This is the story of three solo founders who have either achieved millions in revenue or received millions in investment. I was lucky to be able to chat with all three of them as I work on Quibb - a new product I'm working on to reinvent professional news, starting with the tech & startup vertical.
How did they get there? How do non-technical solo founders create successful startups? Alexander Mimran of Penzu (and now Minbox), Deena Varshavskaya of Wanelo, and Noah Kagan of Appsumo are all non-technical solo founders that have done it. Based on their experiences, 4 common traits stand out:
- Technically literate
- Product oriented
- Have cash
- Are startup/tech connected
More details, based on their experiences…
As Deena knows from her experience creating Wanelo, "you need to be really comfortable discussing technology". If you're holding the vision and acting as the product owner, you need to be able to clearly describe that vision using technical jargon. In the case of both Deena and Alexander, this meant years of experience designing online products and apps. For Noah, this meant being able to build the basics of Appsumo in PHP, enough so that he could hand over the product to a contractor and continue to guide it's development as he focused on marketing.
It's imperative for anyone running a tech company to know the basics of coding. Makes life much easier to understand if you are trying to do a tech company.
Non-technical solo founders need to be extremely product focused. They're not purely business-y or marketing types - they're comfortable making mockups and know what the product looks like and how it functions. They follow the principles of customer development, and are constantly learning and talking with their users. This is the opposite of what you sometimes see with overly technical solo founders, who focus on how they can leverage new APIs, how to collect a certain valuable data type, etc.
SO many engineers have a disease where it's easier to sit behind a desk and make something vs going and getting the customers necessary to build/grow a business.
If you're creating a technology company, it means that you'll have to get something built early on. This means that unless you can build the MVP youself (like Noah, who can code a bit), you'll probably have to pay someone - along with other initial & monthly costs. This can mean getting a loan, tucking into your savings, or something a bit more creative - Deena used revenues from her design agency to bootstrap the first version of Wanelo.
As an entrepreneur starting from zero, you need to make it happen however you can make it happen. If it takes paying someone else to build it - you do that!
These founders leveraged their existing networks of tech/startup colleagues and friends to help them find technical contractors, CTOs, or simply people to add some complicated piece of back-end code that was important for their product. Deena reached out to an ex-colleague to start building the basics of Wanelo, while Noah reached out to friends he met through his other startups. Alexander talked to a technical friend about hiring a part-time contractor - he referred Mike, who eventually became Penzu's CTO and is now co-founder of their current startup Minbox.
If you're non-technical and looking to hire a technical person - it's a tough process. You can't vet technical talent, you have no idea what you're looking for.
The next level
Eventually, solo non-technical founders need to make the jump to an actual technical co-founder or CTO. But when is the right time? It happens at a point when there's tension with efficiency, and the product starts to work. When the efficiency and convenience of having someone local outweighs the cost-savings of having a contractor, along with the feeling that your product is starting to work and you're seeing tractions - then it's time to seriously consider either starting to formalize your arrangement with your current contractor (if that relationship is right, and what they're looking for), or it's time to start seeking out someone technical to work with you in a more formal co-founder/CTO role.