Technical Navigation for Startups

Think of a startup as a boat. You generally need a crew to run that boat and the larger it gets the more folks you need “on deck.” For a moment let's forget about the logistics of actually operating a boat and just think about navigation. Many startup teams are eager to take on cheap inexperienced tech talent as a solution. They see no problem with bringing in a junior developer as a tech leader because “they’re a programmer, they know what they’re doing.” One common problem for non-technical startup teams is that they have to take everything that are told at face value. Is Ruby on Rails superior to Drupal? Why can’t the interface be dynamic? Why is the code behaving this way?  Every small question that you might have as a non-technical co-founder either takes too long to answer correctly, gets the wrong answer, or remains unanswered until there are unavoidable consequences. To bring it back to the boat analogy, would you feel comfortable if the person charting the course was a cabin boy landlubber or a grizzled sea captain with years of experience? It’s the same with developers. You don’t want just any developer at the helm, just like you wouldn’t want just any sailor.

 

Most startups won’t have the capital to bring on a sea captain, so they look to onboard the cheaper cabin boy, often not realizing that there are alternatives. One thing that many new ventures don’t grasp is that oftentimes, in the early stages, you don't even need a technical co-founder.

 

If I am making a SaaS product, I need to have a deep and profound knowledge about the industry I am targeting. Before I write a single line of code, I need to have collected volumes of customer discovery data, created a validated business plan, thoroughly researched the market, built out some rough financial projections, and laid out an 18 month operational plan. All of these tasks can be completed by non-technical people and can be sufficient to attract seed funding if done well with some strategic technical guidance. Once you have your funding, then you can go hire your Captain Developer.

 

So how and where does a startup team get that strategic technical guidance? Instead of eagerly looking for equity partners start looking for mentors. People with enough technical background that they can help steer you in the right direction. You can also approach small local web development/software firms and ask for a meeting to help you get oriented. Most small firms will be happy to help you out if you are respectful and clear about your intentions. Some firms will even offer to help you build your proof of concept and then help you source a tech co-founder once you have gotten funding.