Stalled Because You Don’t Have a Tech Cofounder? Learn It Yourself!

Photo by Stanley Dai on Unsplash

True story

I have a good friend who started planning startups when he was in high school. He was the idea guy, the planner. His ideas were always software tech companies, but back then he always lacked a technical cofounder. As a result, his earliest ideas never got properly launched.

A few years later, he earned massive respect by realizing that his lack of technical skills, something that was seemingly blocking him from achieving the startup goals he wanted, was a correctible shortcoming!

He enrolled in and graduated from The Starter League, an early tenant at 1871 (and eventually acquired by Fullstack Academy). After graduation he started small, developing for a startup owned by a friend from the code school. From there he joined the 9–5 dev world to hone his dev chops, and he continued his startup tech lead role as a side gig. He has cofounded or worked with a few startups since then.

The important point is that today he lives a contented startup career life, knowing that he can do it all. He can both conceive a software business and also develop the product.

It’s easy to stop or not start

But unlike him, I’ve also met with many founders who just stopped dead in their tracks, whining about not being able to bring their business idea to life for lack of a tech resource. Or for lack of funding for that tech resource. Or for lack of knowing where to meet and find that tech resource.

I know an entrepreneur who recycles the [roughly] same business idea about once every three years, always unable to proceed for lack of a developer to help. I want you to know that it took my friend much less than three years to graduate The Starter League and become proficient enough to hold his own as a tech cofounder. He was practicing within one year and confident in his abilities within two years. Had this other entrepreneur adopted the same approach, he’d be up and running and through two pivots by now.

Don’t stop, but do slow down

I know it seems like you want to have everything done tomorrow — have your MVP launched, start testing product market fit, start applying to accelerators, and start raising serious funding.

You are [probably] young. This won’t be your last rodeo. This rodeo doesn’t need to launch tomorrow anyway. You can take some time to prepare to do it right! If it is too late for this rodeo, at least you’ll be prepared for the next one.

If you remember nothing else about this article, remember this. You can change. You can learn. You can practice. You can grow. Regret is having the same misgivings two years from now — while knowing that you could have been prepared this time.

Anyone can do this

Sidebar for all of the highly skilled professional devs who are reading this. I know you are rolling your eyes over this headline and the very idea that someone could start cold, goof around a little with Codecademy, and be as prepared as you are in just a couple of years. You’re absolutely right. I know you can do the work better, faster, and more stably than a novice. But, that founder probably can’t afford you on day one — unless you want to work for a deep discount or shares in a speculative venture. So, let them get something launched, making a little bit of money, and then funded — so they can then hire you! And to you founders, the professionals who study dev skills in depth and have mad experience are golden. Show them the respect they and their art deserve — and they can help you scale.

You can argue that my friend was a exceptional case. That you are different. I’ll accept that — he is an exceptional self learner who also taught himself basic graphic design and copyrighting. And he forced himself to make cold calls until he switched from hating sales to loving it. So he does seem to have an innate bias to both learning and action.

So I’ll accept your argument — but I have some questions before I do. And a couple of comments.

  1. Are you building a tech business — and plan to do that without knowing even the basics about the tech your business will deploy? Good luck with that.
  2. Do you believe that an investor will invest in your venture even though you haven’t invested time to learn your tech? Good luck with that, too.
  3. Are you afraid you can’t learn dev skills? I’m betting that if you relaxed and gave yourself two years to learn, you could. You don’t have to put code up tomorrow!
  4. Are you worried that you’d have too much to do as a founder, given everything else you already do? Welcome to the world of being a founder.
  5. Do you plan to contract out your initial product development and then just operate off of that tech base? Send me a selfie of the look on your face when the first tech hiccup happens.
  6. Do you plan to hire an experienced dev — and are funded to do that? Awesome! I still think you need to know something about tech if you are running a tech company, if for no other reason than to know how to communicate with your dev.

I’d like to add that self learning is how I started my first business, a software development company. And for those who think age matters, I heard a self-taught middle school student last week pitch and demo a game he had created (from the ground up with just Javascript, HTML, and CSS). If we can do it, so can you.

If you are wondering how to start learning …

  1. Just google “immersive code schools” if you want a fairly quick, but highly structured, all-in experience. Be prepared to pay.
  2. Or, just google “learn to code” and look for online solutions. Everything from Codecademy to Freecodecamp to edX to Open Courseware at major universities is available — mostly free. You, of course, provide most of the curriculum structure yourself.
  3. Read the TECH section and “Learning to Code” tag here on Medium and follow people that write about being a dev or learning to be a dev.
  4. Read r/learnprogramming or the subreddit for a language you want to learn on reddit.com. Read their sidebars.

These four starting points are the tiniest tip of the iceberg, and this article isn’t intended to be a thorough guide to dev learning tools. Help my readers out. Leave a comment with your suggestion for a great way or place to learn dev skills.

tl;dr

  • If you are founding a software tech business, you should know how to make software.
  • If you don’t have any dev skills, STFU and learn them.
  • Plenty of others have done it — so can you.
  • Respect the professional software devs who can help you scale later on.
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