9 things that I learnt from the most successful non-tech founders
Most of the startup founders are techies. Why?
Because for a non-tech founder, the startup world appears way harder to conquer.
Startups take birth and die. 1000s of them. Every single day. Techie or non-techie? Doesn’t matter.
It’s hard to say for sure what is it really that makes some succeed beyond all expectations while others fail miserably. It is definitely not just knowledge of engineering.
At Indiez, we have spoken to over 600 non-tech founders who shared their product ideas and apprehensions with us. We hear the challenges that they face all the time.
But, the most successful founders don’t stop.
“What makes a non-tech founder successful?” This question was really bugging me and I started reading about it.
Did you know Apple, AirBnB, Snapchat were all ideated by non-technical founders? Their stories are inspiring!
Most importantly, I noticed that it really isn’t all about the ‘tech’. There’s a lot more that goes into building a successful startup.
These are the key learnings from their stories that will be extremely helpful to you —
‘Conquer the fear of unknown’
As a non-tech founder, the fear of not knowing and understanding enough tech is intimidating. To beat this fear, these learnings from the successful non-tech founders will help you come a long way —
- Experiment, fail and be a learning machine
While it is probable that you don’t know enough about technology, it’s good to remember that even the best of people learnt by doing, failing and learning.
Steve Jobs’s wife, Laurene Powell, called him a “learning machine.” He learned in many ways, but most of all he determined to learn a lesson from every single one of his failures in technology.
The Apple II computer, the first and the only successful product Apple had for its first 10 years was a result of many such failed experiments.
- Surround yourself with A-players and learn from them
Steve Jobs had decided to surround himself with strong employees who were not only super-skilled at their work, but who would challenge him. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he built a team of A-players.
Jobs became totally teachable in technology, learning from other people in order to apply and master the laws of technology and of business.
This curiosity and willingness to learn became the foundation on which Apple was built.
- Understand that it’s never ‘technology first’
Technology is only a means of solving a problem. It’s the ‘people’ who use the product that matter the most. Apple took this into account from day 1. It is for this reason that it is one of the most successful tech companies ever.
Geeky engineers are dazzled by the technology at their disposal and often create something because they can. But Apple’s approach is quite different.
The engineers who are creating Apple products actually make them for themselves. And Jobs was the chief “user” of Apple products when he was alive.
All of Apple’s products are based on the fact that Jobs represented the real customer. And his engineers had to come to grips with that when designing a product.” — Tim Bajarin, Industry Specialist
‘Fall in love with the problem’
Instead of coming up with an amazing product idea and trying your hardest to make it a reality, the most successful non-tech founders become obsessed with a problem. Instead of locking into any one solution, they kept on iterating till they found the best way to solve it.
- Start with the problem that you understand well
Deborah and Jake Anderson-Bialis, a married couple from San Francisco who were expecting their first child, found that the experience of finding the right doctor was “total, utter hell.”
They decided to dedicate themselves to helping other couples make a smarter choices. Eventually, they quit their day jobs to help those with fertility challenges connect to the right provider through their startup FertilityIQ.
Because they understood the problem so well, they were able to craft a solution.
‘We felt there was no good information, no great data to go on. This is very much a product we were building to solve our own problems.’ — Deborah
Looking at the problems you experience in your life and can solve through your skills and knowledge is a good starting point. Rest follows.
- Find a 10x better solution
If you are solving a problem that has been solved by many people already, your only way to success is to be so innovative that your solution greatly surpasses what already exists.
Masterclass is one brilliant example of this. Online courses have been around since many years now but what they have built is a 10x better solution — learn from the topmost people in the industry.
This was never possible before.
‘We decided our mission was to make the kind of classes we wish we had growing up — classes with riveting and engaging lessons taught by the world’s best.’ — David
- Start without technology
One of the best examples of starting out without technology is of ‘Dollar Shave Club’. CEO Michael Dubin promised a better price point: for $1 a month, they will send a high quality razor. He created a crude and goofy viral video to support the launch which garnered 19 million views.
That video led to them raising angel round of $100,000 from an angel in L.A in 2012.
Solving a compelling problem in an innovative way is what matters. You don’t always need technology to build a prototype and test how your idea is being picked up in the market. Sometimes, something as simple as a video can work!
Do what it takes to build a prototype without tech, talk to users, investors, product experts and people with tech expertise. Get them interested in your idea. Only then, invest on building the actual product.
‘Have the attitude to WIN’
It doesn’t matter if you do not know technology as well as you should. There are other traits that are extremely crucial for a founder to be successful. And if you master these, they play a huge role in your success.
- Be resilient and persevere
As a founder, the one thing that matters more than anything else is that you do not give up. That you don’t stop after one failed product. Or if no one is willing to invest in your idea. No matter what happens, you should be capable of getting back in the game.
One of the most inspiring example of this is the 7 Rejections post by Brian Chesky, the founder of AirBnB in which he has shared the emails from the 7 investors who decided against investing in AirBnB.
Next time you have an idea and it gets rejected, I want you to think of these emails. — Brian Chesky
- Analyse failures and iterate for product-market fit
Great products are born from analysing failures and making the right changes in the initial prototype . To be able to do that, it’s important to analyse what exactly went wrong, take customers feedback, make changes and re-launch.
The initial prototype of Snapchat, Picaboo launched by Evan Spiegel and his friends Bobby Murphy and Frank Brown was a failure and only attracted about 100 users. It took over 30 failures to reach the perfect product that is now known as Snapchat. The feature of disappearing images was first launched with Picaboo.
‘The only person who really used Picaboo was probably my mom.’ — Evan Spiegel
Snapchat didn’t get there by accident; it had a carefully drawn up road map created by people who committed to know their users well and understand their relationship. And failure, was an important ingredient to their success.
- Tell compelling stories that sell
Notice something common in almost all successful non-tech founders — Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and the likes? They are all amazing story-tellers.
As a non-tech founder, one thing that you need to master well in order to win is the ability to sell your ideas, your vision and move people through your story.
Greatest communicators and story-tellers fit into either of these categories. They educate, simplify, motivate, launch movements or ignite our inner fire. Identify what works best for you and your business and work on mastering it.
The Virgin story — its ups, downs, opportunities and challenges — is what attracts people to its products and services, as well as attracting employees to join the Virgin family. “We would be nothing without our story.” — Richard Branson
Now go out there. Take that plunge, take that leap of faith.
If you want a problem to be solved, there’s no reason why you will not be able to find a solution.
Your passion and belief to build your idea is central to everything that you are doing. Learn from the data and move on.