How to Start a Tech Start-up as a Non-Technical Person?

Many successful startup founders have proved that this is possible to build a great tech product without a tech background.

lemer’s “Inspire, We Inspire” Global Entrepreneurs Online Roundtable held another event on the 1st of August 2020. This time around Ylemer invited a Brisbane-based software engineer and consultant Illia Kavaliou to share his knowledge on the table. A real-life startup founder Sharine Duran was also invited as a special guest to share her experiences as a non-technical person starting a tech startup. Here’s a recap of the event’s highlights:

The roundtable started with the question:

Is it possible to build a tech startup without having a technical background?

Before sharing the answer, Illia talked about how companies like Airbnb, Tinder, Pandora, Pinterest, and Teespring all had one thing in common, and that was a non-technical founder. He shared how Brian Chesky, Co-Founder Airbnb came from an industrial designing background and became a successful entrepreneur. Similar to this, Ben Silbermann, Co-Founder Pinterest also came from an educational background in political science and later on came to be known as a billionaire entrepreneur.

So now you could easily guess what could have been Illia’s answer to the above question. And you’re right; the answer is YES, it’s possible! Illia used the above successful stories of technical startups by non-tech founders as proof for the need for innovation. You do not necessarily need to have the technical knowledge to succeed if you’re undoubtedly aware of the problem. What drives the startup role is more about innovation and not really about the technical knowledge itself.

Going further down the event, Illia shared the main highlights of his presentation, which were divided into 5 essential guidelines:

  1. Validate the problem and idea before diving into implementation
    Fortune reported that 42 per cent of startups fail from building products or services with no market need. Therefore, Illia mentioned that even though he comes from a technological background and loves working around IT, it’s not the technology itself that’s more important for a startup but the problem that you’re going to solve with it. He said that even if you can work with Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence or maybe Blockchain, (all of the cool stuff out there) don’t think that those tools are the one solving the problem. They are only there to help your startup achieve the solution, but they aren’t the force that drives that solution.

Concierge services:
If you’re somebody new to startups, try using a concierge service first.

Concierge services allow you to manually perform something that
you can iterate later. So if you have a problem that you think you can solve by creating something technical, try doing it manually first so you can validate if it’s working or not. For example, if you’re looking to create a collaboration tool or something similar, you can start with something existing such as Facebook. Just create a group on Facebook, target the people you want to get
involved and find out what’s their feedback. Doing so may surely not solve all of the problems, but it will at least give you some understanding of whether that problem exists and whether the market needs that particular solution to the problem.

Beware of exponential costs to fix software defects
Illia used the graph below to show that it costs 6x more to fix a software defect found during the implementation phase as compared to when it’s identified during the design stage. Therefore, non-technical startup founders must focus on any defects or bugs that may become a severe problem later on.

Relative Costs to Fix Software Defects (Source: IBM Systems Sciences Institute)

2. Find a committed technical Co-Founder or a CTO
Finding somebody with a technical background with a long-term commitment can be helpful. Sharine Duran, CEO of Adzurra, could also not emphasize more about finding a CTO while sharing her journey. She mentioned how being a non-technical person cost her tremendous amounts of time, energy and money spent in all the wrong directions before she started to build connections with the right IT consultants.

Technical roadmap
A technical roadmap should be aligned with a business strategy. Don’t approach someone randomly for technical solutions or software development consultancies. Because you may have your business strategy, but you don’t quite understand how it should be implemented technically. So when you approach people randomly, it means that they will take your money and work on a bunch of different assumptions without actually prioritizing what’s important for your business.

Illia believes the reason for such an outcome is the lack of responsibility and understanding coming from non-serious software developers. But this does not mean that software consultants are no good. What’s important is to establish a good rapport and build a long-term relationship.

Avoid artificial harmony
Ask technical people on multiple levels to challenge your ideas. Otherwise, you may have a product and a business strategy but do not understand that any particular parts that you want to build are way too complicated and it’s going to cost a lot of money. Usually, software consultants will agree with whatever you say because you’re paying them. Therefore, you need to find someone who can “argue” with you because that’s the right thing to do.

Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) processes
Define Software development lifecycle processes(SDLC) from the beginning to increase efficiency and sustainability. A laid-back attitude for process documentation will leave you with a foundation for a very inefficient work in the future. Avoid “grey” areas. Don’t get yourself stuck with a developer who’s the only person who knows how your system works. If you don’t have proper documentation, you are in a dangerous position. So, you may get a product, but you can’t maintain it or explain how it works as a non-technical person.

3. Learn from other startups/businesses failures
Illia emphasized how we have underestimated what we can learn by looking at others’ failures. It is the cheapest way to avoid mistakes. It’s essential to focus on failure stories as compared to success stories; the reason is that this allows us to learn what we should avoid and increase our chances to a more successful business future. He mentioned using online platforms such as fuckupnights.com that shares global business failure stories for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone interested in having a business.

4. Build a reliable network through Startup Programs
Don’t underestimate the kind of support that you can get from the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We cannot be good at everything, and you need to understand many different aspects of a business such as accounting, law, technology, and any subject matter expertise. However, you must be aware that this ecosystem is not going to solve your business problems or help you start your business. So, it’s more about building a reliable network.

Similarly, accelerator programs can also take your idea to partner with corporates for pilot-projects. This is important because even if you don’t end up getting the capital from the accelerator program, you can still de-risk future investors.

Future investors find it crucial to know that you’ve been successful with an accelerator or incubator program because it shows that you have gone through quite a thorough validation process with your business idea.

5. Focus on the right things
Nearing the end of the presentation, Illia mentioned a few quick tips such as:

  • Solving one problem at a time and avoiding constant changes to your product because this will make you lose your product’s real focus and the value that you started with initially.
  • Prioritize your tasks based on your business strategy and technical roadmap. This is why finding the right CTO or technical person will help you to focus on the right things.
  • You need to iterate quickly and be open to feedback.
  • Define whether your startup is product-focused or customer-focused. Because if you’re product-focused then your business needs to improve your product continuously and you measure results in terms of product revenues. However, if you choose to be customer-focused, you are more flexible, and you pretty much only care about satisfying your customer and the kind of service you can give them.

Illia explained how the majority of the startups are usually product-focused, but they have a risk to become customer-focused and lose the idea of their startups. This can become unfavourable because initially when you don’t have too many customers, focusing on their particular wants may change the entire dimension of your product and can lead to unpleasant circumstances.

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Written By:

Sadia Mehfooz Khan
Chief Copywriter | Ylemer

The ultimate online community platform, created by and for entrepreneurs, where everyone contribute towards the future of our people and planet.

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