“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people use.” —Steve Jobs
There are three myths that many founders without a tech background, particularly if they are first-time founders, believe:
Myth #1—Experience is a Prerequisite
Myth #2—The Technology is the Hardest Part
Myth #3—You Must Raise Money Immediately
Experience is a Prerequisite
Are you the kind of person who embraces the challenge of learning new things? Have you taught yourself how to shoot and edit video or record a podcast, to become a better public speaker, or fix your own car? What does this have to do with starting a tech company, you might ask?
One of the clearest indicators of success in a new founder is the ability to step into a new domain and learn quickly. Learning how to build a technology product is no different than learning any of these other skills I mentioned. You have to be willing to embrace the unknown and dance with it.
What you’ll find as you meet with people, read articles and books, and put yourself in the middle of this exciting space, is a veil of mystery begin to lift. You only have to be willing to learn everything you possibly can as fast as you possibly can and have no shame in not knowing the answer or understanding something fully.
The Technology Is the Hardest Part
If you’re not a developer, it’s easy to believe that the actual coding will be the hardest part of your venture. As a result, you often spend an outsized amount of time in the early going trying to find a technical co-founder or trusted development resource.
What often gets missed in the scrambling around is that there are about 500 questions that have to be answered about your business that have NOTHING to do with the actual technology you need to build.
- Who are your customers?
- How will you find them?
- How much should you charge?
- Who is your competition?
- and on and on…
What you can assume about the actual development process is that nearly anything you dream up is possible to build. Unless you’re trying to crack the mysteries of the universe, you’ll be able to find someone who can build what needs to be built.
What is very much in question, however, is whether or not you have a viable business. Only by actually interacting with the marketplace can you answer this question, and it always takes a lot more work than you think it will. There are hundreds of resources available on how to test your idea before you ever write a line of code.
If you’ve not put together a business model (I like the Business Model Canvas), a straw man of a financial plan, and met with at least 50 prospects, then there’s no reason to even think about building an application yet. You’ll be lighting your hard-earned cash on fire.
Don’t be seduced by the stories you read. Most every successful business started by grinding it out on the business first, then going to work on the tech. You might catch lightning in a bottle, but you probably don’t want to bet on it.
You Must Raise Money Immediately
“Raising money is easy”, said no one, ever.
I love the power of constraints early in the company’s life. There are few things more valuable than learning how to do more with less. Only have $5,000? I’ve seen apps get built and launched for under $3,000, with a nice design to boot.
The stories are legendary: Groupon started with a WordPress site and manual issuance of coupons. Zappos started with a simple e-commerce website and pictures of shoes the company didn’t own.
Raising money will be harder than you can ever dream of, take longer than you can imagine, and take you away from your most important work: proving the business model as quickly as possible. Not to mention, the earlier you raise money, the more expensive it is.
Do as much as you can with as little as you can until you know you’ve got something worth ramping, and then go raise the funding required to do it right.
Starting a technology company is hard, but it’s also eminently doable. Be exceptionally curious, assume the technology is doable, and forego raising money until you’ve proven you’ve got something more than just an idea.
Read Scott’s initial piece, The Untechnical Founder Death Spiral, here.