I cofounded my first technology startup as a non-technical founder way back in 1996. Since then, I've founded four more tech startups across different industry verticals - failing at two, selling one and currently running another.
I can say I've had my fair share of failures and successes in the technology space as a non-technical founder, with tons of insights to back me up for the next few companies that I intend to build.
In the meantime, though, I help my customers at Arkenea that are largely non-technical founders not make the mistakes that I made while failing at the three tech startups early on in my journey.
These are some of the classic mistakes that I see non-tech founders make, which they should quit doing if they were to build a successful technology business.
Trying to hire the cheapest developer
In the technology space, you pretty much get what you pay for. Lower the projected cost of development, the more chances that the quality of resources isn't going to support building a robust and scalable product.
This also doesn't necessarily mean that non-tech founders should go out and hire an expensive outfit. If you're at the early stages and building a product that doesn't have much market competition will allow you to build a scaled down first version.
In that, you don't need to hire an agency that works with enterprise customers as their overheads and the pricing will not be suited to the needs of a startup.
Trying to hire a technical cofounder
I liken hiring a technical cofounder to that of looking for a bride or a groom. You're going to spend huge amounts of time together, through the ups and downs of your startup.
This means, you need to work with someone who shares the same vision as yours, has an equal or more amount of passion for the problem you intend to solve and is someone you see yourself trusting and being able to easily work with.
Speed dating isn't going to cut it here.
Rather than spending time searching for a technical cofounder, take the time to invest in building your first version. Through the journey, keep a lookout for the right person to bring on your team. Quit trying to hire a technical cofounder just so you can build your product for free!
Hiring software engineers
Software business is purely a people business. It's the people that write software, not machines. If you hire the wrong set of people, your product is not going to turn out anywhere near the usability mark.
Quit trying to hire software engineers when you don't understand technology enough to evaluate them - be it in-house or outsourced.
Bring on additional help from within your network - someone that has years of experience in this space and has been involved in interviewing technology candidates. Get them to evaluate the candidates you have shortlisted.
This small shift can change the course of your tech startup as you start out.
Don't micro-manage your engineers when you don't understand technology like the way they do. You don't want to lose respect and neither do you want to lower the efficiencies of your team.
What you must do instead to be in a continuous update loop is to set a process of communication and delivery between yourself and the team. Do a daily standup with the tech team to get an update of the previous day's tasks, any challenges they faced or came across and the milestones for the day.
This will ensure you're on top of the milestones and can fix issues as they come up without wasting days or weeks.
Learning to code
Do you want to become an engineer or an entrepreneur? That's the question you should be asking the next time someone suggests you learn to code if you want to build a technology startup.
Coding isn't for everyone - you need a certain aptitude or interest to learn and become proficient enough to be able to create a program with all the complexities of your project.
What every non-tech founder must do instead is to get a crash course in technology - things such as the tech stacks and their differences, databases, web services, etc. This will help you make the right choices in technology for your product.
High-level business spiel isn't for everyone. It's good for a drawing-room conversation, but not to have with your core technology team.
What your team needs is detailed instructions, workflows and elaborated features and functionalities to start the development. Invest your time in creating as detailed a functional specifications document as you can. If not, you can always hire external help to do so. If you can, create screen-by-screen mockups using an online prototyping tool to visually explain the project requirements.
This will help your tech team understand your expectations fully and work with you productively.
Thinking you're at a loss
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'. 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.
Kumar Arora, founder of Aroridex and an investor on CNBC's reality show 'Cleveland Hustles' says, "Being a non-technical founder also allows one to look at things in a non-technical way. With a fresh set of eyes, you may see things that an engineer or programmer may miss. As a founder, this is very important because you will always want to make sure the vision is intact on a business level."
Focus on your strengths in the business and don't overcompensate for the lack of coding knowledge.