How To Build Tech Products as a Non-Technical Founder

No stranger to the power of community in the startup eco-system around the world, Chrys Bader brings a mountain of value to the table in working in technology and startups. He is Co-Founder and CPO of popular mobile app Secret, which grew to 15M active users in six months. and raised $36M in Venture Capital. He is an alumnus of Y Combinator and former Google Product Manager for Google+ and YouTube.

Chrys spends his time now traveling the world and mentoring startups with Nomadic Mentors. He stopped through Singapore to speak to our SheWorx community. As the mentor for our last SheWorx Singapore roundtable, Chrys filled our community key resources and insights to help build tech products as a non-technical founder.

How do you get a technical co-founder excited about joining your team? Give them something to get excited about.

Look at the path of building a company. There is a process. Depending on what type of company you have you might not need a technical person to reach certain milestones. First stage, ideation. There is a market and there is a need. Your job as the founder is to validate the market. In terms of market validation, you don’t need a technical co-founder. Validating the market because you have some sort of expertise. There is a lot that you can do without worrying about a technical co-founder. Then down the line this will help you.

You already have all of this information, you have clients or paying customers. If you take that to someone as a nice package with a bow on it saying, “Do you want to help?”  This is a very different proposition than “I have an idea and I want you to do all the work. I want you to build everything without having a sense of what they are going to get out of it.

Market validation is the first part. Goal is to get product-market fit.

Some sort of beta program is next with an MVP. Some can be a spreadsheet, google form. Can you build on something that will provide some sort of mailing list. Product is information, photos, etc. I can send out emails and see how people respond. You start getting that early data and feedback. All of this is building up the leverage down the line when inspiring someone with technical capability. During the beta phase you can make a lot of headway on your own.

Once you have a go-to market strategy you are going to want some help. At that point you need to ask that question of “Do I want to hire a full-time CTO or hire a contractor or outsourcing to a dev shop in another country?”

Why you should never outsource your product? It sucks.

When you are outsourcing, you never want to outsource your product. If they control the product then you. Have an opinion on how it should work. Be very clear and specific with Outsourcing you are dealing with a manager who manages all the engineers. This manager might not always speak great english in the first place. The communication gap to bridge will bring on more cycles for development and cost you more money in the long run. What comes back to you might not be what you expect.

The more communication required, the more you should sit down and write out your product specifications and do as much as you can to illustrate. You can take a screenshot, show what you want. Show exactly what happens when you click on a certain button. The more specific you are the less room for interpretation there is on their end.

Technical co-founder is in the room with you, speaks the same language and you can communicate more clearly. When you have your own technical co-founder you have a lot more fluidity in the conversation. You can always ask them what they think of things.

Why you should never outsource core technology? Outsourced code is crap.

If you are building proprietary software where the core technology and codebase is the IP and extremely valuable. If you outsource, it will be crap and you are going to have to throw it out. The quality of the code is the quality of your business.

If you are still in market-validation or beta phase, outsourcing might be your only option to get that validation. But when you move into go to market you want to have someone in house.

How to motivate engineers?  Find out what they value.

Engineers are people too. They are very logical. So when you consider what to incentivize them with sometimes it’s about coming up with an interesting challenge that may or may not be related to the core business. Inspire them just to work on that part of the project.

An engineer may have a sense that they can do everything. It’s your job to show them the value in what you are bringing to them. One way you can do this is by researching all you can about the market. Know your industry way more than you do. They should feel like they will never have to doubt that. Learn how to do some basic coding. This helps you gain a little respect from them. Consistently show and get things done.

If you come to an engineer with an idea and it feels like they are having to do all the work. Then it feels very unbalanced. If you say, I have all of this figured out and I’m interviewing for technical co-founders for someone with your skill set.

Why having a remote CTO isn’t the silver bullet answer? Being in the same room is so important.

There is so much that happens when you’re on a break with someone that is missing in face times that are already kind of scheduled. Because all of the greatest stuff happens when unscheduled. Being in the same place.

How do people who just came up with the idea put together specifications for a technical build? You can show what you want.

Some want to be given just a spec and some want to be involved. You might want him/her to give in as much input as they can. For example, one button change might take 2 weeks and you wouldn’t have known that without their knowledge. Sit down with the engineer to to the specs for the build.

Having mock-ups or wireframes just to convey that you’ve thought everything through. What are the major screens and what are the major functional. You could take this to a “These are the high level things and this is how I think the product should work. I would love to get your feedback. I didn’t go into the details because I don’t want to make any assumptions about how the technology is going to work.”

This shows respect and self-awareness. As a potential technical co-founder, they are thinking that you are allowing some room. If they are looking to be a co-founder, they are going to be less of a passive person. They will have opinions. So you should start those conversations with that assumption and giving them that room.

If you don’t have a tech guy can you raise funds? Not really.

There are anomalies but it isn’t common to raise funds without tech talent on your team. Think of another route if you don’t have a strong CTO. Get somebody coming on as an engineer at the beginning. You can continue to give them more responsibility and ownership or perceived responsibility. Convincing people to work for you for free, you can show them your trajectory. How much they would own at different valuations. If we give you this much equity this is how much it would be worth. Show them numbers. This gives them some sense, more realistic. Show them that this is something that might actually have success.

What about tech advisors? Find one.

The value of a tech advisor could be to help you evaluate potential outsourced people, their code to give you an on your side advice. If you get people to help you in any way in a small way then maybe it can turn into something down the line.

Structure the agreement with some sort of equity that is vested so that they don’t get all of it right away. Maybe it’s 1 hour a week or 2 hours a week of their time over 2 years and it vests every quarter.

How do you attract technical people?

There are some sites that can help you find a co-founder. When you pick a co-founder it’s like dating so you should know them first. See how they work, spend time with them. Over 90% of startups fail, not because of the market but because of internal problems.

Think creatively about incentives. There are other reasons why people would want to stay around. Think about how that translates to your company.

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