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Let’s talk tech. More specifically, let’s talk non-tech in an increasingly tech world.
The building blocks of starting a business from the ground up go far beyond a series of 1s and 0s and require the strategic blueprint and marketing prowess of a non-tech co-founder. Technology is clearly important -- Sailo, the company I co-founded, is an online boat rental marketplace -- but without the right non-tech co-founder, a business cannot fully make waves in its industry (boat pun intended).
Wildly successful technology companies like Airbnb or Pinterest, for example, wouldn’t be where they are today without the creative minds of their non-tech founders Brian Chesky (BFA in design) and Ben Silbermann (BA in political science). Here’s how to be an invaluable non-tech co-founder:
1. Speak your customers’ language.
While you may not be fluent in Python or Django, more often than not, your customer isn’t a technological rock star either and will only use your product or service if he or she actually understands it. Play a role in the customer perspective at every step by making sure the business and product use accessible language at each stage of building, designing, improving, selling and revising.
2. Cut through the noise.
Your technological co-founder may have built a beautiful product, but he or she isn’t focusing on the critical component of how to market it. Be strategic and consistent with your brand message. Create a message that resonates then say it loud and clear. While I may not know the ins and outs of system architecture and structured query language, I know how to deliver Sailo's message with passion to get people onboard. Whether it’s through social media, email, print or events, be sure to produce quality content and funnel it through appropriate channels in order to reach your target audience.
3. Customer is king.
A non-tech co-founder is always ready and willing to provide customers with royal treatment. Top-notch listening skills are essential to learn what the customer wants as you build a business, especially in a new space like peer-to-peer boat and yacht rentals. Treat complaints as rewards -- it means people care about your product or service. In fact, I keep a running list of customer feedback so I can speak to the tech team about how technology can solve these problems, big or small. Without this communication, they would not know customers’ concerns.
4. Grow the business, not just the product.
Once you have product / market fit, it’s particularly crucial for the the non-technical co-founder to determine how to grow. Many tech co-founders are hyper-focused on product development and miss the big picture. Yet, a non-tech co-founder looks at the company from a bird’s eye view to focus on strategic company growth. For instance, I use different channels to help Sailo grow: content marketing, social media, public relations, strategic partnerships, product placement and direct sales. It’s crucial to test the growth channels and determine which are working to find a well-rounded mix.
Technology will never replace the role a non-tech co-founder plays. In fact, it’s only when combined with the non-tech co-founder’s understanding of customers that a seamless product can be built and continuously improved. Then it’s smoother sailing for all.