What every non-technical founder needs to know about software development
We here at TurnKey help build software for lots of different types of companies across a wide range of approaches and skill sets. One particularly unique group are companies led by non-technical founders. These folks are awesome because their big thinking isn’t burdened by technical biases, but sometimes they experience a (largely unwarranted) crisis of confidence as it relates to software development.
Thus, here are TurnKey’s Top 7 things that every non-technical founder needs to know in order to effectively manage software development teams:
1). Don’t be afraid to drive the car (even if you don’t know how to build it)
You have the vision, now just communicate what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. The founder sets the destination and the direction — that’s what it means to drive. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to make all the engine parts or how to optimize the catalytic converter.
2). Relentlessly focus your product development efforts on creating more value for your users (i.e. customer benefits).
Value is a vastly over-used term but it mainly boils down to building a solution that makes things cheaper, faster, and/or better — everything else is secondary and highly distracting. As a non-technical founder, you are sometimes tempted to focus on a host of different variables because of fear of the unknown. Trust that it’s better to drop that feeling and simply keep your gaze centered on what matters most to customers —we promise the rest will follow!
3). Create — and live by! — crystal clear product development metrics.
You won’t be able to tell if you’re creating value for your users unless you measure it; pick the three metrics that matter most (e.g. more users, more views, more transactions, etc.) and maniacally track them. The product development cliche of “you are what you measure” is a cliche for a reason: because it’s true! As a non-technical founder, these metrics will be able to tell you if your software development efforts are delivering the goods or if you need to head in a different direction.
4). Hold weekly product management and product design reviews — and hold everyone accountable (including yourself).
In order to build efficiency into your efforts, set weekly check-in meetings with staff to continually review what you are building (i.e., opportunity definitions, design concepts, etc.) and confirm priority. Hint: do the things that provide the most customer value first and take the least amount of effort (yes it’s easier said than done but that’s not an excuse…). Then set clear deadlines and hold your team accountable for reaching those goals. Even as a non-technical founder, be sure that you have an accountable objective as well (ie concept test a proposed feature with a customer) so that the broader team knows you eat your own pudding.
5). Establish a product development process that moves the needle.
Non-technical founders can skip all the voluminous product development literature out there: agile and scrum is still the best methodology — use it! And then make sure your engineering team is coming back to you with a plan that roughly equates to a). build continuous integration, b). automate the testing of your platform, c). plan your sprints, d). do sprint retrospectives, and e). show off your demos every two weeks. If your engineering team is following a process that is a few standard deviations off this course, make sure there is a darn good reason…
6). Hire really exceptional and experienced people who’ve done it before (yes this seems obvious but it’s shocking how many non-technical founders don’t do this).
Spend your money (and stock options) on people who know how lead these functions; a less experienced technical person will have a hard time understanding what they don’t know and how to solve for any gaps (and you can’t be of much help). The good news? Remote work has proven to be highly effective, which means your potential pool of talent is much larger than you think. Don’t artificially confine yourself to a 30-mile radius of your office. Talent wins, not geographical proximity to talent. Nothing in life is perfect so be willing to make some tradeoffs to get the requisite skill set.
7). Remember that you aren’t actually building a product or software company; you are building intellectual property and the competitive moat around it .
As a non-technical founder (or heck even if you are a technical genius), don’t have a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude. Instead, keep your sights set on creating something that delights your users and proves exceptionally hard for better resourced companies to imitate. Software is just the means to creating that moat — it’s not the end game. And since it’s always people who build your IP, your focus should be on retaining your best and the brightest, and empowering them to do great work.
(Shameless plug: with TurnKey you can do just that at a fraction of the cost of building out teams locally. Reach out anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org — we’d love to help!)