the need, you must also check if your idea is unique.
David Morneau, Co-founder, inBeat Agency, advises, “Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Make a SWOT analysis and understand how you will position yourself uniquely. You should know why your product or service is better or at least different from someone else's.”
Lastly, you have to ensure that it’s not just you who sees a problem that your product can solve. Your idea should be appealing to many, many others if you want to capitalize on it.
Sukhi Jutla, Co-founder, MarketOrders suggests, “To get authentic feedback, create your email list by adding your email contacts as well as connecting with your contacts online from social media. For example, you can reach out to specific LinkedIn groups on Linkedin for your product. If you are offering life coaching for stressed-out entrepreneurs, then join a group on Linkedin that caters to this target group and post a note asking if people would be interested in your product offering.”
2. How do you turn your idea into a viable business?
Once you have decided on pursuing your idea, you are still a long way from making money off it. The very first step to turning your software application idea into a reality is to understand the market and test hypotheses, preferably with an MVP.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls, emphasizes the importance of data,
“Everything starts with market research. Identify the importance of customer data to make decisions. The job of data is to be a support point to accelerate the sales cycle. Surveys can help you collect data on habits and practices and focus groups allow you to probe deeper and ask questions to test assumptions or see if they like a particular feature or ad for example.”
An important step here is to outline a budget and finalize a monetization strategy. Sam Maley, Head of Growth, Bailey & Associates elaborates, “After you have gotten an idea of how much it costs to create a product, you will know how much of it you need to sell in order to be profitable. From those figures, you can sort out a price point and a target of sales you need to reach, then it is just a case of working out what audiences you want to target in order to make those sales.”
Explaining why every tech business must start with an MVP, Paul Burris, CEO, PataBid Inc. says, “People tend to think they need something polished, perfect, and finished for people to pay for it and that isn’t true at all. Once it has working parts that you think are useful, start selling. If no one is buying then evaluate why. Did they give feedback, what was it, more work, missing a key feature, or bad idea?”
When it comes to running the business, entrepreneurs often have to wear multiple hats. It sometimes gets so complicated that you spend hours wondering where to even begin. Narcis Sauleda, Design & Brand Consultant, Pixel And Ink, has a solution, “I usually recommend starting with a Lean Canvas. This allows you to see the business overview and visualize the pieces of the jigsaw easier. Understand what structure you need and get all the legalities ready at the right time.
Once your MVP is up and running, you have to focus on how to maximize its market reach. Alejandro Rioja, Founder, alejandrorioja.com, believes, “For a tech product to attract customers, it has to be marketed to the right set of people i.e. people who are facing the same problem that the product actually solves. Choose your target market carefully, market aggressively, get customers’ feedback, and incorporate it into your product to make it successful.”
While you rely on data for insights, you can’t rely on it for wisdom. Explaining the importance of networking in the tech business, Adeel Shabir, Outreach Manager, Smith Thompson says, “Taking an idea from good to viable business requires you to make decisions and connections with the local genius. Identify your surroundings and connect with your mentors to make sure that you are on the right path of executing the said idea into a business.”
3. How do you avoid wasting money on overbuilding?
As an entrepreneur without a software development background, it may take you some time to identify what yields benefits and what just serves as technical or financial debt. It helps to onboard someone who is an expert in the concerned field and can save you a lot of cash.
However, with time and experimentation, you will spot the necessities from the luxuries real quick.
Nate Nead, CEO of DEV.co elaborates on the importance of experimentation.
“Most of the successful tech entrepreneurs I have worked with have been masters of experimentation. That is, they have learned to experiment and pivot when ideas didn't quite pan-out. When they found something that worked, had good margin and that they could find someone to fulfill, they poured more gasoline in that direction.”
James Dyble, Managing Director, Global Sound Group, further adds, “To avoid wasting money on overbuilding, set clear plans and objectives. Know when you have fulfilled your requirements and then move onto the next critical point.”
Reiterating the importance of an MVP, Nicole Caba, Founder & CEO, Avvinue says, “By creating the most simple, and quite ugly, version of your solution, you can focus more on the customer and validating a viable business idea instead of wasting money and overbuilding a product. And trust me, I’ve done that before – it’s a painful, expensive learning experience you want to avoid.”
Hailing from a non-technical background, Raj Dosanjh, Founder, RentRound.com shares how he has avoided overbuilding for all his startups, “I consider what are the bare basics I need to see if there is a demand. Once I have the list of core functionality, I rely heavily on designers & developers.”
