Starting a startup you will (most likely) discover a large and supportive community of people like you, trying to make their dream a reality. Excluding multi time entrepreneurs, this community tends to divide into two main groups: people who come from a technical background; and those who come with specific domain knowledge or sales \ marketing \ business. There is a key difference in the routes these two groups often takes and where they tend to fail.
Startups with only technical founders tend to fail the “if you build it, they will come.” I have seen technical people build a fully featured product, take two years, invest their time, effort and sometimes savings, only to realize at the end they do not know how to market it. They know theoretically they need a go-to market strategy but they focus on what they know - building stuff. Mistakenly thinking that you need something to market before you start marketing.
I am one of those. A technical founder. I have been a software engineer for 13 years. The last two of those as an engineering manager. I told myself I know. I told myself I am aware. I thought I was paying my dues in terms of planning my marketing strategy. And yet I’ve done exactly what I’ve just warned against. I built my initial product, released… And then had a massive breakdown realizing I don’t have the faintest idea how to really market it. I thought I did. I told myself I do. I waved my hands and believed myself. But truth be told I still released an early product and then stood there with my eyes wide and asked: “umm.. So now what?”
Startups without a technical founder often get stuck at trying to get funding and trying to find a technical partner. They often trivialize building, falling into the reverse belief of “if they come, I will build it.” Not necessarily understanding the complexity or amount of time needed to build a product. While consulting companies sound like the perfect solution, many first time non-technical founders get poor results from them, so make sure you know the considerations before hiring one.
As a first time entrepreneur, it is very hard to get funding based solely on an idea and market research. Even if you can sell it - you need to be able to build it. It is also very hard to get funding or generate revenue without a good marketing strategy. Even if you can build it - you need to be able to sell it. Sounds obvious yet it’s where many of us fall.
So what am I saying? A combination of technical and other expertise is ideal. That’s obvious. In fact, one of the reasons I excluded multi-time entrepreneurs is because they tend to form a team with varied skills in subsequent startups. And yet many, many startups are looking for a technical founder, and many technical founders go at it without a non-technical counterpart. The thing is, at the end of the day, you need hard work and knowledge on several fronts to build a successful startup.
What is the middle way? The middle way is the elusive MVP. That legendary beast that combines just enough functionality with just enough marketing.
But don’t let me scare you or put you down. Building a startup you will weather many storms. Some of the articles I linked above will have you think you need to be flawless, that there’s no room for mistakes. I disagree. I’ll dedicate my next post to making mistakes. Because if you’re too afraid to make a mistake you will never make, like, anything. So even if you start in the wrong direction, like I did, don’t worry. You will fail many more times.