How Non-Technical Startup Founders Can Thrive

Five years ago, it was nearly impossible for a non-technical entrepreneur to get into mobile app or software development of any kind without a technical partner. Of course some did so successfully, but for your traditional bootstrapped startup, it was essential that the founding team be able to knock out the first iteration of code. That is not the case today. Today, there is a boom in non-technical founders around the world managing engineering teams, raising capital and pushing some of the most promising technology on the market.

How and why is this happening?

We have to look at labor dynamics in the highly skilled sector, which is going through a period of incredible transition.

What we see is a trend toward a future where non-technical founders are essential to our economy.

And second, the practices used by the most successful non-technical founders are being made available to wider circles of people.

Enormous skilled labor gap projected to grow exponentially

It is already commonly understood that good engineers are hard to find. Good engineers also come with a hefty price tag. This is basic supply and demand economics, and right now, supply is low.

Unfortunately, the market doesn’t have a great answer to that problem — coding bootcamps and college scholarship programs have barely made a dent. Compound that with the looming suck of cybersecurity jobs that are likely to pull from the same talent base and you are looking at a bleak five year forecast.

Most projections suggest there will be a gap of 3.5 million unfilled jobs in cybersecurity alone by 2021.

The good news is if you have engineering skills, your job prospects are looking good. The bad news is, if you are a non-technical founder looking for a technical partner, you’re facing an uphill battle. With job prospects and salaries at an all time high, fewer engineers are willing to gamble on uncertain startup gigs, and those that are expect favorable partnership terms.

The non-technical advantage

Despite the current shortage of engineers, the prospects for non-technical founders have actually reversed in recent years. It turns out that a startup with beautiful code still has to be a business, and standout failures in the last few years have caused VCs to tighten the purse strings.

Now, the first and most important thing a founder needs to have is a quality business mind. It is understood that you can pay for tech, but it is much harder to pay for good business planning.

“Just because you’re a non-technical founder building a technology business doesn’t mean your skills are any less valuable than that of the engineering teams,” Rahul Varshneya wrote for Inc.

“There are many skills required to build a sustainable business and pride yourself in those that you have which could move the needle forward. The software product is no good if no one finds out about it. Marketing and sales are an equally important skill set and much easier to learn and adapt than coding.”

Important dos and don’ts for non-technical founders

If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a technology company and you do not have a software engineering background, know this: you can run a technology company.

It is essential that you do the following to give your startup the best possible chance at success:

  1. Get granular with your tech

You do not need to know how to code to architect and design every facet of your mobile app or software platform. Inputs and outputs can be explained in human terms, visualized with wire frames, and described by itemized user functions. Take the time to architect everything down to the studs before you engage with your engineers. If all you have is a high level vision for the technology, like what you would pitch to an investor, expect your engineers to produce something totally different than what is in your head.

  1. Learn as you go

While it is possible to found a tech company without being able to code, take advantage of the opportunity to immerse yourself because it is not a disadvantage, either. You will pick it up faster than you think and it will help you to understand your business on a more personal level. Know your business backwards and forwards, and that includes the tech.

  1. Treat engineers like people

Hopefully you treat everyone like a person as it is, but don’t forget that engineers are not robots just because they make them. They may speak another language and you will undoubtedly clash from time to time — but if you empower them to do great work, they will be loyal to you. Having engineers that want to work for you is rocket fuel in today’s startup economy.

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Expect to see a continued boom in non-technical founders in the years to come. If you are one of them, find resources that expound on the issues highlighted here, and know that there is so much more to learn. Technology is only as valuable as it is helpful to our human needs, and in that endeavor, everyone can help.

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