I hate it when an investor conversation gets around the inevitable comment.
“So, you’re a non-technical founder?”
Yup, sure am.
Navigating what a non-technical founder should do in a tech startup has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced at Terkel. I lead our technical team of four software engineers, or about 50% of all of our expenses at our company. How do I effectively lead when I’ve never worked with NextJS or Postgres?
The answer is in hiring. Non-technical founders need to hire really, really well. And then, they need to manage and support their team really, really well.
There’s been I few things I’d like to think I’ve done right as a non-technical founder.
- Hired first couple of software engineers with the help of a highly technical friend
- Involved the first two software engineers in the hiring process of two technical interns
- Connected with the former CTO of Answers.com and asked him to be an advisor to Terkel
- Made full-time offers to both interns. Both turned down the offer and joined big companies
- Stayed in touch with ex-interns
- Recruited ex-interns to leave big companies and join Terkel
- Trusted team
- Work hard to remove all barriers for technical team
- Provide insights only made possible by founder market fit
I feel like that timeline of events over the last few years summarizes what a non-technical founder should do. Build a team, trust them, get out of the way, and get anything that’s in their way out of the way.
To get more perspective on this, I asked the community at Terkel for their thoughts.
What Should Non-Technical Founders Do?
From setting realistic expectations to making a glossary of technical terms, here are seven answers to the question, "How do you get the most from your tech team as a non-technical founder?"
- Clearly Communicate Your Vision
- Keep Your Team Focused
- Hire a Middleman(ager)
- Partner With Someone Who Has the Skills You Lack
- Focus on the "Why" of Your Project
- Teaching is Learning
- Learn the Tech Vernacular for Effective Communication
Clearly Communicate Your Vision
One of the most important things to do as a non-technical founder when working with a tech team is to communicate your vision and goals for the project clearly. Establishing trust, having frequent conversations, and setting realistic expectations are all key elements in getting the most out of your tech team.
As a non-technical founder, it's also important to stay informed and up-to-date on the latest technologies so that you can have meaningful conversations with your tech team. A good tech team will be happy to answer questions and explain any technical concepts or ideas that may arise in your discussions.
Founder, Elite HRT
Keep Your Team Focused
As a non-technical founder, getting the most out of your tech team can be challenging. However, you can take some key steps to ensure you get the most out of your tech team and their skills.
First, it is important to ensure that everyone on your tech team has clear roles and objectives; this will help ensure everyone focuses on the same goals and works together effectively.
Make sure you also have regular meetings with your tech team to discuss progress, changes, and any issues that may arise.
Hire a Middleman(ager)
As someone who is on the corporate leadership side of founding a business, I understand the challenges that can arise when managing a tech team. To circumvent this challenge, however, you can put people and protocols in place to help you better manage your tech team.
For example, you can have someone hired specifically to manage your tech team, who has the experience and a background in tech, but who is there to help bridge the gap between the team and yourself. Making communication a little more streamlined in this way can help you manage a tech team from a non-technical standpoint.
Partner With Someone Who Has the Skills You Lack
Try to partner with someone who has the technical skills or scope of knowledge you feel you are lacking. This can be an employee, partner, or even an external consultant. It's important to have someone who is passionate about code and technology that you trust and can work closely with.
When assembling the team, a startup should always try to build a cross-functional one with both technical and non-technical members. This way, everyone has different perspectives to bring to the table for solving problems.
Focus on the "Why" of Your Project
In order to better communicate with your tech team as a non-tech founder, I would suggest focusing on objectives and working backward from there. This means starting with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and what your goals are, and then discussing how to get there.
It would help your team understand the bigger picture and what is truly important. This can also help ensure that everyone aligns and works towards the same aim, rather than getting bogged down in technical details that are not relevant at this point in time.
So, my advice would be to focus on the "why" of your project and work backward from there, to ensure your team works effectively towards achieving your objectives. This can help create a more cohesive and productive working relationship between you and your tech team.
Teaching is Learning
Humility in leadership allows it to achieve more. For example, I always make sure my tech team knows that it's not a problem if they "over-explain" a concept to me so I can understand it better.
This results in two benefits: the first is that I end up receiving a wonderful education about the technical concept.
The second benefit is that the tech team also ends up understanding their own role and skills even better because teaching someone is a great way to become better at something yourself.
Learn the Tech Vernacular for Effective Communication
You don't need to understand the complexities and nuances of coding as a non-technical founder. However, you need to follow the conversation and make sense of the discussion.
Software engineering is notorious for using acronyms, none of which are intuitive. API, GUI, UX, UI, let alone all the acronyms for the various programming languages themselves. I strongly recommend making a personal glossary of technical terms, saving developers the time of explaining each one.
Over time, you will get accustomed to the jargon, and these acronyms will become part of your regular nomenclature. But until then, dedicate some time to learning the definitions. Your developers will thank you for it.
Submit Your Answer
Would you like to submit an alternate answer to the question, "How do you get the most from your tech team as a non technical founder?"