Why Startups Need Non-Technical Cofounders

This article was authored by Jeanne Heydecker and originally published on the Woomentum network.

Don’t think you can’t start a tech company just because you can’t code. I can’t write code, but I’ve worked in tech and telecom startups as the non-technical partner for years. I love the back and forth required. Because I’m non-technical, I can simplify the information to make it understandable to non-techies. I bring a user/consumer centric viewpoint while the techie views the same challenge from the technical side. Sometimes, with some partners, these meetings can be explosive, but it always meant we were getting closer to a more elegant solution. One of my favorite memories was trying to develop a complex events listing service back in early 2000, which had become unwieldy. We couldn’t get past all the intricacies. Over a large bottle of wine, we discovered we really needed only a few pages: category, list, and detail, and then realized we could morph the same architecture to display biographies, documents, events, job listings, just about anything.

Besides techies, companies need people who can market and sell the product or service. If you have a background in marketing or sales (even better, both), you would be ideal as a co-founder because somebody has to monetize the product or service, otherwise no one gets paid. Someone needs to create the overall messaging, identify the differentiators between your product or service and the competition, create sales collateral and a go-to-market strategy, budget and revenue forecasts.

Besides techies, someone with a financial background can be invaluable for startups, both those that are bootstrapped (you may need lines of credit, loans, or ways to streamline costs) and those that are funded (you want to keep your burn rate low, run reports for investors, seek alternative lending or financial support, working out the number of shares, evaluating term sheets, etc.) If this finance person also has some legal expertise, that’s a significant bonus for incorporating your startup, writing up legal documents such as NDAs, partnership agreements, and employment contracts.

Good companies have either excellent technology or excellent marketing, not both. There are many stories of great tech that ended up in a closet due to poor marketing. There are even more stories of startups with superb marketing that never ended up shipping products. If you have excellent technology and excellent marketing, you’re on your way to building a great company. If the techies in your circle don’t think they need non-techs, they are very, very much mistaken.

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