Creating a Tech Startup Without Having a Tech Background

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    Fifty Start-Ups Disrupting Their Industries

    You certainly don’t have to be a techie to have a great idea for a tech startup. But if you do have a great idea, and you don’t have a tech background, how can you take your idea from conception to reality?

    An informed voice on that topic is Jenna Fernandes, CEO of, an online booking platform for family care services. Fernandes has come up with a list of eight key lessons she learned along the entrepreneurial way, and I found them valuable enough to share here:

    • Research: Be able to speak enough “programmer” to know exactly what type of people or development team is needed. At the very least, know the differences between PHP, Ruby, Python, JAVA, HTML, CSS, iOS, and other programming languages, as well as what a code repository is and what database options are available – Stack Overflow is a great place to start learning. BuiltWith is a technology look-up site that shows what familiar websites were built with, while Udemy and General Assembly offer great intro to programming classes. Attend tech meet-ups to gain exposure to the community, and aim to speak with at least 10 different people. Then log feedback in a Google Doc or an Excel spreadsheet to track commonalities and help make the most informed decisions.
    • Search: Start looking for a team that will fit the company’s individual needs. It is important to consider factors like whether a development shop or an individual is the best, how many people need to be working on the project, whether they can be located locally or internationally, and if they will be paid or working for equity in the company. Posting the job on Stack Overflow, LinkedIn, and college alumni job sites can be helpful in finding individuals. For most jobs, it is necessary to hire both a programmer and designer. Programmers take care of how the site functions, and designers work on how the site looks. Finding a programmer/designer hybrid is unlikely.
    • Express: Make sure to have a clear understanding of what this project will constitute for the developers. Create a document that includes the elevator pitch, as well as all the key bullet points that will help get them organized and give them a pulse on what to build. After everything is written out, build a “wireframe” of an ideal site using PowerPoint or Google Docs to create a cursory look and feel for the platform. The depth of logic and functionality of this information will help the programmer get a sense of how much work the site will entail, and in turn how much money and time the project will cost.
    • Add 10 percent: Programmers and designers are notorious for not generating accurate project estimates, so the rule of thumb is to take whatever they present and add 10 percent. Be sure that the company has enough time and money budgeted to cover the buffer and guarantee that the project finishes without a hitch.
    • Organize: In working with a programmer and designer, organization of all the different components is key. Make sure that everything is clear, concise, assigned and universally shared. Organizational openness and consistency are vital to a healthy experience when building a complicated web platform. Helpful collaboration tools include Dropbox, Google Drive, Assembla and InVision.
    • Prioritize: When developing a Web platform, organization goes hand-in-hand with prioritization. Once all the to-do items are in place, the team can review each item by setting up a rating system to indicate what is most important — everything needs to be looked at from the lens of all the major stakeholders. After prioritizing, teams can start two-week sprint planning, whittling away at the priorities from the top down to help get a snapshot of what to expect in the near future.
    • Let go: For truly technical questions, let the tech team take the lead and give their recommendations. They were hired for their expertise, so give them a chance to prove that they are an asset to the company and take their recommendations.
    • Communicate: Do not allow days or weeks to go by without speaking to the development team. Daily contact is imperative in making sure that the site is built to the company’s specifications. A call or Skype chat can help create a feeling of openness in communication, and foster a better working environment. Enforce a policy where the team members can reach out anytime they need to, day or night, so nobody ever feels that he or she is imposing.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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