I have spent alot of time this year thinking about entrepreneurship, particularly as it relates to the start up technology world from a non-technical founder’s perspective, and I have come to a few conclusions:
1) If you are a non-technical CEO/founder your life will suck for a long time.
The tech world is ruled by, yes you guessed it — technical people, engineers, developers etc. Guys/gals who can write their own code or challenge the integrity of their team’s code. These are the folks who build the first iterations of their company’s products and use it to recruit others and validate their ideas. Non-technical founders end up hiring consultants to build stuff (I’ve done it); which most of the time is a mistake. Why is it a mistake? Well, for one, what you build today is obsolete the moment you commit the code. Two, it usually means you have paid out of pocket; and unless you are a rich guy/gal, this is generally very painful. Three, software is never done. You hire a consultant to build like 1.0 (if you’re lucky), and you end up dumping more money into bug fixing. Then you have to actually release something to some sort of user/s whether its alpha, beta or whatever the hell you choose to call it. And then, things break = more bugs = more money, etc etc. Not to mention the moment you release something, you’ll want to change it; oh, yeah and 98% of your initial users will find something wrong with it and suggest changes = more money spent on the consultant, etc etc. And then reality sets in: you have spent ALOT of money out of pocket, or the money runs out and its game over.
Another route the Non-technical founder takes instead of dumping his life savings into hiring consultants, is selling the “the dream/vision”. Not only does he/she have to find and convince technical people to embrace the idea enough to commit a substantial amount of their heart, soul, and attention to the venture, yet have to make sure that they maintain the enthusiasm long enough to develop something meaningful. And developing something meaningful just gets you to first base.
You do have exceptions to the rule, such as Steve Jobs. Yet, do remember that Steve was only as good as his TEAM. His ideas didn’t mean anything unless his team was able to execute. Plus Steve is a complete anomaly.
2) Ideas are blaw; Team is EVERYTHING
I have been guilty of thinking that just cause I had an idea, I had a business. Then the years passed and a million ideas later, I realized that ideas are as useless as being the only player on a hockey team that knows how to skate; you wont even have a chance to play the game and will have to forfeit every time.
Repeat after me; TEAM IS EVERYTHING. Great teams can build things. Great teams can overcome obstacles and challenges. Great teams support each other when times are tough, cause they will get tough. Needing a great team is especially important for the non-technical, tech start up co-founder. He/she is literally useless without this team. And moreover this team has to be ever more awesome to be able to persevere on alongside their non-technical leader.
If you dont have a great team, you will not win. I dont give a shit what anyone else says, you are only as strong as your team. Here are some tips:
- Keep Teams Local (as much as possible): Its tough enough building a company when your team is in your back yard. Working with remote teams makes it much harder. I’m convinced that having a great team is like having a great relationship — it takes work. And when you are not able to interact regularly with your teammates, because they are in another time zone is makes it much harder. Many times there are cultural and language barriers. As we all know, often times tones and meanings can be unclear in the virtual world. Now, I’m not saying that its impossible; and in fact there are a ton of examples of teams that have been able to pull it off. My point is, if you are going to have an offshore or remote team, get ready for the challenges that you will face.
- Be Clear, Definitive, and Make the Though Calls: You need to set the tone and expectation for the team from day one. Sometimes a non-technical founder will be so afraid of loosing their technical team that they will turn a blind eye to red flags or try to rationalize why things are not getting done. If they cant hack it, let them go. Its not healthy for anyone involved.
- Build SOMETHING you know something about: Too many times do you see entrepreneurs building businesses that they are clueless about. I am definitely guilty of this. I have tried to start businesses that I didnt know much about and perhaps was just cool. Then reality hit.