Startups April 27, 2021
4 min read
Not Waiting is the Biggest Asset for a Non-Technical Founder
Not Waiting is the Biggest Asset for a Non-Technical Founder
Niall Ingle
Niall Ingle Peaka / Resident Gypsy

Not Waiting is the Biggest Asset for a Non-Technical Founder

Ever since startups replaced finance jobs as a top target for status seekers, volumes of anxiety-riddled text continue to spill out onto the internet in search of the elusive technical co-founder.

To be fair, practical advice from Y Combinator since its inception hasn't bothered to shelter people from this notion either. "If you can't convince at least one person to build this thing," the thinking goes, "then what does this say about your chances of success?"

As a result, back when you wouldn't be shot on the spot for suggesting it, people who felt they lacked the resources would be encouraged to "learn how to code" (time) or "hire an external team" (money). Especially those wanting to build apps or SaaS businesses.

And for someone trying to build something of value, navigating your way around this stage could be a daunting experience.

So has anything changed in the past few years? Actually, yes. It has.

But first just take a step back and ask yourself: "What would I need in order to convince someone to join me, something that would also help me even if I didn't end up convincing anyone?"

Two things, maybe:

  1. The ability to hustle.
  2. A visible demonstration of this ability.

Of course, the most impressive hustle here would be to just build the thing yourself.

"But wait," you say, "I thought I wasn't going to learn how to code?"

That just so happens to be one of the things that has changed recently. These days, with all these shiny new no-code platforms, it turns out you can actually build your app or SaaS business without learning how to code.

The added bonus here is that you will probably know more about these platforms than your potential technical co-founders. You have to remember, these people use code to build these things for a living. Why would they look into whether you can actually build them without writing any code? As it turns out, "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." (Upton Sinclair)

If you do go ahead and build the app and showcase it, you'll find that technical folks will tend be impressed. However beware, like any magic trick, once they know how it's done they might try to make light of your methods. At the end of the day though, you will have shown them something that they never really considered before, mostly because they never really needed to think about it all that much to begin with. Instead of having to convince them with words, you will have exceeded their expectations with accomplishments they normally associate with software developers. Going forward, they will no longer question your ability to get things done.

You've Come This Far, Why Stop?

And now that you have actually built the app itself, you will of course realize that searching for a technical co-founder doesn't have the critical urgency it once did. After all, now there is nothing preventing you from inviting your users to use your app and seeing whether they like what you have built.

At this point, to many people, it will look like you've done something that doesn't scale. That's not necessarily a bad thing. As it happens, "do things that don't scale" is another one of those useful but counterintuitive sounding Paul Graham and Y Combinator mantras. The point is to do whatever it takes to get your early users because they will be the ones on the street spreading the word the fastest -- more than any other group of users that will come to you afterwards.

Several years ago, someone on Hacker News asked for real world examples of doing things that don't scale. The top comment was from the founders of moonlightwork, a tech talent agency (itself later acquired by a YC startup). They described their process of manually stringing together a bunch of no-code tools in order to operate their service, adding that they were able to reach $100K of monthly gross sales with this ad-hoc no-code stack.

That's pretty good, especially since they considered what they were building to be a prototype.

Nowadays though, a different kind of wager is being placed on this generation of no-code platforms.

The bet is this: no-code will scale.

Whether this bet will be won, or whether a SaaS with $100K monthly gross sales should be considered a "prototype" may be up for debate, but to you as a non-technical founder one thing should be abundantly clear:

There is no point in waiting anymore.

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