Subscribe to Inc. magazine

Non-Technical Founder? 3 Ways to Be Useful

Can't code? A fellow non-technical founder lays out ways you can add value in the very early days of your start-up.

Hackers are the magicians of the start-up world, conjuring real-world products out of hazy ideas, and they're both highly sought after and lionized for it. Think of industry's icons from the Google guys to Mark Zuckerberg--they're techies all.

All this focus on the guys behind the code can leave an aspiring non-technical co-founder wondering how exactly she would make herself useful in the early stages of building a start-up? Some would answer, skip asking and learn to code!

But not Elizabeth Yin, co-Founder of LaunchBit, a start-up currently participating in the 500 Startups incubator program. On Women 2.0 recently, she joined other non-technical founders in speaking out about the value that less software savvy entrepreneurs can add to early-stage start-ups, offering several specific tasks she has found herself tackling. Here are three of them:

Customer Development. It can be easy as a non-technical co-founder to sit around and do nothing in the beginning, because no product has been built. But, actually, this is when you are MOST needed. When there is no product, your job as a non-technical co-founder is to somehow get customers AND keep them happy. At the beginning of a potential business idea, I would meet with random people of our target demographic to ask them questions about their pain points and problems.

"Wizard of Oz" Customer Validation. After figuring out what problem to tackle, my co-founder Jennifer and I would figure out the minimum viable product (MVP) we'd need to create. Since speed is everything, we forced ourselves to do MVPs in 2 to 4 weeks. This meant there wasn't a lot of time to build much technically. So, most of our MVPs have been very concierge-style. To put it bluntly, the product was just us doing operations manually behind the curtains. For example, with LaunchBit, our advertisers emailed us their creative, and our publishers would copy and paste it into their newsletter. Advertisers would send money to my personal PayPal account. There was no ad server. No dashboards. Virtually no technology in version one.

Growth Hacking. Once you have product/market fit, it's the non-technical co-founder's job to figure out how to grow. It could be through business partnerships and direct sales. It could be through online marketing: advertising, content marketing, built-in product virality, etc. Since your particular company’s growth could come from a number of different channels, the most important skillset at this stage is to figure out a) how to test lots of growth channels quickly and b) how to measure those tests both qualitatively and quantitatively to see what is working.

Check out the complete post for a couple of more suggestions and more details on the ideas outlined here.

What other ways can non-technical founders add value in the early days? 


Last updated: Dec 18, 2012


Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

Register on today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments

Or sign up using: