9 Technical Skills All Non-Technical Founders Need to Have

November 4, 2013

9:00 am

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

Whether you’re a Harvard accredited MBA or have gleaned your business savvy from the school of hard knocks, in order to build a successful tech startup, a minimum amount of technical knowledge is required.  Where exactly that line is will vary situation to situation, but we asked nine proven young-entrepreneurs to give us a better indication of where that line likely falls for you.  Their insights are below.  Enjoy.

9 Technical Skills All Non-Technical Founders Need to Have

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1. Ability to Communicate With Technical People

A non-technical founder doesn’t need to be able to code, read code or even understand intricate technical solutions. But a non-technical founder must absolutely understand the basics of the technical side of their business and be able to communicate clearly with their development team about technical topics. This will make both the technical and non-technical people more comfortable working together and respect each other more.

– Tim Jahn, Co-Founder, matchist

2. Ability to Analyze

My background is in finance, and I used to do a lot of financial modeling when I was working at the hedge fund. When we were creating products for our company, I took into account everything that would be considered a cost for our company, from physical items that we would need to purchase per client to the amount of labor hours spent on the client. This would allow us to know the operating margin of our business within the retail price we were advertising. This also lets you clearly see how you can cut costs by determining if the hours spent can be done faster with new technology, better staff or by eliminating unnecessary steps in the process. Also, it lets you know your break-even point in your business if you notice a profit is not possible for a longtime pivot the business.

– Derek Capo, CEO and Founder, Next Step China

3. Ability to Set up Analytic Systems

As a non-technical founder, it is essential to understand the data behind your business. You’ll want analysis on your funnel, statistics on traffic and metrics around customer churn. Leave core product development to your technical team, and help out with the relatively simple technical integration and setup of product analytics. This way, you’ll better understand the setup, know exactly what the data reflects and be able to change things as soon as you have new goals to track.

– Michael Mayernick, Co-founder, Spinnakr

4. Ability to Decipher Code

Even if you have limited technical skills, at the very least you should learn very basic HTML. I have found that throughout the years — even with basic HTML skills — I have been able to save thousands in programming costs by simply being able to edit simple things in code such as links and images.

– Laura Land, CFO / COO, Accessory Export, LLC

5. An Understanding of SEO

It is almost essential that any founder, in any company, have SEO knowledge. Being able to set up simple things like meta tags and utilize important keywords can help you get noticed on search engines where necessary. There are no companies exempt from the need for online interaction, and so having good SEO is important. The amount an SEO professional costs is huge for a startup and often is not necessary. However, SEO is necessary at all points of business.

– Bryan Silverman, Co-Founder, Star Toilet Paper

6. Desire to Learn More

Even if you aren’t a developer, you have to understand the software development life cycle and the rhythm that a developing team follows. If you have ever requested that something be developed and deployed in a day or two and said (or even thought) the words, “But it’s so simple! It should only take five minutes to build,” then you do not get it.

– Danny Boice, Co-Founder & CTO, Speek

7. Ability to Create Automation Systems

The greatest technical asset you can posses is understanding how to create systems in your business to automate it. By creating a flow chart and a process for automating your marketing, you can greatly increase your conversion rates. You should also be able to speak to developers and provide them a framework for what you want to get done. Create mockups of what you want; it will save you from pulling out your hair and your developer from driving himself crazy.

– Chris Brisson, CEO, Automize

8. An Understanding of Spreadsheets

You need to know how to analyze data about your business, and the best tool on the market to help you do so is Excel. Be comfortable setting up formulas and charts so that you can interpret the numbers relevant to your business.

– Eric Bahn, Co-Founder, Hustle Con Media

9. A Knowledge of HTML

One of the most valuable technical skills for founders of organizations — even if they are not technically savvy — is HTML. Even if you are not running a website, basic HTML skills mean you can do a number of things online, such as add links to forum posts, format text for emphasis and even create bulleted lists. If your firm does run a website, knowing a bit about the code behind it is always a plus.

– Jay Wu, Creator, A Forever Recovery

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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