Six Principles for Non-Techies in Tech Startups

Dec 19 2017, 7:44 am

So you want to work in a start up, eh? Why? Seriously though. Start up life consists of ugly, toiling work which increases responsibility, stress and work load. Some would say this is offset by the pay decrease you’ll be taking but the jury is still out on that.

Still want to do it? Good, because it is awesome.

A few months ago, I was in a conversation with Boris Mann, managing partner of local angel investment firm Full Stack, and he echoed what I had thought many times; tech companies need more business help. Unfortunately, most tech people don’t know they need help and/or most business people don’t know how to provide it.  Despite some really positive statistics around non-tech founders in tech companies, the skills we provide are ‘soft-skills’. We can’t hold up relationships or brilliantly salvaged sales in a portfolio. What we can do is communicate competence and knowledge.

In this list you’ll find 6 ways you can make sure you’re prepared to be a key player in a tech startup. While each business (biz) and technical (tech) relationship is different, for the purpose of simplicity (and accuracy), I assumed your potential tech partners have the skill set and emotional depth of Deep Blue.

  1. Know Your Sh*t – I’ll be more specific. It is a biz job to provide the external framework and a tech job to build within that.  Biz needs to know what your product is and how it fits within the market; pricing, position, competition, benefits, lead gen, sales cycle, sales nature, pain points, user behavior, buyer behavior etc. are all significant and that is before you even get to the marketing.
  2. Understand The Basics of Code – Get on Code Academy and take a few lessons. Understand the basics of HTML and, if your ambitious, Ruby, Java and a few others. This will do two things. First, it will allow you to follow conversations so you’re not talking about apps while the rest of the room is thinking servers. Two, you’ll have an appreciation for what the tech team is doing. Empathy loves company.
  3. Do the Dirty Work – Tech is probably smarter than you, at least from an IQ sense. That is a good thing, embrace it. Well balanced teams are built of complementary skills and not everyone is okay doing grunt work.  Invariably, startups require menial tasks which suck. Lead gen, chasing overdue accounts payable, taxes, customer requests etc. These take patience and hustle and will definitely be appreciated by your team. Anyone who says hustle isn’t a skill isn’t doing it right.
  4. Know Your Tools – There are a tonne of really powerful programs out there which are necessities when it comes to resource management. Most have pretty great mechanisms which teach you how to use and maximize their platform. However, they all still have different features and require some time to onboard. Create value by understanding any relevant CRM, Mail Campaign, Landing Page, Analytics, Accounting, Angel Funding, Crowd Funding, Conference Call, Social Media and Legal software. Odds are you won’t need all of these, but you’ll definitely need some. I have hyperlinked personal, low cost recommendations.
  5. Foster Your Network – This one is key. Programmers want to program. They build things out of passion, creativity or curiosity. Let them tinker; it is when they are at their best. Your job is to get out, establish your personal and professional brand and communicate that vision to the people around you. There is no shortage of tools to do this.
  6. Communication – In many ways, the non-tech role boils down to communication. You are the lubricant which facilitates and curates the transfer of information between investors, customers, market conditions, founders and product design. Become a master of this because it is one of the most important skills biz can develop. Start by reading Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, then read everything else you can.

While much of the above is subject to backgrounds, collaboration methods, business life cycle, these are the basics. Of course there are some other points around strategy and ‘vision’ but I decided not to tackle that since it’s a bit to ambiguous for something of this nature. If you think I missed something or have a relavant experience, please leave a comment or reach out to me using the details below.


Big thanks to Boris Mann of Full Stack for the conversation that inspired this and his feedback in developing this article.

Article written be Daniel Eberhard. Follow me @Danno_go or check out Urban Sherpa to learn more.

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