So you wanna launch a startup, eh? Why? Seriously though.
Startup life consists of toiling work which can potentially increase responsibility, stress — and often result in a pay decrease.
Still wanna do it? Good, because entrepreneurship is awesome!
Business and Tech World Realities
A few months ago I had a conversation with Boris Mann, managing partner of Vancouver, BC 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 most ‘business’ people don’t know how to provide it to a ‘techie’.
Despite some really positive statistics around non-tech founders leading tech companies, the skills we provide are “soft-skills”. We cannot hold up relationships or brilliantly salvaged sales in a portfolio. What we can do is communicate competence and knowledge.
How to Be a Key Player in a Tech Startup
Here are six ways you can make sure you’re prepared to be a key player in a tech startup. While each business (i.e. biz) and technical (i.e. tech) relationship is different, for the purpose of simplicity (and accuracy), this advice assumes your potential tech partners have the proper skill set and emotional depth.
1. Know your stuff.
I’ll be more specific. It’s a ‘non-techie’ biz job to provide the external framework, and a tech job to build within those parameters. Biz needs to know what the product is and how it fits within the market; (i.e. pricing, position, competition, benefits, lead gen, sales cycle, sales nature, pain points, user behavior, buyer behavior etc.) Know all of this — before you even get deeper into small business marketing.
2. Understand the basics of code.
Sign up for Code Academy and learn how to code. Understand the basics of HTML and if you’re 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. This is a good thing, so embrace it. Well balanced teams are built of complementary skills.
Invariably, startups require menial tasks which can suck. Lead gen, chasing overdue accounts payable, taxes, customer service, etc. These types of business operations take patience and hustle. You will definitely be appreciated by your team. Anyone who says hustle isn’t a skill isn’t doing it right.
Anyone who says hustle isn’t a skill isn’t doing it right. – Daniel Eberhard
4. Know your tools.
There are a ton 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, email campaign, landing page, analytics, accounting, angel and crowdfunding, conference call, social media and legal software. Odds are you won’t need all of these, but you’ll definitely need some.
5. Foster your network.
This one is key. Programmers want to program. They build things out of passion, creativity or curiosity. Let them tinker; this is when they are at their best. Your job is to get out, establish your personal brand, and communicate that vision to the people around you.
In many ways, the ‘non-techie’ 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 a ‘non-techie’ business person 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 skill sets, collaboration methods, and 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.
Daniel Eberhard is the Co-founder and VP of Kineticor Renewables, and now works at Arcsyn, a power generation company in Canada.
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