There's a myth floating around Silicon Valley that you need to be able to code to run a successful company. And it's duped us all. The companies we aspire to start are tech-based, overnight unicorns that fundamentally disrupt the industry they are entering. But there are other ways to do it. At this year's HustleCon, held in Oakland, CA, non-tech founders were the star attraction. They shared their stories of grit, determination and perseverance in the face of naysayers; as well as what inspires them. Unsurprisingly, you can partner with, or hire, someone with the coding skills needed to bring your idea to life. However, you cannot magically conjure a provocative idea and unshakeable conviction that the world would be better off because of your business.
Lesson 1: Solve a problem, don't set out to start a company
The Company: Hint
Valuation: $90 million
Kara Goldin started the company in 2005, after realizing she had a Diet Coke addiction and set out to do something about it. After quitting, she lost weight, gained energy and fell ill far less frequently. Her experience led her to create a beverage that would make it easier for people to get off soda, and drink more water instead. When you are clear on what problem you are solving, and why this matters, you can take on the bigger companies. Godin says, "Companies can compete on many dimensions, but they can't undo the problem you're trying to solve". This commitment to the cause allowed Goldin and her husband to turn $50,000 in savings into a million-dollar business.
Lesson 2: Find a co-founder with complementary skill set
The Company: We Work
Valuation: $16 billion
Co-founder Miguel McKelvey attributes much of WeWork's success to his strong partnership with co-founder Adam Neumann; and their complementary skill sets. McKelvey is an architect and brings to the table a strong design understanding and aesthetic that enhances both productivity and community; as well as a passion for developing an unstoppable internal culture and tight-knit communities. Neumann, on the other hand, is a shrewd businessman, capable of closing deals, raising capital and securing favorable terms. They bring different skill sets to the table, and respect each other's areas of strength. For key decisions, McKelvey and Neumann have a policy that they must both agree on the outcome before moving forward. This practice encourages them to see the each other's point of view before they've even had an initial discussion. McKelvey says, "This makes us consider each other's perspective. Sometimes we even end up making a case for each other's point of view."
Lesson 3: Focus On What's Working, Kill What's Not
The Company: ClassPass
Valuation: $400 million
ClassPass was founded by Management Consultant and dance enthusiast Payal Kadakia, after frustration mounted when she tried to find an exercise class while visiting a friend in San Francisco. Kadakia's principle lesson for future founders was centered on making hard decisions in order to focus on what's working. ClassPass originally launched as 'Classtivity', a website that allowed users to see what classes were happening in their neighborhood. This product went through two more pivots before becoming the success that is ClassPass. At one point, Kadakia admits that they had three separate products in market as they delayed killing the earlier versions that they had grown attached to. Making the tough decision to actively kill ideas that are not working is critical. It frees up valuable time, money and resources that can then be invested in other areas that show greater promise.
Lesson 4: Always Challenge Conventional Wisdom
The Company: Quest Nutrition
Valuation: $1 Billion
Quest built a billion brand by blowing up the traditional marketing book. Rather than focusing on try to sell product, Quest marketing has focused on how they can be helpful and meaningful to others. This creates an army of enthusiastic fans, willing to spread your word on your behalf. For example, when buttoning down an influencer strategy, Quest repeatedly went above and beyond what was expected of them. And it worked. Instead of just sending product and hoping for the best, Quest showed influencers they were interested in what mattered to them. For example, Youtube influencer, Jenna Marbles (with a daily reach of 20 million) willingly posted about their product across multiple channels, after Quest sent knitted sweaters for her dogs. This surprising act of generosity has the power to cut through a noisy world and helped the brand skyrocket.