Not a developer; can I still launch a startup?


I have an idea for a startup -- but I am not a developer, or an MBA. Is there hope for me and if so, how do I overcome my lack?

Brief background: I've spent most of my career as a content creator. I've spent the last few years running the website of a content-based dot com. I have a significant knowledge base in my market and know something about financing beyond an ability to read a balance sheet. Now, I want to develop a concept that would involve content in a database format. However, while I can talk to developers without significant embarrassment and know the difference between an API and PHP, my coding skills are rudimentary (to be generous). And while I think I have a very good idea, I also believe that technology -- and elegant solutions derived from it -- will be key to its success.

Of course, no startup has a single founder and I want to find partners for this project. But as I do my research, I am hard pressed to find examples in which all of the principals didn't have significant tech and/or business credentials. Any guidance, or suggestions as to how I can best overcome my handicaps?


asked Dec 31 '09 at 11:52
75 points

11 Answers


To throw out another possible option, depending on the scale of your project, and your resources available, you might be able to simply hire a developer to develop what your looking for. While its undoubtedly easier to run a start up with "good" co-founders, its not impossible to do one by yourself with smart utilization of time and contracting out what you can't do.

answered Dec 31 '09 at 13:57
Centurion Games
626 points


Your ability as a content creator and marketer is a huge competitive advantage.

Getting a large audience at the top of the funnel can be as much a challenge as the product development. I would start building this audience right away, and plan on leveraging that later.

Website > Community Tools (Blog/Forum/Social Network) > Membership Site > Niche Software Tools could be a path that would work for you and possibly fund organic growth to bring other people on board later.

answered Dec 31 '09 at 23:25
Benjamin Wootton
1,667 points


A startup is based on a few key components:

  • Someone with an idea and vision (in this case, you)
  • Someone who can turn the idea into an actuality (perhaps a programmer, or a machinist, etc)
  • Someone who can market the idea, turning it from an expense into a revenue stream

You say you lack the skills in the latter two areas, but that doesn't mean you can be a successful startup founder. What it does mean is that you need to find one or two people that can fill in the gaps in your need.

As an example, I am currently working on a project in which I am providing the vision, and, while I am technically adept (I work during the day and on the side as a programmer), I don't do much of the development on the project. I have 2 partners, one who is building my idea into a program, and the other who is figuring out marketing angles, deployment strategies, and pricing formulas.

answered Dec 31 '09 at 12:17
4,692 points
  • So are you saying it is advantageous to be multi-skilled? – Sam Saffron 14 years ago
  • Not quite. I'm saying that the founders as a whole need to be multi-skilled, and that when looking for someone to partner with, fund that someone with complementary skills to your own. – Elie 14 years ago
  • Personally I think someone with ideas only worths nothing. In a startup it's better if you have ideas and can implement those ideas. – Jpartogi 14 years ago
  • Ideally, I would agree with you that you should have more than "just ideas" but most people have something they can contribute besides just spouting ideas. As an example, I'm working on a product with 2 other people in which I don't have the technical or marketing skills, but I do have the ideas about how it could be built or marketed (which the other two can then take to the next level as they implement it). Once the product is built, I have sufficient technical aptitude to help with its maintenance. – Elie 14 years ago


There is hope for you. You need to find a partner/partners who you feel you can work with and has the skills necessary to develop your application. Your ability to communicate and work with your prospective partners is just as important as their development skills.

Many start-ups consist of founders with different backgrounds. And I believe that having diverse skill sets enhances your chances for success.

answered Dec 31 '09 at 13:15
21 points


Naturally, you'd need to implement your idea.

If your idea is to build a new warp capable starship, you'd need a physicist if you're not one yourself.... if you need to write software to implement your idea, you'll need a software developer.

I know many software startup companies where the main founders couldn't write a single line of code. They came from business and marketing and recruited more "second level" founders to help them animate their ideas. With time they gained more technical know-how, but still, they can't develop software. This is perfectly fine.I'd dare and say that a significant portion of software startup CEO did not come from the ranks of developers.

