Some of the most high-profile tech start-ups have founders with extensive tech knowledge:
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google with extensive computer science backgrounds
- Mark Zuckerberg famously dropped out of a computer science major at Harvard University to grow Facebook
- Bill Gates was asked to automate his school’s class scheduling system while he was still at the aforementioned school
- Elon Musk studied physics at university and dropped out of a PhD program to pursue his start-up ideas
The question we’re asking today… do you need a tech background to develop a successful technical start-up?
We’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of having (or being) a tech founder and the alternatives available if you don’t have a technical skillset. And remember, if you need support developing your tech or getting it to market, the team at You are launched is here to help.
Table of contents
- The pros of having a tech founder
- The cons of having a tech founder
- Alternatives to having a tech founder
- So… Does every start-up need a tech founder?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Does Your Start-Up Need a Tech Founder?
The pros of having a tech founder
So, what are the benefits of being a tech founder? Let’s take a look at some of the key advantages of being educated or skilled in programming, engineering, or computer science.
You have the technical expertise
The first and most obvious benefit of being a tech founder is that you have the skills and understanding to create a solid product.
Let’s say that you’re developing a mobile app. You need to:
- Understand software development principles and concepts, like design patterns, software testing, and cross-platform development
- Have basic user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) skills
- Put the right infrastructure in place to support your app, like databases, web servers, APIs, and cloud computing
- Protect your app from security vulnerabilities
Having technical expertise means you can save money on other costs as well as move more quickly.
You have more of a hands-on approach
What do Twitch (Justin Kan), Instagram (Kevin Systrom), Reddit (Aaron Swartz), and AngelList (Naval Ravikant) have in common?
These platforms were all built in a short amount of time by just one person.
When you’re a tech founder, you can implement a hands-on approach. No talking about it, no getting someone else to do it; you can just dive in and get it done. No need to wait for someone to do the work for you.
If you’re adopting lean start-up methodology, a hands-on approach means you can get to market sooner and get the edge over your competitors. And this can increase the odds of your start-up succeeding.
You can innovate more easily
When you’re a tech founder, you typically have a profound understanding of the product you’re developing and the technology it uses.
This makes it easier to identify new opportunities, develop new products and services, adapt quickly to new trends, and pivot to a new strategy if needed.
Take Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, a former computer scientist. Amazon started as an online bookstore but quickly pivoted to selling other products, as well as offering a cloud computing platform.
The cons of having a tech founder
While having a tech founder can provide you with the skills you need to develop your software, it’s not a mandatory requirement.
Some of the most popular tech start-ups were founded by people with no tech skills whatsoever. For example:
- Etsy was founded by Haim Schoppik, a teacher, and Chris Maguire, a musician
- Bumble was founded by Whitney Wolfe-Herd, the vice president of marketing for Tinder (you can read more about Whitney and other top start-up female founders here)
- Canva was founded by Melanie Perkins, a graphic designer, and Cliff Obrecht, an accountant
In fact, the percentage of VC-backed start-ups with technical founders has dropped considerably over the past five years.
Why is this the case?
It’s important to remember that investors are looking not just for high-quality technical skills but also personality traits and soft skills that can increase the chances of a product succeeding. For example, adaptability, leadership, and strong emotional intelligence. Plus, many investors are looking for founders they can get on with and trust to get the work done.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why having a technical founder may lead to reduced chances of success.
There may be communication challenges
When you’re a tech founder, you may experience communication challenges, especially if you have to communicate with a wide range of people with different needs and expectations. For example:
- You might use technical jargon that’s not familiar to non-technical people
- It can be difficult to explain certain concepts to people that don’t come from a technical background
- You might be passionate about the products and services you create, and it can be hard to clearly relay this passion to other people in the business
Of course, it’s important to note here that some people with exceptional technical skills are great at communicating. If you’re a tech founder who’s confident, sociable, and adaptable, you’re in a very enviable position when it comes to seeing success!
You may be more risk-averse
When you’re closely involved in building and developing something, it’s only natural to be more protective of it. This may mean tech founders are less likely to take risks.
Of course, being risk-averse isn’t always a bad thing, but it can mean you miss out on valuable opportunities.
Take Blockbuster, for example. It had the chance to buy Netflix in 2000 but decided not to take a risk on the concept of sending DVDs through the post. Now Blockbusters is out of business, and Netflix is one of the biggest streaming platforms in the world.
Remember that it’s okay to take calculated risks for the good of your start-up.
You may have limited focus
It’s crucial to build and develop a high-quality app, but there are other things you need to be aware of as a tech founder.
You need to:
- Plan a marketing strategy
- Pitch to investors and keep the board happy
- Sell to potential customers
- Manage hiring, onboarding, and firing
- Look after your finances and any legal concerns
When you want to dedicate your time to writing code and testing your app, you may not want to spend time on these important tasks. This can potentially be to your detriment as a start-up founder, as tasks don’t get done or get done incorrectly.
