To an entrepreneur entering the business world, it might seem at first glance that only technology experts like Bill Gates or Larry Page should head up technology companies. But in reality, leaders like Steve Jobs and Michael Dell have created billion-dollar enterprises without formal backgrounds in tech.
Tech-based organizations might be unique because they sell digital products, but at the core, they function similarly to businesses in other industries. Every company aims to sell some sort of product, whether it’s an app, service or physical good. And every business leader is responsible for growing and managing a team of people to create and sell that product or service.
Understanding the nitty-gritty details required to build and maintain a tech product isn’t a requirement to lead the company selling it. If you’re a business-minded leader who’s talented enough to grow an organization, I believe you can do so within a tech company even without an extensive tech background — as long as you implement a few crucial strategies.
Entering the technology industry
In my own entrepreneurial career, I’ve learned this lesson through personal experience. While exploring potential investment opportunities years ago, I came across one that stood out. The company produced a great product, filled an obvious market need at a much better price point than the competition and featured a well-established team. One co-founder had extensive industry experience and connections, while the other had an impressive technical background and track record of success.
Even though I had no technical background myself, I felt comfortable stepping into a leadership role because of the strengths I brought to the table. With the technical responsibilities already covered, I used my background in sales, operations and scaling to focus on U.S. business operations and ramp up growth quickly. I used my experiences from that company to successfully launch a second multinational tech company, which has grown to almost 100 technical employees in less than two years.
If you’ve found yourself in my shoes with the opportunity to lead a tech-based company without a lot of tech experience, don’t be afraid to jump.
Just follow these strategies before you make the leap:
- Find a standout tech partner
If you want to get involved with a tech company but don’t have the experience necessary to understand all the details, find someone who does, be it a CTO, a consultant, a development firm or an agency. Before deciding, do your research about which option will best fit your needs. Some are more expensive than others, while some involve more collaboration — each has pros and cons you need to consider carefully.
For example, don’t pay too much for a CTO who you think will magically fix everything or pay too little for cheap labor hoping it’ll save time or money. Both options could result in disaster, ultimately costing you.
Focus on finding a partner that complements you, whether that’s a person, a team or a company. No matter the direction you take, make sure it’s a well-rounded choice with extensive hands-on experience and a familiarity with best practices for building tech-centric teams and managing projects.
- Look for market validation and advantages
Even if your startup is entering the scene with a unique idea, don’t pin your hopes on the idea alone. Starting a business requires you to do research about your industry, especially if you don’t have a strong background in it. Begin by getting to know your target demographic inside and out. Ensure that you’re delivering what they need, and look for validation in the form of user numbers, testimonials, letters of intent and anything that presents tangible proof of product demand.
And prepare for the fact that if your product creates enough buzz, competitors will emerge quickly — if they haven’t already. Your company needs a one-of-a-kind advantage to overcome that obstacle.
If you’re the first organization to jump into a new space, that means you have the first crack at consumers. If you have relationships that will help you outsell others, use them to best your competitors. Whatever your edge is, lean on it to stay one step ahead.
- Honestly assess your own passion
Starting a business comes with many challenges, so it’s imperative that you’re passionate about what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to be head over heels for the tech-based product or service your new company offers, you just need to know enough about it to be dangerous.
Establishing a successful company requires so much more than just the product. If you don’t love team building, overcoming challenges, learning from mistakes, planning for the future, etc., then it doesn’t really matter what your product is — you won’t be happy as a CEO.
By the same token, don’t focus solely on the company’s earning potential. If you do, you likely won’t get too far, and that money probably won’t come. But if you truly enjoy the growing and scaling process involved in the startup phase, you’ll be on your way to long-term success. And if you do end up making good money, that’s just icing on the cake.
Running a tech company can sound intimidating if you don’t have decades of development experience or any kind of in-depth tech background. If you feel overwhelmed, just remember that your tech company has more in common with non-tech organizations than you might realize.
Whether your experience lies in operations, growth optimization, sales or something entirely different, focus on the value you can bring to your company. Eventually, you’ll generate an idea that’s the perfect fit for your passion and skills, allowing you to reach your fullest potential.