Being a business founder!

It sucks.

It sucks ass if you are the only founder and you just don’t code.

At least, this is what conventional wisdom about startups has taught us.

Nothing is more important for a founder than being able to make the right decisions at an appropriate time, to propel their startup in discontinuous , fast growth orbits. The rest are means. That includes which programming language you use, which freelancer or agency you work with, what colors you use in the logo and all other trivial decisions you meticulously make.

Technology for most startups is only a tool that makes it easy to transition across orbits of growth, as they figure how to break out of their linear motion, onto the next orbit.

Now there’s an element of truth in the fact that not all startups are enabled by tech. Some are squarely technical. If you cannot code and want to make a better email management plugin for Outlook and Gmail, you are not fit for that idea. But if you are building airbnb for squirrels, you have a long runway before lack of tech background hits your company.

Here are some pragmatic tips to build your (tech enabled) startup, as a business founder:

1. When you are validating your idea, a no-tech approach would do. At this stage you are looking for cues. Not money. Not scale. Not wow. At this point for most of us, a launch page or a HTML website, helped with off-the-shelf tools would suffice.

2. When you have got enough cues to build a proposition, some tech would suffice. Any tech that is sufficient to overcome frictions in trials, would be all you need. With that you could have some users. This is not the time you worry about PHP vs Ruby vs Python.

3. When you have a good proposition, validated by customers, you only need iterative fine tuning to get to a point where a sizable part of your customers pay. This is again not about tech. Its about features, UX and fixes to what’s already there.

In each of these cases you are articulating a story, selling, doing social engineering and some building, to get to a point where you have respectable number of paid customers.

For some this is a 6 months task. For many this takes between a year and two. Till such period, you have no disadvantage as a business founder. If there’s any, its that you spend to build things. Your currency is money while a technical founder’s currency is time. Both are vital resources for a startup and when expended judicially both get you where you’ve to be.

So go to talk to customers. Work for them. Build things through freelancers. Outsource. Buy. These are tools for you to build a valid business and at no point are you disadvantaged because you spend & buy than build it with your hands.

Don’t force yourself to code. It’s easy to pick the basic , but hard to master. Instead focus on what you can do well.

Indecision kills a startup and so does slow movement. 6 hours of scrappy coding every day is worse than 6 hours of being on the street talking to customers (while your above-average programmer builds your scrappy version 0.x, which would tend to be many times better than your first attempt). The cost of learning tech, just so that you can communicate with the developer is unjustified. I say this after being in tech for 10 years handling developers and building beta versions for over 100 startup customers. In most cases, common sense, coupled with articulation are better tools to assimilate/understand developer’s perspectives than your scrappy attempt to code yourself. In fact, if you cannot summon those two skills to communicate with someone that’s unlike you, you are not yet ready to be a founder!

Business is harder to build than a product. Build the business everyday. Technology will fall in place when you have a business that needs it for scale.

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  • Ernie

    How would you suggest someone approach this issue in a society that is so rewarded through money. For example in Singapore, majority of the programmers or people in fact would not even listen or agree to work with you on your idea unless you can pay them in some form. How would you suggest progressing then? Finding programmers has also been a challenge because of this reason.

    • Ashwin – ContractIQ

      Ok. Any good craftsman needs to be paid for his/her craft. So your first task should be to make enough money to pay a developer reasonably ok.

      But before you do that question your assumption if you need to build any product. Try running your business offline and on excel sheets till it makes enough money to afford a developer!

  • Ernie

    Appreciate the reply!

    Much appreciated.