Neal Taparia, Founder, Solitaired, further adds, “So many times, entrepreneurs build fringe features because they think they're users will like them. However, with most products, it really comes down to one key feature that is used and will create the most value. Define what that is, and stay laser-focused on building that.”
To avoid investing more than necessary, Marc Prosser, CEO & Co-Founder, Choosing Therapy shares a hack that has always worked for him, “I recommend using people at first (perhaps, in places where labor costs are lower than the US) to mimic what you plan to have the technology accomplish. Investing in technology is essential to scale but not test the validity of many business ideas.”
Lastly, you must remember at least something related to your product already exists in the market. Oliver Andrews, Owner, OA Design Services, points out, “More than ever, successful high-tech products are pack animals. They take advantage of complementary products to create their own company's product, instead of building everything from scratch. Once you've got people to build you an MVP, put your marketing skills to work to reach relevant people and influencers who can help you perfect your product.”
4. How do you actually make ‘agile’ techniques work for you?
Agile is the way to go for most software development teams. But how do you make it work for you if you have never been a developer who was a part of an agile team ever? Here are some tips from the people who have been there, done that:
“Agile methodology means that you can quickly adjust to the changing circumstances. This is especially important if you are collecting feedback and building based on how users respond to your product. Make sure everyone in your team understands the importance of regular meetings and keep them short and relevant, avoiding unnecessary discussion. Find out how your team like to work and adjust accordingly.”
- Alexander Lazutin, Founder, ICarta
“Know the big picture. Focusing on the “done-ness” of individual sprints makes it easy to forget about the overall final product. While each sprint is independently completed and released on its own, how do all the pieces work together? Occasionally focusing on the product as a whole will help ensure you produce a high-quality application overall, not just high-quality individual features.”
- Chandzamarda Caleb junior, Founder, Gurus Advice
“Agile techniques are smart and easy to follow. Just acknowledge that there's no such thing as an ideal product. Keep the list of your objectives in front of you, and don't allow yourself to change them too often.”
- Tim Denman, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, ServGrow
“Listen to your customers to develop the product story, build then ask them what else. Look for clusters of requests to guide your development. We like to build thematically solving for a specific feature request and looking at the bigger picture to see if the feature is phase 1 of a 5 phase robust feature. This prevents you from wasting a ton of time upfront building something that may require a rebuild because it's missing certain functionality.”
- Ryan O'Donnell, Co-Founder, Replyify
“Tools and processes are important, but it is more important to have competent people working together effectively.”
- Perry Toone, Founder, Thexyz Inc
5. How do you identify the exact talent you need?
Building the right team for your tech startup certainly requires you to be familiar with the coding skills and latest software development trends. While this familiarity is necessary, it is never going to be enough. Now is the time for you to find a CTO who’s not only an expert with development but also possesses sharp business acumen.
Ryan Sagers, Co-founder, eddyhr.com, shares what he has learned from his experience as a non-techy entrepreneur, “If you go at it alone, you will make mistakes, and those mistakes can be extremely costly. So get help from someone you trust. Get recommendations from people in your network.”
On finding the right CTO/co-founder, Jason Davis, CEO, Inspire360 summarizes, “Find an entrepreneurial-minded software developer that has experience in scaling.”
However, technical hiring is not a job to be monitored by a CTO alone. There are many strategic aspects that you have to focus on even as the non-techie founder of your business. Jennifer Willy, Editor, Etia.com, rightly says, “You have to be a visionary when it comes to hiring the employees. They should not only serve your immediate purposes but also your long term aims and goals.”
William Chin, Web Consultant, PickFu.com adds, “You'll rarely find the exact talent you need. More than often, what you'll want is a generalist (someone who can do a bit of everything), and have them be molded into a specialist if need be. You can always onboard or contract help but in the beginning, you'll want someone who knows a little bit of everything.”
Stephen Halasnik, Managing Partner, Financing Solutions, sums it up in one sentence, “Take a long time to hire someone and fire people quickly when it isn't working out.”
The Bottom Line
A large number of today’s tech giants initially began as startups or side hustles. While many of them were founded by super-smart techies, many others were a result of their non-techie co-founders’ strategic executions. If you aren’t an engineer and yet want to start a tech business, rest assured there’s plenty of low hanging fruits to grab. With the right technology partner and thorough market insights, you can definitely create the next big thing in the IT world.