Should non-technical founders learn to code? The answer depends on whether the question is asked within the confines of Silicon Valley or outside it.
Most Silicon Valley pundits will have you believe that you can’t build a software business if you cannot code. In fact, most VCs make it tough on non-technical entrepreneurs that run software businesses, and even tougher for those that don’t have a technical cofounder.
Don’t be disheartened as coding isn’t the only and the most essential skill needed as a tech entrepreneur. Many successful tech startups were built by non-technical founders (example, Airbnb) and some of the most popular products were outsourced in their early days – Fab.com, Slack, Skype, Klout, AppSumo, GitHub, among others.
As much as coding is glorified in Silicon Valley, learning to code when you’re starting to build your mobile-first startup wouldn’t get you far. Here are some of the reasons why and what you should do instead.
It doesn’t help create a product faster
Steve Blank argues in this article that founders should learn to code, “if possible, to deliver the next level of MVP’s themselves.”
How is that a strong argument in favor of coding? If you’re on the verge of starting your product journey with a mobile-first startup, your goal is to get a product out in the hands of your customers as fast as possible to get validation and feedback.
To able to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) worth noticing would require at least a year’s worth of time and investment in learning to code. And this is when we’re only talking about building a completely native mobile app. What if your MVP requires a backend? You have to then learn web technologies as well.
As a non-technical founder, your goal is to get a product out in the market quickly and build a business. Do whatever it takes to launch the product – get a technical cofounder, hire a developer or outsource the development.
It doesn’t help recruit talent
The other argument that Steve Blank makes in the same article is that founders should learn to code “to appreciate how to hire and manage technical resources.”
When you’ve got the fire burning, you don’t have the time to appreciate the process – rather you’ve got to get the ball rolling. Some knowledge about coding doesn’t help you recruit technical resources. You need years of coding experience as well as in leading developers on projects to identify the good resources from the ones that don’t fit your requirements.
It’s not the most important skill
Coding isn’t the most important skill to be the founder of a mobile-first business. An entrepreneur has to have the insight and understanding of the market and the problems faced by their potential audience. An entrepreneur must be able to execute on his or her vision well for the product to resonate with the audience.
If the first version doesn’t deliver on the promise, the entrepreneur must possess the skills to learn from the mistakes and feedback received from the market and adapt or pivot. He or she must be able to effectively market and sell the product and scale a growing business.
It doesn’t increase the odds for success
Learning to code doesn’t increase the odds of running a successful mobile-first startup. Take for instance the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel. This startup was founded by three sisters, none of whom have a background in computer science or engineering.
They’ve raised over $11 million in venture funding and even turned down a $30 million purchase offer from Mark Cuban – the largest offer in Shark Tank’s history.
As illustrated in my previous example, there are many things that an entrepreneur must do in order to ensure success for their business that don’t involve coding.
When to focus on the technical side
You don’t have to get your hands dirty learning to code the product, but if you don’t have an idea just yet and want to acquire a skill that may help you in the future should you plan to become a tech entrepreneur, it’s a great skill to acquire given the time at hand.
If you’re ready to get started with product development for your first idea, invest some time to understand the different technology stacks, solutions and frameworks available so you can tell the difference between what’s relevant for your product and what’s not.