Take the eCommerce platform fab.com. While the platform grew quickly and acquired significant funding, it failed because it didn’t have a clear marketing strategy in place. The focus was on offering discounts and promotions but with no focus on customer retention, meaning the business lost money.
Of course, you can bring in a co-founder to do this stuff for you, which we’ll look at in more detail later on.
You may have difficulty delegating
When you’re very good at what you do as a tech founder, you may struggle to give tasks to other members of your team.
Refusal to delegate can mean you end up doing more, which can ultimately lead to stress and burnout. It can also lead to low staff morale as they don’t feel trusted or capable.
CEOs who are good delegators see more business growth than those who aren’t good delegators.
Alternatives to having a tech founder
So, if you’re not technically minded, what’s the alternative?
The good news is that there are ways you can get the valuable tech skills you need without having to sign up for coding classes!
Here are two great ways to get your start-up idea on track.
Have two co-founders with different skills
Sometimes, two heads are better than one when you’re trying to develop a start-up.
Having a technical and non-technical founder can provide you with the best of both worlds. You have someone who can work behind the scenes and someone who can bring in sales, find funding, and promote the product.
For example, take Apple. While Steve Jobs had some technical experience, he acted as the charismatic face of the business, while technical expert Steve Wozniak designed, engineered, and built the first Apple products.
According to Harvard Business Review, the start-ups most likely to succeed are the ones that have both technical and business skills.
Of course, some founders can balance technical and communication skills by themselves, like Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. Some tech founders pick up communication skills and develop showmanship as they grow into their roles, like Mark Zuckerberg. But for most start-ups, it pays to have a co-founder with complementary skills.
When choosing a co-founder, it’s essential to work with someone who shares your values and is willing to learn from you. You also need a solid legal contract in place to determine who gets which share of equity and what happens if one of the co-founders decides to move on.
Want to know more about how to find a co-founder? Check out this blog.
Hire a tech team
What do you do if you don’t want to work with a co-founder or don’t have the time to find someone before you launch your product?
You hire or recruit a tech team that can do the technical work for you. For example, an app development agency can develop a prototype or minimal viable product (MVP), create a user experience map, advise how to monetize your app and carry out testing.
This means you’re free to look for investment opportunities, plan your marketing campaign, and sell to prospective customers.
Want to know more about hiring the best tech team? Here are some great articles on the You are launched blog to get you started:
- Developing a great start-up work culture
- How to find a technical partner
- How to find the best mobile app development consultant
- Top tips for hiring developers
So… Does every start-up need a tech founder?
If you’re a founder with a tech background, that’s great! Just be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and hire people who complement your existing skillset.
Soft skills like communication, leadership, and delegation can help you become a more successful tech founder and increase the chances of getting that all-important funding.
However, if you’re a founder without a tech background, do you need to hire a co-founder with technical expertise? Not necessarily.
As Steve Jobs famously said: ‘Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.’
So, to answer the question, you don’t always need a tech founder to see success.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Does Your Start-Up Need a Tech Founder?
– Technical Expertise: A tech founder brings valuable skills in programming, engineering, and computer science, enabling the creation of a solid product.
– Hands-On Approach: Tech founders can implement a hands-on approach, accelerating the development process and gaining a competitive edge.
– Innovation: A deep understanding of technology allows for easier identification of opportunities, quick adaptation to trends, and the ability to pivot if necessary.
– Communication Challenges: Tech founders may face difficulties communicating technical concepts to non-technical individuals, potentially leading to misunderstandings.
– Risk-Aversion: Close involvement in development might make tech founders more risk-averse, potentially hindering the exploration of valuable opportunities.
– Limited Focus: Focusing solely on technical aspects may lead to neglecting other crucial tasks, such as marketing, pitching to investors, and financial management.
Yes, absolutely. Many successful tech start-ups were founded by individuals without a technical background, emphasizing the importance of complementary skills within a team.
– Co-Founders with Different Skills: Consider having two co-founders—one with technical expertise and another with skills in sales, marketing, and business development.
– Hiring a Tech Team: If a co-founder isn’t feasible, hiring a skilled tech team or an app development agency can handle the technical aspects while you focus on other aspects of the business.
Not necessarily. Surrounding yourself with a capable team of developers, technical product owners, and project managers can compensate for the lack of a tech founder.
Balancing Skills: Whether you have a tech background or not, building a team with diverse skills, including communication, leadership, and technical expertise, is crucial for success.
Steve Jobs: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
Want to know how to build the perfect team for your start-up, get to market quickly, and get the edge over your competitors? Check out the You are launched blog for all the latest insights and advice!