Living in Manhattan, it seems like everyone I talk to is looking to ditch their corporate jobs to start a company, or at the very least has an idea for one. This “revolutionary” app idea that’ll make everyone’s life easier. The “Uber for this,” and the “Grubhub for that” – whatever the idea may be, they make founding a startup sound fun, exciting, almost sexy.
But, what happens when you find that your million dollar idea is going to need a lot of knowledge and skills in an area you know absolutely nothing about? For those who are nontechnical and about to embark on building a company from the ground up, there are a few things to consider. I hope that those who read my story can learn from my mistakes and my successes.
The idea for my company, Study Abroad Apartments, did not come from an endless period of idea brainstorming – it wasn’t forced. It came naturally out of a problem I faced and wanted to solve.
As a soon-to-be graduate at the time, I realized that if I wanted to solve this problem, I was going to have to commit to it full-time. Without any knowledge of web development, I focused on building a brand and service that people loved.
We have been referred to as scrappy entrepreneurs, guys who will do whatever it takes to get it done. Our lack of technology proficiency was compensated with drive and hustle. For example, every time someone requested to book an apartment, we would immediately copy and paste an email to send out, in order to make it seem as though our process was automated. When we uploaded apartments, instead of uploading in bulk, we listed and wrote fresh content for over 600 apartments, one by one. My point is that finding a product/market fit and doing whatever‘s needed to make your product a success doesn’t necessarily require a tech genius.
Here are a few options you can choose from when building a new company without a technical co-founder.
If you’re bootstrapping and looking for a simple, functional product to get the job done, this is not a terrible option. A basic website can give you a glimpse into how your idea may play out in the future. SAA started off with a basic WordPress blog and we generated revenue from it – a telling sign that there was more opportunity ahead.
- Dev shops can be expensive and are not always aligned with your interests. Most shops are looking to get paid for work by the hour or on a monthly retainer and then be on their way. In most cases, raising capital will have to finance the cost.
- Some web design companies do a great job disguising themselves as a “dev shops,” when their skills are really in designing and marketing. Sooner or later, they’ll try to sell you on SEO and CPC management.
Adding a CTO to the founding team
There is nothing more valuable than bringing on someone who is fully aligned with your vision and interests, especially if they’re willing to take a substantial pay cut. Having someone who will not only build your idea during the day but wake up at 3am to fix a bug can have a serious impact on the success of your company.
- Equity: be prepared to give up a large percentage of your company, especially in the early stages. A good CTO will most likely have plenty of other opportunities to choose from, so joining you will have to be really worth it for them.
- The fit: the best advice we received was to “be slow to hire but quick to fire.” No matter who you may be bringing on board, it’s important to have a vesting schedule and cliffs. If they’re serious about joining you and your company, they’ll be okay with that.
Equity-based development services
We stumbled upon an early stage VC firm that builds software in exchange for equity. With this option, interests are aligned and the cost in equity is minimal, so you won’t have to give up an arm and a leg to build what you need to prove your concept. For early stage companies, it’s also helpful if the VC firm can do more than just write a check.
- Equity: while you may not be shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire a dev shop to build out your product, you are giving up a percentage of your company, which may become very valuable later down the road.
- Commitment: similar to a dev shop, an equity-based development service is generally not committed to your company for the long run. It’s a temporary solution if you don’t have the resources to bring on an in-house developer.
Starting your journey as an entrepreneur without any technical skills nowadays can be tricky, but utilizing certain resources strategically can make overcoming the challenge very possible. Many people are under the impression that, in the early stages, to build a functional startup requires a technical co-founder – which simply isn’t true.
Be scrappy, be resilient, and if your idea fits in a market, you’ll be well on your way to success.
Brett Newman the Founder and President at Study Abroad Apartments. Previously, he worked in digital marketing, specializing in search engine optimization and interactive investment management. While studying in Barcelona, Spain, he worked extensively with student travel and accommodation providers. Brett holds a B.S. in Strategic Communications at Ohio State University.
Study Abroad Apartments is a marketplace that assists students with booking safe and reliable international housing accommodations. Study Abroad Apartments has helped hundreds of students obtain safe apartments throughout the world. Additionally, the company has generated millions of dollars in transactions for global real estate partners.
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