I presume that if you were prompted to open this article, you have shared or still share my experience of having no or limited computer programming expertise while being consumed with the idea to use technology to create a dent in a niche.
In late 2014, Kavan approached me with the idea of creating a market network of creative professionals in India. Studying the year-on-year growth in the design industry in India and the impending need to create a platform for the highly disorganized Indian creative community led to the inception of IndieFolio.
From the early days, we had a very clear outlook that we wanted to create a company which would rely more on technology than any other department to solve the problems faced by our target audience. However, we had a slight shortcoming to overcome – none of us had any knowledge or work experience in coding. Kavan had a diploma in animation and was in his 2nd year in H.R. College, pursuing his under-graduation in Mass Media. Whereas, I was halfway through my actuarial papers, having recently graduated from H.R. College with a specialisation in Financial Markets.
Learning how to code and building the product on our own wasn’t an option for multiple reasons and we were not willing to lose out on this opportunity. Our initial readings and encounters with multiple entrepreneurs made us realize that starting a technology-based company is not just about knowing how to program, it is also about:
- Understanding how technology can be used to address the inconveniences faced by many.
- Finding the tools and resources to help you build this technology.
- Understanding the limitations of these resources and the impact they could have.
It’s been two years since we first sat down to address this problem and since, we have been able to build India’s largest professional creative network with over 25,000 creative professionals and have worked with over 1,000 companies. And we did all that by understanding the fundamentals of programming and technology, and more importantly understanding what our users wanted from our product.
Over this phase, we started off with a simple Launchrock page to understand initial traction; outsourced the 1st version of our product; made our 1st technology hire 6 months post our launch; hired no one else for a year after that; made all the possible mistakes and still survived. And these are a few learnings that I believe fellow and future non-technical founders can take from our experiences:
Outsourcing The Entire Product Is A Very Short-term Solution
We found an able partner in Vinfotech to outsource our first version of IndieFolio. Outsourcing helps you save up on time and money and also saves the hassle of putting together the different components of hiring the right team. But it is a short-term solution whose benefits start wearing off as soon you achieve product/market fit and are looking to scale up your offerings or services.
You will then need more control of functions such as technology as the need to iterate and ship features increases. Other than hiring a full-time employee, you can also hire developers on contract to work from your office.
Keep Learning And Stay Updated
Any time that’s not spent on selling our services or talking to our users, is spent on furthering our knowledge. Schooling ourselves about technology and how to build a scalable product has been on our priority list since the beginning and I cannot emphasise how valuable that has been.
Make sure you understand the various tools and services that are available and what tools your tech team is using. Doing the above will help you establish and manage your own process from ideation to wireframing to shipping, in spite of not having a technical background.
For all your limitations as non-technical founders, you should definitely acquire the skill of building a good WordPress website and choose from thousands of website themes and templates on ThemeForest. They come quite handy when building a handy micro-site for your business operations without being dependent on your tech team. We have developed a few on our own such as Proxy, Assist, Blog, Events, etc.
Warren Buffett often emphasises understanding one’s “Circle of Competence”. In spite of all the learning and beginner courses, we understood our limitations as non-technical founders and never once assumed that we would be able to completely develop a website as extensive as IndieFolio on our own. Even while building the frst version of our product, we were talking to multiple candidates to come in as our Chief Technology Officer. In our experience, AngelList and LinkedIn have helped us find the most appropriate candidates. Also very recently, we have been using
In our experience, AngelList and LinkedIn have helped us find the most appropriate candidates. Also very recently, we have been using Mettl to test every interested and eligible candidate. Three pieces of advice that we have kept in mind while hiring developers right from the beginning are:
- The cost of bad hiring decisions is quite high and for us, the future of our business was at stake.
- Hire people smarter than you.
- Developers need to be the engineers that drive the business forwards in aspects of innovation and product, and other than your customers, they are the most important assets to the company.
Product And Project Management
In 2016, we assembled an extremely able tech team and took our foot off the gas for a while. And that is when a short period of delays and chaos ensued. Just because you believe you have hired well, does not mean you can lose track. It is then that the more important role of laying down a product roadmap and managing the project comes into play. Being a technical founder and having written code is obviously an advantage when leading a product team.
However, product management is more about the strategy, execution, and leadership that you provide during the product build. It is about how to make the development team understand the need and usage of the product to be built and then get them to deliver just that. It involves understanding philosophies such as Agile and Lean and methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, etc. and implementing the right one for your team. Understanding diverse aspects of the business such as SEO & content strategy, user experience, analytics and other people-related skills such as task management, project timelines, communication can go a long way to make you a very successful non-technical product manager.
Reach Out To People
You need to start sharing your problems within your network and then let the force of the community weave its magic. You will definitely be surprised to see how results improve once you start sharing. Find people within your family, friends or social circles with the technical background to help you or ask them to put in a reference for you. If you are a non-technical founder, it is your job to hire a tech team and just posting listings on job portals is not enough. You have to use the reach and power of your network to the fullest to find top talent. If you do not have a trusted tech lead yet, find people who can take technical interviews for you, someone whose technical ability can be validated by a third party that you trust.
Reach out to people with wide domain expertise and get them on board as consultants to keep an external check on your team and help ensure that your team is not delving into dubious practices or age-old technologies. And just an email to a 100 people will not help you achieve this. You have to carefully build your relations with these experts and make them believe that your product and you are worth their time.
Arduous task? It definitely is. However, with the right attitude and aptitude to learn, it is very possible. And there are plenty of people around today, who despite not having any known technical expertise, have built some of the biggest and most popular corporations of the world today.
Technical knowledge and the ability to develop your own product is surely a great advantage to have and does get you a few brownie points with the VCs. However, it is not the end of the story. If you can get help to build your product, learn and measure the feedback that you receive, keep iterating, and sell your product, there is no person or thing that can stop you from being a success.
While this list is still a work-in-progress and far from exhaustive, I’ve found these pointers crucial to my experience and I hope you take back something from this as well.
[This post by Shashank Jogani first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]