‘Non-technical founder’ is a term we need to stop using.
Coding is only one part of building a successful startup.
I spent too long calling myself a non-technical founder. About three years. Yet every single day of those years, I was pushing myself to build a software startup into the industry shaper it is today.
My startup, Flaunter, was launched three years ago as an online platform that connects journalists to marketing and PR professionals for faster discovery and exchange of high-quality imagery. We’ve recently evolved into a saas-enabled marketplace and re-built the whole platform to scale across more verticals and globally (tech debt is not your friend).
And yet, I would often describe myself as non-technical, or a non-skill, when I described my role at the company. And I hear it all the time from other founders, both from those starting out to those much further along the journey than I am.
I believe it’s time we stopped using this word to describe ourselves, and more importantly other people in the community.
Every time a founder or team says they’re non-technical, it ignores their skills and experience. And anyone who has built a startup can tell you that coding and technical skill, while essential, is not everything you need.
I called myself a non-technical founder, even when our company was being validated by customers, and partners. Even after we’d been one of only six startups chosen from more than 200 to go through Startmate, Australia’s leading tech company accelerator program. Even after we’d raised millions in venture capital.
But recently someone called me on it. “If you’re not a technical founder, that’s fine. But then what are you? Because no one is a non-thing.”
This is the question I want every founder who doesn’t code to ask themselves and become confident in their answer.
For me, I’m a Product Founder. I have carefully mapped out every detail of each edition of Flaunter based on a deep understanding of my market, of the problem we’re addressing — and how to actually solve it.
Finding the technical people to build your vision and become part of it is one part of any founder’s journey. But using your product and market knowledge to build something that customers value… that’s incredibly important too. But that’s what we negate when we describe founders who don’t or can’t code as simply ‘non-technical founders’.
Product market fit is hard, and that’s what keeps product founders up at night. At Flaunter, we’ve got 87% of the target market journalists on the platform; a million images have been shared through Flaunter; hundreds of thousands of samples have been tracked and we’re about to begin rolling out a suite of data-powered features too. And we’re only just getting started.
We need to stop using phrases such as ‘non-technical founders’ partly because it excludes some of the world’s most successful founders so far: Jeff Bezos doesn’t code, Jack Ma doesn’t either and Steve Jobs never did for Apple.
But mostly because even founders who can code shouldn’t be coding all day forever. People focus too much on STARTING — when really the hardest part is the LASTING.
I’ve designed and managed the build for Flaunter as you see it now — and a brand new version that we’ll be launching soon. And I’d say that’s technical enough.
I was asked recently to give a talk at a fashion tech conference on my startup journey. Yes fashion tech is a thing, and we would have much more of it, and innovative tech companies in general if we truly embraced the value of diverse skills in founding teams in our everyday language.
It’s an understatement to say that technology has transformed the way everyone in that room lives and works. The fashion industry has always embraced innovation. And it’s a MASSIVE market that is ripe for disruption. Fashion tech businesses are serious — and attacking huge global problems.
Fashion is only one industry where technology-driven change is finally at work. Design, food tech and human resources are just a few others.
The opportunity is right in front of us — we just need to start thinking differently about what it means to innovate and disrupt. These words have been owned by the tech industry for a long time. We need a bigger, bolder and more diverse tech industry. So let me let you in on a secret: it’s not that hard to become a tech industry person.
I used to be a lifestyle publicist, and now I run a software company. I am not a developer. I never learnt to code. Four years ago I had no idea what a sprint was, the difference between PHP and Ruby, what a product manager did and the subtle differences between a developer and an engineer. I hold degrees in Communications and Teaching.
But I saw an opportunity to use technology to create a better, smarter way to do my job. I did the work to learn about technology, to design a product and more importantly, I think I’ll probably never stop iterating with my tech team on Flaunter to keep making it better to help our users achieve their goals.
Flaunter is Australia’s largest, leading and most diverse platform for direct access between lifestyle brands and media. We offer image sharing, product discovery, sample tracking, and analytics all in one platform. We launched Flaunter because of the broken, messy, inefficient way of working PRs were trapped in (I knew it well, I had done it for more than a decade).
Our first customers were in the fashion industry. Then we added interiors and beauty verticals. Next will come books, food and travel. We’ve been approached by hotels and even mechanical parts manufacturers.
The innovation behind Flaunter was born from an experience in fashion, but at its core, Flaunter is a data-driven software company. I don’t code for it, but I did found it. And I lead its product development and thinking. And I’m one of thousands of similar founders, many of whom may not look like a Stanford graduate guy who can build his platform in the garage with his buddies, but we are still building exciting businesses.
So, don’t call me, or you, or anyone a non-technical founder. Product founder, team founder, commercial founder, sales founder, people-focused founder, data founder — there will always be a more accurate term for someone than a simply a non-thing.
As software eats the world, we’re going to need thousands of different skills and ways of seeing the world helming growing companies. Fewer labels will help make our industry more attractive so just maybe, founder without any negations or qualifications works for all of us.