I recently had lunch with a serial entrepreneur (successfully sold several startups, doesn’t ever have to work again, yada yada) who was seriously considering going back to his technical roots (he hasn’t coded in a decade) before starting his next company. This didn’t come as a surprise to me as the environment in Silicon Valley has just been getting more friendly towards technical founding teams in recent memory (there’s also a wave of designer founders coming up).
The reason is pretty simple: ten years ago it simply wasn’t possible to start a technology company without fully staffing a *team* responsible for developing, deploying, and (hopefully) scaling your product. These days a technical founder can fully prototype and figure out the market fit for his concept by himself in days or weeks before taking the plunge.
Case in point: between Mehdi and I (the two founders of PunchTab) we’ve cranked out half a dozen public experiments in the recent past that contributed elements to the company we’re building now. Here’s a short list:
- JellyDo.com – a location-based reminder service that Mehdi used to cut his teeth on the Foursquare platform (we reward-enable locations too)
- mymyc.com – a service that makes Facebook look like email (so you won’t get busted for wasting time at work) that was my first experience with Facebook Connect
- CheckBait (RIP) – a game of cloak and dagger that both of us tinkered with for weeks to figure out exactly how we’d stitch gaming elements together
The point is that all three (and a few more that required us to solve additional problems around big data, manipulating the DOM, SEO and user experience) were all built 100% by one of us. No team required. Sounds like a tedious exercise (unless you enjoy that kind of thing, which we both do!) but it has helped us to build a better company faster in the following ways:
1. Fundraising – we were told point blank by investors that they like founders who have technical chops because they run their early stage companies much more efficiently and know exactly what kind of product talent to bring on and when. Product, as you know, writes the biggest checks in the early days of a company so it only makes sense that the founders head this up as long as possible (probably forever).
2. Hiring – Technical founders often have a network of product folks they’ve worked with in the past. Neither Mehdi nor I have looked at a single resume or made one reference call when building the core team. We’ve assembled a like-minded crew that at least one of us has worked with in the past and are a perfect fit for the problems we’re tackling. How do we know? We’ve done most of it ourselves (technical and non-technical) at some point in time and know what to look for.
3. Reacting to market feedback – since we have the direct ability to put code into the repository we can constantly run tests and make modifications based on market feedback without disrupting the really deep and awesome solutions that the core development team is working on (Mehdi also works on deep and awesome solutions, I’m not nearly as cool…). This also ensures that we know the nuances of each product that we ship.
So what prompted this post? While I’ve been regularly checking code in to the repository over the last year (mostly static changes and fixes) I just finally bit the bullet and (with a little help) pushed code to production (previously I’d just let my changes go with the next release). So release number 719 was my first (see screenshot above)! Now I’ve got the bug (no pun intended) and did so again today.
For all you current and aspiring founders out there there has never been a better time to get really hands on with your vision. Be it picking up Python + Django (how I spent my holidays in 2010) or Objective C (iPhone app anyone?) doing it yourself is one of the sure-fire ways of taking risk out of your venture in the first 30 days. And your efforts will be well worth it when you’re courting your initial customers, employees, and investors.