The Struggles of a Technical Co-Founder

What it’s like going from Mechanical Engineer to Entrepreneur, Part 1

EllieGrid CTO Nic Dhanam

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t done anything technical for EllieGrid in weeks. For a Mechanical Engineering student and intern, that’s a strange new paradigm. I grew comfortable going to the office or classroom, sitting at my desk, doing my work quietly, and communicating the results to other technically minded people. The startup space is different.

Even if you join a new company as a technical cofounder, each of those first employees will have to wear a lot of hats. If your area of expertise is something like software development (or in my case design engineering), you and your fellow cofounders will still be the first salespeople, customer service reps, and front line advocates for your product and idea for a long time. For technically minded people, this can put you outside of your comfort zone. I feel like all I’ve done for the past 2 weeks is pitch our idea to people. Of course in more formal settings, but also — and more importantly, I believe — in casual ones. I almost lost my voice this past weekend because I was talking about EllieGrid so much. Last night, I must have told people our story almost a dozen times. I’ve talked to so many people, yet I haven’t opened my CAD software in at least a week.

Fortunately for me, I was raised by a motivational speaker and have no problem speaking in front of crowds or to important people, in fact, I actually enjoy it, but I also know that a lot of technically minded people don’t have the same comfort level. The truth is this: you don’t need to be comfortable selling your idea to be an incredibly powerful advocate for your product. When you say the product works, people believe you. When people ask you questions about the minutiae and technical details, you know the answers. And honestly, you’re probably better at memorizing important statistics than anyone else on your team.

I wish I could offer some specific advice to make this easier, some silver bullet to make pitching your idea to groups and important individuals painless, but the truth is it has always come naturally to me and I don’t want to diminish how hard it might be for some. I can say this however: you know your product better than anyone, and because of that, your words carry weight even if you don’t speak them very loudly.

Nic Dhanam