Coding is the new literacy — for years, people have been calling programming the X-factor that guarantees future success.
It’s no surprise there is a widespread perception in the startup world that anyone who doesn’t know how to code should forget about trying to create anything. After all, Silicon Valley, which historically has been to software engineering what Hollywood is to acting, built its reputation as the birthplace of world-changing tech companies.
But the reality is that great talent is everywhere, and technical talent is not the only kind that matters. Silicon Valley is by no means the only booming tech hub in the world — in 2013, only 37 cities were home to a unicorn; by 2021, there were unicorns in a whopping 170 cities.
Having a technical background is not a requirement for a founder to build a great company, regardless of where they might be located. We work with plenty of technical and non-technical people, and we encourage founders with non-technical backgrounds to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Why do we feel so strongly about this?
The proof is in the data. In his book “Super Founders,” venture capitalist Ali Tamaseb gathered 30,000 data points that revealed founding CEOs of unicorns were split down the middle: Half came from a business background; half had a technical background.
And, there have been many non-technical founders who have built huge tech companies, such as Melanie Perkins of Canva, Brian Chesky of Airbnb, Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble, and Evan Sharp of Pinterest.
Coding is “A” new literacy, not “THE” new literacy and is only one of many ways to achieve great outcomes.
If we meet an applicant who doesn't have a technical background but brings drive, grit and some other specialized knowledge, we will almost always want to partner with them, connect them to our ecosystem and jump-start their entrepreneurial journey.
While this might sound encouraging, it doesn’t change the fact that every company needs to go to market with an MVP. Without coding skills, how do you build one?
You should always try to have at least one technical co-founder on your team. It simply makes for faster building and iterating, easier pivoting, consistency throughout the product lifetime and fewer headaches or incompatibilities down the line.
While we don’t recommend launching a company solo, if you haven’t found a technical co-founder or freelancer to build your MVP, here are four principles that will help in the meantime.
Principle 1: Non-technical is OK; non-product is not
People often confuse technical knowledge for product knowledge, but they are not the same. Each requires different educational backgrounds, team structures, focus areas within the enterprise and the types of questions that need to be asked.
Product knowledge is about being able to articulate what your thing does at the most basic level. Even if you have no clue how the technology actually works, you should be able to explain what the function is in a clear and concise way. On the other hand, technical knowledge is about building the thing itself.