Why You Don’t Need To Be Able To Code To Build A Tech Startup

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The No. 1 piece of advice for non-technical startup founders? Get a co-founder who can code.

As featured on Inc.com, that one-size-fits-all formula didn’t suit Unroll.me co-founder Perri Gorman. The email management service came into existence thanks to four non-technical co-founders. In July, Unroll.me reached one million subscribers.

“I personally think that the idea you have to code is an investor-driven mentality,”Gorman said in a recent interview with the Huffington Post.

However, that doesn’t mean that as a founder who doesn’t code you won’t encounter your fair share of unique challenges. Take it from Gorman, who is working on her second startup, Archive.ly. The service allows users to curate biographical information about their business contacts.

When Gorman got the idea for her second startup, she moved from New York to Silicon Valley, thinking it would give her the best shot at finding the expertise she needed.

I learned quickly that being an unproven CEO with a very strong idea about what I wanted to build is not the most appealing thing to engineers who could do anything,” she told the Huffington Post. 

But it was her persistence, she contends, that ultimately resulted in a product. After a friend saw that Gorman wasn’t going to give up on her idea, he gave her an initial boost by helping her to build her first prototype. She was lucky, she says.

Gorman went on to detail what she’s learned from her experience during the early years of both startups. Here are a few takeaways from the interview:

Focus on the front end.

If a prototype looks good from the front end, you’ll have an easier time persuading talent to help you work on the back end. Gorman worked with a design shop to put a face on Archive.ly. “It came alive and engineers and others started to see what I was building,” she explained. “It helped me visually tell my story.”

Get the basics down.

Since you’re not going to be doing the programming yourself, you have to be able to describe exactly what needs to be done. This will require you to build on your tech vocabulary. “You need to know the landscape, programming languages, databases, API integrations, and how things fit together. You need to learn how to speak to engineers in their own language,” Gorman said.

Acknowledge you limits. Then move on to what you’re good at.

“Are there times I wish I coded? Sure,” Gorman admitted. But she now realizes that her strength lies in her incessant efforts to learn more and more when it comes to every aspect of her company. “I read like crazy, I try new tools, I have a design mentor, and I just keep learning.”

So yes, it would be nice if Gorman could carve some time out every day to study programming. However, “In reality I just wouldn’t have time to do it,” she concluded.

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