How to Launch a Startup as a Non-Technical Founder
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Jeff Bezos. What do they all have in common? Aside from being billionaires, they all had a background in tech before launching their startups. In fact, their technical expertise formed the bedrock of their future companies.
Reading about these tech giants, it's easy to assume that there's no hope of launching a startup if you're not a coding genius or technical savant. You couldn't be more wrong.
Even in the early days of the internet, it wasn't true: Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb, never wrote a line of code and began life as an industrial designer with a degree in Fine Arts. Today, however, numerous tools, from website builders to generative AI, circumvent the need for technical expertise.
Enter the non-technical founder.
So, how do you launch a successful startup as a non-technical founder? What skills do you need? What questions should you ask? We're covering all that and more below.
What's Your Big Idea?
You can survive in tech without a technical education. What you do need, however, is an idea. This is the simplest and hardest stage of creating a new business – if it weren't, somebody else would have thought of it.
The best ideas often come from either doing something better than existing businesses or solving a problem. Airbnb, for example, began when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia transformed their living room into a bed and breakfast. The idea was simple: allow everybody to earn money from their home.
Your idea doesn't have to be so crisp and complete. Maybe you make a certain kind of widget at a fraction of the price. Maybe you're a supermarket chain that cuts overheads to a minimum.
Whatever your idea is, don't force it. Carry a notebook, and pay active attention to your everyday problems, frustrations, and inefficiencies to spot something you wish existed. E.g., I wish there was an app where I could order a taxi and see the driver arrive. Bingo! You've got Uber.
Do Your Market Research
Ideas are cheap. Once you've got your idea, formulate it into a succinct statement. You should be able to say what it is, what problem it solves, who your target market is, and how it generates money.
Based on this premise, it's time to do some market research. Here are some questions to ask:
- Is this a problem lots of people have? (If your problem only affects 50 people daily or 10,000 people once a year, you're unlikely to be successful.)
- Is my solution worth buying to solve the problem?
- Have other brands tried to solve the problem? If so, is your idea better? (Before Google, there was Ask Jeeves. Google did the same thing better.)
- What are the problems and pitfalls of my idea?
All market research should involve speaking to your target market. Listen to what they say, hear their responses, and refine your concept. Just remember, some ideas are ahead of their time: no one would have asked Steve Jobs for the iPad. But it was a worldwide phenomenon, nonetheless.
Building a Prototype
A prototype: turning ideas into reality. The aim of creating a prototype should be to invest as little time, capital, and attention as possible, whilst answering some key questions, e.g., does the problem exist, how big is the target market, is the business model feasible, can I reach my target market?
Building a prototype for a tech business usually means creating a website/application. You'll need:
- Landing page
- Website copywriting
- Capture method, e.g., email sign-up or payment link
Turn to websites like Fiverr and Upwork to find high-quality professionals to help with everything from logos to web design. You could also consider hiring professionals on a limited-time basis to complete the prototype. Airbnb hired Chesky's former roommate, Nathan Blecharczyk, as Chief Technology Officer to build the barebones website.
Clever ways to test your prototype while minimising effort include:
- Preliminary value proposition assessment. Create a landing page conveying your idea and encourage customers to sign up to see if it generates interest.
- Pre-Order or Direct Sales Landing Page. Using a landing page, accept payments for a pre-order of the business idea.
- Value Proposition Virality Test. Link a landing page to a specific number of individuals from your target demographic. Say the offer is exclusive to them. See if they share your landing page with individuals outside the intended customer segment.
How To Raise Capital
Unless you plan to self-fund your startup, you will need outside capital. How you choose to fund the initial stages of your company will determine much of its future. Including how much equity you own and how quickly you can grow.
Answer these two questions:
1. How much money do you need?
2. Where will the money come from?
The first question depends on your goals, industry, and product/service. For example, your pre-seed investment is enough to help create a minimum viable product (MVP) and to cover the first year or so. Your seed investment, meanwhile, will be much larger, covering bringing the product to market. You can then require subsequent rounds of investment as you scale the business.
The more money you require, the greater the risk.
The second question is primarily determined by what you're willing to give up and how much money you need. Small-scale businesses could develop an MVP with micro-loans and other smaller investments. Larger businesses will need to explore these options:
- Bootstrapping: Self-funding or funds from friends and family.
- Crowdfunding: Collecting small amounts of capital from a large number of individuals.
- Angel Investors: High-net-worth individuals investing personal funds.
- Venture Capital: Professional investment firms funding growth-stage startups.
- Accelerators/Incubators: Programs providing funding, mentorship, and resources.
- Bank Loans: Debt capital from financial institutions.
- Grants: Non-repayable funds provided by organisations or governments.
- Private Equity: Large-scale investment in mature companies.
The Airbnb founders took an unusual route. They raised $30,000 selling cereal named after the 2008 presidential candidates. Afterward, they attended an incubator earning a further $20,000 for 6% interest in the company.
Think outside the box. In fact, that's the genius of being a non-technical founder. You bring a whole new skill set to the project – whether marketing, people skills, expertise in finance, or something else entirely.
With your funding secured and your product ready to launch, it's time to take the leap. Building your business and scaling operations. But don't go it alone – for more information, see our comprehensive guide to helping non-technical founders launch their dream startup. Remember: you don't have to be technical to work in tech.