October 17, 2017

The Non-Technical Founder

I have been speaking to Coworking spaces, Incubators and Accelerators across London and it has become apparent that there is a common problem arising from non-technical startup founders. This transcends the culture; this impacts more than just female or minority-led startups.

I have worked as a Product Manager at software companies for a few years as well as experienced starting a tech startup myself. One of the harshest lessons I learned was that to succeed at building a tech company; you need technical talent in-house. Put simply; we had to hire Engineers and couldn’t outsource the tech because it was core to the problem we were solving. If we look to any successful startup from Airbnb and Transferwise to Citymapper and Spotify, they all hired Developers from the start. However so many non-technical founders I speak to fall into the what I call The Blind Build Trap.

The Blind Build Trap

Meet Joe; he has over five years work experience in Operations for an Investment Bank as well as a Startup. During his time at the startup, he caught the startup bug and became passionate about building a CRM platform for eCommerce merchants.

Joe can’t write a line of code, so he puts out a brief on UpWork and finds a freelancer in Eastern Europe who says it will take him six weeks to build the software and cost Joe €2,500. Joe pays and six weeks later he is delivered the final product. It is not what he expected, but he figured it would do.

Joe soon has three pilot users and realizes there are bugs and faults with the CRM platform and it is not working as expected. As a result, he turns to PeoplePerHour and finds an engineer based in the UK. Joe shares with him a brief on how he wants to fix the bugs and improve the platform. The engineer says the code is s*!% and advises Joe that he is better off starting from scratch. The quote for this job is £3,700. And the story goes on.

Just to note, when moving fast and scrappy as a founder it is sometimes a good idea to get a freelancer to help build a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to prove the value of the solution you would like to create. In fact, I would encourage it in most cases for a non-technical founder. Especially as it can save you money in the long run if the idea fails and you can cut your ties with your outsourced developer. However, if your MVP proves to be valuable to customers, there is a transitional period where you need to bring tech in-house so you can work closely with an engineer to continue to iterate and evolve the product. Nevertheless, this transition is very difficult to make without expertise in software development.

This is all too familiar a case and recurring problem that friends have constantly been approaching me with or referring others to talk to me about. The repeating pattern of the problem is that there are a lot of ambitious people with great business ideas, but as non-tech founders, they lack the technical expertise to make their idea a reality.

The main challenges non-tech founders face is not being able to assess and hire the engineering talent required or appreciate everything that goes into successfully delivering software. Hence, I would like to share an MVP being piloted with a friend of mine called Twiiged. This service is designed to help non-technical founders hire, assess and work alongside engineers within their startup. Saving time, money and the guesswork that goes into wasted efforts using multiple offshore developers.

It is critical to understand that for a strong technology product company you need to hire strong engineers that are passionate about your vision, and you need to learn how to work efficiently with them. This is not something you want to outsource post-MVP validation. You need missionaries, not mercenaries. To be blunt, without that you have little hope of growing successful startup with technology at its core.

If you or a founder you know would be interested in support from Twiiged, drop me an email at andy@twiiged.io

Andy Ayim

Andy is Managing Director of Backstage Capital London. Previously a Product Manager who has traveled and worked in over 40 countries in the last five years. He is passionate about telling stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds and improving Tech Inclusion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.