It’s difficult to think of a company that doesn’t rely on an app or website to function—it seems that almost every new startup that makes major news is, essentially, an engineering company. More often than not, they’re a software producer.
Because of this, many would-be entrepreneurs feel that they must be able to code or design in order to merit the title of “founder.” After all, an idea without execution doesn’t seem very impressive. This hesitation from non-tech founders isn’t a new phenomenon, though it’s been amplified by news from Silicon Valley and competing tech centers. Only 11 percent of S&P 500 CEOs hold undergraduate degree in business administration, while a third hold one in engineering, and most of those companies weren’t even originally based online or have anything to do with engineering.
It’s logical to assume, therefore, that if the business idea you have is heavily or completely reliant on an app or website to function, you should be able to build it yourself.
This isn’t true.
Yes, as a non-tech founder, you’ll be thrown some curve balls that technical founders won’t have to worry about. For instance, it will be important to vet your technical team to prevent yourself from getting Winklevoss’d. However, if you have passion for your idea, the ability to network, and an instinct for business, you’ll actually be better prepared to not only lead a growing company, but to be its public face in the long run.
Take, for example, Nish Patel, CEO and founder of ClutchPoints, an app that is meant to accompany the viewing of live sporting events. Patel is neither a developer, nor a sports veteran. He was studying pre-med in his undergrad at UCLA when he noticed a need, and decided to fill it. In the interim, ClutchPoints has amassed over 150 million monthly fans. Doesn’t look like his lack of coding skills held him back, right?
Patel isn’t an outlier, and it’s possible to see the same success. Here are 3 lessons you can learn from the ClutchPoints founder’s origin story:
Define a Problem to Define Your Passion
“Millennials are constantly seeing problems and hurdles in life and coming up with creative solutions with their friends and family,” says Patel. “The most important component to becoming a budding entrepreneur is to not fear the process of turning a good idea into a legitimate product or solution. The idea is just 1 percent of the overall process. The time and dedication to take that idea to market is really the crucial 99 percent.”
While many have been told since childhood to “follow their passions,” it’s important to also know to follow opportunity, and to be flexible when circumstances change. While pursuing medical school, Patel noticed that there was not, as of yet, an easy way to check social media for commentary, either from celebrities such as past team mates or commentators, or from his friends who were also glued to the screen. Given the millions of sports fans around the world, the opportunity to be the person who modernized the sports fan experience was too great to pass up.
Be Pragmatic, Be Patient
Even though Patel was already on a path to a no-doubt lucrative and secure career as a physician, he recognized a golden opportunity. However, it’s important to note that he didn’t “take the leap,” as may be the case in many romanticized foundation stories. Instead, he worked on his idea while continuing his studies.
“I knew that the need was there, and I had no doubt that I had the networking and business skills to make it happen, but there are always unknown factors when you’re talking about starting a business,” comments Patel. “ClutchPoints started as a passion project that I would do in my free time. It’s impossible to know if something out of your control can go wrong, so even though I caught the entrepreneurship ‘bug,’ I continued with my original path.”
“The buildup period is even more important for non-technical founders. The majority of my time spent while I was initially getting ClutchPoints off the ground was networking and marketing research—both of which take a considerable amount of time and patience,” explains Patel. “I was going to entrepreneurship clubs at UCLA every week, sometimes even more often; I set up introductions to other entrepreneurs; I scouted for others who would not only be interested in my idea, but who would execute it properly.”
All too often, would-be founders quit their day jobs—or day-studies, as the case may be—to pursue their dreams and ambitions, only to have unforeseen issues topple their progress. Maybe it’s another company beating them to the market, or a sudden change in the behavior that you based your company on. Regardless, look before you leap.
Understand the Value Each Person Brings to the Team—Including You
As the non-technical founder of a tech company, it’s obviously important that you find a technical lead quickly. The way you decide who is best qualified to build your product, the person who you both trust to treat you honestly and fairly, as well as do a great job, is up to you. But you must be able to relax your grip. Non-technical founders cannot be micro-managers.
This requirement is based on the idea of knowing what each team member brings to the team. You are not technical, and therefore, you must lean on your technical founder or manager to build the product. In the same way, they’re leaning on you to do the rest—especially for sales.
“Focus on your strengths. While my technical team was building the product, I continued what I was doing – networking, finding investors and those who were interested in the product, spreading the word and developing our financial plan,” says Patel. “This also helps to build a culture of trust in your growing company, which is much easier to start right from scratch, instead of having to correct it later.”
If you’re a non-technical founder, or a potential founder, the key is to embrace what you are great at, and build a complimentary team. It’s a tough road, but every entrepreneur will be faced with their own challenges. Your background will help you in ways that might seem foreign to even the best engineer. Embrace who you are, assure yourself the validity of your idea, surround yourself with talent, and don’t look back.
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