8th February, 2018

Can you build a tech startup with no technical chops?

While it’s a myth that tech startup founders need to know how to code, non-technical founders do face certain challenges.

Will Strange, a non-technical founder, started Sports Performance Tracking in 2015 after noticing there was no way for amateur athletes to measure and track their performance.

After striking a deal with Sydney-based Magellan GPS, he started re-selling units sewn into low-cost vests that players could wear under their uniform. He sold them at a $175 premium from a Wix site.

A few years later, the company has raised a combined $7.4 million since its inception and its users have run over 18 million kilometers.

Strange told a PauseFest audience that you really didn’t need a technical background to start a tech company.

Two crucial components of tech startups

“The technology could be the best thing ever, but if it’s a box in the corner and nobody’s heard of it, is it useful? If you can’t get the product out – if people don’t know what it is – who cares?”

Strange said sales and tech development were the two crucial components of a tech startup. Given he had a background in sales and real estate, he felt confident he could build a tech company after his early success in selling units from his garage.

“I had a pretty crappy Wix site and I was managing to sell units from there…so that was a sign I could do this,” said Strange.

He said while the company maintained a MVP-rationale – which is more about getting a working product to customers instead of getting the perfect product to market – to grow as a company he would need to bring on some tech people.

So how do you find a tech person when nobody in your network is a tech person? Where do you start?

Growing the tech team

Knowing nobody in his social networks with a technical background, Strange said his first step was trawling through LinkedIn – looking for somebody even vaguely connected with him with a technical background.

One of those connections happened to be a computer science professor at Monash University.

“I sent him a message saying ‘I’m starting a business. Do you have any students … that you’d recommend?” he said.

“I chatted with him on the phone and … he pointed me in the direction of Andreas [Limberopoulos].”

Limberopolous would be the first CTO of the company.

“I ended up sitting down with him, gave him a set of requirements and said ‘you’ve got a week to build me this, can you do it?’

“I paid him 500 bucks…and a few coffees.

“He went away and built me what I asked for – and three or four other things I hadn’t asked for.”

Strange said while ability was important, why he ultimately brought Limberopolous on was because he trusted him – a vital component for a non-technical founder.

“If you don’t know how to code, find someone who can, create a relationship, and figure out how to make it mutually beneficial. But trust is the number one thing,” he said.

From there the company hired more technical people under the guidance of Limberopolous, while Strange took care of sales.

READ MORE: Establishing craftsmanship culture in a team

“Burnout’s a thing”

“Talking to technical people was, and is, a struggle,” said Strange.

He said the biggest lesson he learnt when dealing with a growing technical team was figuring out that burnout was a very real issue.

“There’s a thing called ‘burnout’. I had never heard of that in sales, but I’ve definitely heard of it now,” said Strange.

“Initially I didn’t really believe it, but it becomes a real thing. So managing your tech staff and understanding the cues of when they’re getting tired…if you believe they’re a good worker and they start getting sloppy – that should mean something to you.”

He also said that getting on top of burnout required a non-technical founder to reach out to their technical team – because they wouldn’t necessarily raise it with Strange.

“Generally…my tech team are quite reclusive, quite quiet, and aren’t on the front foot compared to me who’s pretty loud,” he said.

“So the first thing I figured out was that I needed to go to them – I needed to ask them questions.”

READ MORE: How to train your management team