The only disadvantage I can think of is that non developers can't really start a bootstrap startup without recruiting some help or knowing a techie who'd be willing to partner with them.

So, get some partners who can turn your idea into reality. Good luck.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 01:40
Ron M.
4,224 points


In the spirit of bootstrapping, I found an answer to my own question:,9171,1890387,00.html It's about, a car review site founded by a writer-editor who appeared to begin with even less tech knowledge than I have. Although I'd expect at this point he's gained quite a bit more.

It was heartening to see that I was following a similar path in terms of research and figuring things out on the fly.

answered Jan 9 '10 at 09:01
75 points


Not sure Steve Jobs was real "technical" when he started Apple, but he did recognize Steve Wozniak's talent. Whether you find someone to be a partner, employee, consultant, or service provider, you're going to have to be able to spot the talent and know how to price them. It sounds like you have a vision that you are able to communicate, so the challenge is identifying who can make it a reality and at what cost.

answered Jan 1 '10 at 02:42
Jeff O
6,169 points


Absolutely, you don't need to be a developer to run a startup. Content creation is one area where developers, like myself, could really use help. So I would consider your experience to be a strength.

answered Jan 1 '10 at 09:04
Consult Utah
325 points


I think that this is a great question, I have rarely seen anyone in this exact situation across the internet. I can relate directly, seeing as my coding skills are pretty basic as well. I can get by with knowing most of the terms (like you said, PHP, API, etc...) but the key is acquiring talent to meet your vision. Never discount yourself as the visionary, because keep in mind that there would be no business if it was not for your mind coming up with a single idea.

A key, I find, is not to look at Web 2.0 companies as examples all the time. Research how certain offline and online products are run, and then look at their founders. Even looking at Virgin, Branson had no education, no experience and yet look at the company now. Study how they bring in people around them to make themselves better (Henry Ford is a good example).

One of the rules is to fire fast. If someone is not on the same wavelength as you, get rid of them, immediately. Not having the tech background, just pound away at the research and try to break into Silicon Valley with some contacts (if you want).

Let me know if you have any comments.

Remember that a guy with no tech skills that runs a company makes a better PR story in the end...

answered Jan 1 '10 at 06:18
46 points
  • I'd love to be somebody's miracle, but I want to be a miracle with great odds. : ) Thanks for the support! – Aae 14 years ago
  • hey no problem, I'm in the same boat so I can relate. Good luck! – Sthomps 14 years ago


I'd highly recommend LEARN to code (i.e. "become technical", well... to small extent).

There are great resources out there for FREE! Just gaining the basics of programming means at least you'll be able to kinda speak the "same language" ("tech speak") as the guy(s) who do the programming (even if you do none).

Thus you'll get MUCH better value out of them, in who you hire and how you use them.

I really think it is hard to gain "too much" knowledge here, as every bit will help you if you're launching a technical start up.

Think of it this way, if you're starting up a company manufacturing cars would you expect to be successful if you know ZERO about cars? (especially the engineering side of it) Of course not. And the more you can learn about cars the better for you in running your car factory! Even if you physically yourself never make a single car.

answered Jun 2 '12 at 01:35
Matthew Galloway
99 points


I recommend for you to start learning something to make your ideas into reality. If it seems to be too overwhelming for you, pick something that is easy to learn. Personally I would recommend learning django as it is easy even for non-techie guys. I think django fits into your criteria for content management as it is founded in newspaper site. Others might recommend you other framework or CMS. But the point is, you need to get your feet wet and live in reality.

answered Jan 3 '10 at 10:58
1,342 points
  • Reality checking is definitely among my concerns. I do use a CMS at work and I have a blog, so I'm friendly w/ HTML. And I definitely am willing to have real, wet feet. : ) However, I am also a realist and know there is no way that I can become the kind of developer this project will need. (By the same token, there's no way most hot-shot developers could become the kind of content creator this project needs, either.) That said, I want to pick my dev battles in terms of which skills/knowledge will give me the greatest benefit. – Aae 14 years ago

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics: