Putting the Technical in Non-Technical Founder
You don’t have to be technical to lead a tech startup. But every non-technical founder needs to have some knowledge in order to effectively recruit, hire, manage, and maintain a technical staff. Rest assured, TurnKey has an in-depth guide for the non-technical founder who is navigating the technical world. (Tips and tricks included!)
Non-technical founders are awesome because they think big, and surround themselves with technical pros. But from time to time, a crisis of confidence as it relates to software development creeps in because technical speak is a beast unlike any other.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The difference between a non-technical and technical founder
- Ways in which a non-technical founder adds value
- Technology isn’t something to be afraid of
- The keys to success as a non-technical founder
- What skills a non-technical founder needs to be efficient
- How a non-technical founder can contribute to a technical team
- How TurnKey can help non-technical founders recruit, hire, and maintain technical staff
The difference between non-technical and technical leaders
Every good founder has their own valuable area of expertise. Their skill set is usually T-shaped—deep in one (maybe two) areas, and broad across many others. So let’s explore the difference between a founder who has a deep technical background and one whose deep area of expertise is in another discipline like marketing.
In the grand scheme of things, the difference isn’t as huge as you might think. There are two key areas to look at:
- Strength of expertise: In a tech company, both types of founder enjoy an unfair advantage in their domain of expertise. Theoretically, they should be able to hire better people, and develop more efficient processes, so that their vertical is the strongest in the company.
- Singular lens: Looking at everything through the lens that fits their viewpoint the best can be both a good and a bad thing. For example, a product-focused founder might think every development team problem is solved by making the product better, when the solution might actually lie elsewhere.
Given that the technology is so complex—and so critical—there is a fear among some non-tech peeps that not knowing the technology puts them at a disadvantage. Which leads us to the pep talk below.
Ways in which non-tech leadership adds value
Technology is amazing, as are technical entrepreneurs. But that can also be the thing that tangles the thread. The key advantage a “non-tech guy” has is that they aren’t constrained by a technology-focused thought process. They think in non-technical ways and therefore can more easily solve problems using non-technical means.
Here’s a simple example: During the space race, one of the challenges that came up was how to write things down while in space. Notes were manual back then, and writing with a pen was problematic—without gravity, the ink wouldn’t flow to the tip of the pen.
The Americans studied, hypothesized, and discussed how to make a pen that would work in space.
The Soviets packed pencils.
The core difference was in the formulation of the problem. The Americans focused on the problem “How do we get a pen to work in space?” The Soviets focused on the problem “How do we write in space?”
The moral of the story: Technologists who aren’t experienced in other domains can overengineer the solution because they frame every problem as a technical one. Non-technical founders can make the same mistake in their own domain of expertise, but when it comes to solving a business advantage, the non-technical founder may have an advantage.
Technology isn’t something to be afraid of
Think of your tech company as the machine that builds your product. Take relief knowing you don’t need to understand everything about the way the machine is built in order to operate and drive it. Do you know how the engine in your car makes it go when you press on the gas? Probably not. But you trust the pros who do, and know enough to get you from Point A to Point B (and then some).
If you decide you want to know everything about your technology and that end of the software development company, by all means, dive into the deep end. If not, stay on the diving board and help direct from your heightened perspective. Let them swim the strokes, you be the coach and the timer.
You know enough. And what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
Non-technical founders hold the keys to success, too
Trust yourself and trust your tech team. You don’t need a middle man to translate what your technology team is telling you—if they can’t communicate with you in a way you understand, you need a new tech leader. You also don’t need to be a programmer or engineer to understand the concepts.
You put yourself in charge of the balancing act. Quality control, if you will. Make sure they’re executing on your vision with the long-term in mind. Make sure the cadence supports longevity, not just timing. It doesn’t matter how quickly they get there if it arrives banged up. So what do you need to be really good at? Read on, oh fearless one.
What skills a non-technical founder needs to be efficient
- Resourcefulness: If you can’t find it, or don’t have an answer, you know where to look and you’re not afraid to hunt it down.
- Vision: You can’t number the weeds but you can see through them to the mountaintop and you know the way.
- Communication: Speak clearly, speak early, and speak often—then listen hard. You keep the lines flowing back and forth in both directions.
- Focus: Like a hungry lion with an eye on her prey, you are laser-focused on what you want and how to get it.
- Leadership and Management Skills: You are reliable, have vision, and can motivate and inspire your teams to drive to the goal line.
- Grit: Adversity doesn’t loosen your grip. This is a product you’re willing to fight for—and you do.
- Patience and Resilience: The process isn’t perfect and you know it. You push when it’s called for, tap the brakes as needed, and peel yourself (and your team) up from the curb when a setback has bounced you out of the club.
- Selling and Pre-Selling: What your product does and why people need it is your second language. You talk it up, sell it through, and believe until you achieve.
How a non-technical founder can contribute to a technical team
Your teams rely on you for countless things (and not all of them have to do with a paycheck). You are providing guidance, direction, and resources. Here are four ways you can contribute to your team’s greatness:
Create the Vision
You are the one with the dream. Empower and entice your teams to make that engine purr.
Establish the Way the Inputs and Outputs Will Be Measured
Now that everyone can envision the mountaintop, make sure they know the best ways to reach it. The game is way more fun when everyone knows the rules.
Give Clear and Pointed Feedback
Your team wants to perform at their peak (for you and for themselves). When you see something amazing, praise it. A rising tide lifts all boats. And when you see room for improvement, give constructive criticism. When your team knows that you’re giving feedback to help them improve, it motivates and creates a line of trusted communication.
Use Your Network to Tap Into Resources
Great people know great people. You’re awesome, so chances are when you need advice, support, or assistance, you have an insane network of people on speed dial. Use them. And if you don’t know a ton of awesome people, never fear, because guess what: We do.
How TurnKey can help non-technical founders recruit, hire, and maintain technical staff
We work with non-technical founders every day, finding them resources who have experience building phenomenally effective product teams. Not to toot our own horn, but TOOT TOOT. We are experts not only in hiring the right talent, but helping you develop the internal tools and processes that will manage your teams. TurnKey puts all the levers within hand reach for you, so that you can focus on timing and outcomes.
Don’t worry that you aren’t in the weeds. You are the one nurturing the whole farm. Trust your engineering team. Trust their tech skills. You don’t need a technical co-founder (or a co-founder at all) to lead your team successfully. You just need a partner like TurnKey who can make sure you’re on the right track and surrounded by the right people. So once we’re in there with you, you can keep your foot on the gas. Wind feels good in your hair, doesn’t it?
Rely on your expertise to add value in non-technical ways. Trust that your vision and the lens through which you look at problems, solutions, and goals is going to help your team grow, solve issues, and reach the mountaintop. Lastly, technology isn’t something to be afraid of. Set up the guardrails and hit the gas, your team is building it right, thanks to you.
A non-technical founder is one whose deep expertise is in something other than tech. Maybe it’s marketing or sales or something else entirely. But that deep expertise feeds the broad, overlapping specialties. And all of it adds your unique input to whatever it is your output will be.
A technical founder is one whose deep expertise is in tech. They have broad skills too, but they look at every problem through a tech solution kaleidoscope. Great for tech teams from one angle, sure. But a non-technical founder brings a valuable perspective to the process as well.
Trust yourself and your tech team. Control the balancing act—determine the cadence of the product development to ensure it supports your long-term vision. Give constructive feedback to your team and when they hit it out of the ballpark, lead the wave and buy a round.