Non-Technical Founders: Stop Trying to Learn How to Code

by: Mary Lemmer

On a very regular basis I am asked, “Do you know any developers?,” to which I smile and answer seriously, “Yes, they grow on trees down the street” or “Get in line.”  Strong computer science talent is a dime a dozen these days and with the surge of tech companies growing and starting, the demand seems to be outweighing the supply.

In an efficient market, the mismatch between supply and demand requires an increased supply of developers, so it makes sense that people are seeking out opportunities to learn how to code and programs like Codecadamy and Skillshare classes have entered the scene.

People are also learning how to code because of the perception in the tech entrepreneurial realm that in order to start a company you need to write code.  Often driven by necessity (when a non-technical person cannot find a developer, she or he resorts to learning how to code), this notion is driving floods of aspiring entrepreneurs to take up a new learning venture.

That’s all well and good, and good for you if you want to learn to code.  But I’m telling you right now, stop coding.

Guilty myself, as I get caught in this trap of thinking I should improve my HTML, CSS, PHP, Python, and Ruby skills so I could just build all the great ideas I have sitting in Evernote.  The truth is, I don’t need to be a super coder to test out my ideas.  There are a lot of non-coding ways to test out ideas and figure out product market fit.  Learning to code so you can build all of your great ideas will likely leave you disappointed.  In reality, building cool apps is only a piece of the puzzle.  Believe it or not, non-technical skills are a critical piece of the puzzle as well.

Don’t believe me, take it from Kevin Stanton.  Kevin is the founder of Farehelper.  When catching up with Kevin he told me:

I gave up on Farehelper in January after finally accepting that the team just wasn’t up to the task.  I’ve learned the hard way that engineering prowess alone does not make a successful startup.  The key ingredient we lacked—and I see in all the successful startups I’ve watched bloom in the past year along side us—is a strong, relentless non-technical co-founder with a vision for a product that they’re passionate about and able to make quick decisions on.  We definitely didn’t have that, so us engineers fought constantly over what we were building.  Once we finally released our MVP and got solid user feedback, things had become so strained because only two-thirds of the team was doing all the work and we were spread way too thin.

Kevin’s story is a great example of technical talent alone not making a company successful.  In my time working for a venture capital firm, some of the most talented and successful entrepreneurs don’t write code right away when pursuing a new venture.  They start with testing the market, putting together “Wizard of Oz” experiments to test hypotheses before spending resources to build the product.

That being said, don’t get me wrong—learning to code can be a great thing to do.  But, it’s all about your intentions and expectations.  Learning new skills and challenging oneself with new goals are great pursuits.  I’m a big proponent of learning new skills and challenges.  Heck, I do it on a monthly basis.  Knowing enough about writing code can help an entrepreneur with a non-technical background better communicate with technical teams and understand the requirements to build the product.

Consider your intentions and outcomes of your learning.  Why are you learning to code?  Do you want to better understand the time requirements and possibilities?  Are you learning so you can build all of your genius ideas?  Remember, you don’t need to code to test out ideas.  In fact, t’s a more efficient use of time to stop coding and start experimenting with simple, quick, easy tests.

About the author Mary Lemmer @melemmer
Mary is an entrepreneur, having been through the trenches, starting, building, and consulting for companies since age fourteen. She is also an Associate for an early stage VC firm, RPM Ventures, & she knows what venture capitalists really look for & the skills necessary to be a venture backed entrepreneur. In addition to her entrepreneurial ventures, Mary trained at The Second City & improvises through group jams, comedy writing, & Improv 4 Entrepreneurs workshops. Read more from Mary at her blog, Venture Gal.

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