Stop Calling Yourself Non-Technical
One of my biggest pet peeves related to the startup culture is when people who aren’t programmers refer to themselves as “non-technical.” They will frequently use this term to describe themselves in context such as posting to sites like Hacker News saying, “Non-Technical Founder Seeks Technical Founder for Startup” or some similar crap. It happens quite frequently in the internet tech startup community and it’s junk.
If two people open a restaurant, one who’s an experienced chef and one who handles the business end, I’m sure the business founder doesn’t refer to themselves as the “Non-Cooking Founder.” (Though feel free to comment and tell me if I’m wrong!)
Note: I have no problem when programmers call refer to people who can’t hack as “non-technical”… it isn’t their job to teach business people how to market themselves.
What Do You Bring to the Table?
Stop shooting yourself in the foot by telling people what you aren’t capable of doing right off the bat. What can you do? Can you do Sales, Marketing, or Fundraising? Do you have a decent bankroll yourself to fund the business or have a rich uncle who can help you build your project?
Maybe start calling yourself the “Marketing & Sales Founder” or something similar.
Product Development vs Customer Development
Steve Blank refers to startups as being in two camps: Product Development and Customer Development. The product people are the programmers and designers. If you aren’t going to learn the product side, at least learn as much as you can on the customer side. Learn as much as you can about sales, marketing, customer service, and any other business things you can think of to help the product people you work with out.
If You Have No Skills, Money, or Connections, Get Them!
Maybe if you don’t have the ability to be a A-Player Sales guy for your startup, perhaps you should go work for a startup for a few years before trying your own. Soon after moving to Silicon Valley, I realized I needed to spend a few years cutting my teeth at another startup before even dreaming of going at it on my own. Perhaps you should work at a restaurant for a few years before you try to open your own?
Ignore a lot of the entrepreneur porn: Not every successful entrepreneur is a 20 year old college dropout prodigy. Many successful Founders are people who spend years working in their field and learning their craft. Look at guys like Reid Hoffman and Marc Beinoff for good examples.
My year and a half at a small startup has showed me how to communicate my ideas, thoughts, bugs, and feedback successfully to engineers and how to respect their workflow and processes. If you’ve never worked with engineers working at an existing small startup, it can only help you if you do so. (Note: If you aren’t on first name basis with the CEO, you aren’t in a startup, regardless of what they may tell you).
Learn as much as you can in the real world alongside programmers, because they sure as hell don’t teach a class called “How to Communicate to Engineers” in B-School (…all though these days they probably should!).
Maybe You Should Learn Some Code
There are tons of resources for all of us useless business school grad’s to learn how to code. No, you won’t be a master overnight… but you can at least learn some basics on how code is written.
Or at least learn how to use tools like Balsamiq and mock up your ideas and pay some coder a nominal fee to get you a crappy prototype built.
Ok, I’m done with my little rant. I hope this was helpful in providing a few of you with some tips about how you can be more successful and a little less useless. With a little more hard work and effort at understanding the other side of the business, perhaps one day we’ll consider B-School grads as helpful contributors to the internet community (myself included!).
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