Yes, non-techies can run great tech businesses too

MT EXPERT: You don't have to be a coding god to run a tech start-up. In fact a little bit of judicious ignorance can be a good thing, says Wax Digital's Daniel Ball

by Daniel Ball
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2016

With tax breaks aplenty, additional government funding, an increasing pool of VC investment and growing tech hubs including London’s TechCity and Manchester’s TechNorth, it’s not surprising that technology start ups are riding high.

But what happens if you have an idea and a dream of being the next Huddle or Skyscanner, but have no background in tech? How does someone with no coding skills set about launching and growing a technology start up? Here are my five ways to grow a tech start up without being a techie.

1. Focus on the user experience not the technology

This is when being a non-techie in a techie world really is an advantage. While the developer understands what can be built, the non-techie understands why and how it should be built. Every technical product should start with defining and understanding the user experience. Creating an experience that is fulfilling a business or personal need rather than creating a technical need is key.

2. Hire the best CTO you can afford – just don’t be one

For all your business growth vision, you need someone with a technical vision to match. Without both at a strategic level, you’ll be doomed to fail.

Having a strong CTO on board from the beginning means that product development stays on track. This is incredibly important in providing customers with the assurance of credibility and expertise. While you may be able to deliver the product features and benefits, they need to know that the product is properly architected and secure.

A good CTO can also provide strong leadership to your developer team – having been one previously. They’ll understand how to keep the team motivated and in turn be able to provide mentoring when necessary.

3. But don't lack technical awareness

Many technology companies fail simply because they weren’t able to recognise the next big technology development before it squashed their market. Being technically aware means that you’ll be able to spot the business driver of a new piece of technology that your CTO might not.

Always look to innovate beyond your current market with a commercial eye on the wider technology landscape. Identify where technology in your area. Develop prototypes and concepts and take them to the market to judge the appetite for them.

4. Think like a customer not a seller

While this applies to most start ups whatever industry they’re in – it’s never more true than with technology companies. Technical developers are notoriously inward looking. This means they’re focused on the next iteration of the product and not the next need. As the non-techie in the company that’s your job.Create user groups and work with them to understand concerns and support the innovation process. Use those insights to further develop your core product.

5. Focus on your market

While this feeds in to my earlier point, I can’t reiterate it enough. Focus on your market. Segment it tightly by niche, by vertical, by whatever works. But concentrate on ensuring that you have the best product for that niche. If you do this well the market will get excited by the product; understand its value; and believe in its benefits; and then they will enthuse about it to others. While you’re concentrating on selling to them, they’ll start selling on your behalf. But only if you’ve done it well.

According to London’s TechCity "Britain’s tech sector is a significant engine of growth, and is estimated to be contributing around £72bn to the UK economy, representing 5% of the UK total. With this continued growth on the horizon, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more non-techies launching tech start ups. While all innovation is good for the economy, lets use those non-technical skills to complement and grow valuable technology companies that can last.

Successful e-procurement business Wax Digital was founded by Daniel Ball and Paul Ellis. Both come from marketing backgrounds, and neither of them can write a line of code.

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