The most common question I get asked by entrepreneurs is what is the role of a non-technical founder? In today’s market technical talent has become increasingly scarce with the trickle of top talent unable to meet skyrocketing demands. It’s great to see engineers recognized for the outsized contribution they can make. However, the pendulum has swung so far away from the business side of an enterprise that many have lost sight of the essential value a non-technical founder brings to a company.
And, for the first time in a long time, I find myself in the role of a non-technical founder with Flock (BuildAFlock.com). Despite being a technical guy, I haven’t touched a line of code or a pixel of the design. So, what do I do with my time?
At a startup there are really only two jobs – building and selling. That’s it.
A group of sales guys can easily find themselves with a customer base soon to be disappointed by a late mediocre product and no ability to rapidly iterate. Identifying great engineers is simply a matter reviewing their past work. What have they done? Is it still running? Even if you’re non-technical you’ll instantly recognize the care and high standards in any product that are the hallmarks of true talent.
A group of engineers without sales will tend to let product scope spiral out of control and end up with product that is a technical phenom that no customer wants. However, proving value on the non-technical side is much more difficult. Sales numbers are highly variable based on the market and product.
So, what can a non-technical founder bring to the table to attract engineers? Customers! I’ve heard literally hundreds of people with great ideas that have huge unstoppable potential. I rarely hear from them twice. However, if you take the time to take your idea into the real world and do some preselling you will be unstoppable.
This process helps to refine your designs (inevitably your first cut will be wrong) before the first line of code is written. And, the second an engineer finishes building V1 you’ll have a ready base of users eager to test it out. So, rather than a half baked idea, you’ve proven the merit of your idea, gathered a customer base, and most important, proven your value in the venture to your future partner.
I challenge every early entrepreneur to pick a role – builder or a seller. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to be ‘CEO’ or ‘manager of the team’. Also, if you’re not a designer (ie not the person pushing pixels in Photoshop) don’t be the person running around with a set of wireframes and nothing else.
If you’re serious about creating a venture of any significance – build or sell.