How can non/coders contribute to a startup?


The subject is the question. How can someone who does not know how to code contribute to a startup? Do you recommend that that member attempt to learn some basic coding so as to contribute to the startup in some way? or do you think there are enough tasks that they can contribute to the startup in other ways...
Please, share any experiences or advice :)

Ideas Founders Business Non Technical

asked Jan 20 '10 at 11:23
Eric Amzalag
818 points
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7 Answers


I'm certain you'll find a ton of valuable advice and anecdotes in this Hacker News post asking the same question: Ask HN: What's a Non-Programmer to do? (134 Points, 78 Comments) Spencer fry wrote an entire blog post elaborating on his comment.

answered Jan 20 '10 at 11:37
Jay Neely
6,050 points


Many skills can be valuable to a software startup:

  • Sales/Marketing
  • User Interface design
  • Business/Industry expertise

Another way to get involved is by investing capital which is not a skill per se ;)

answered Jan 20 '10 at 11:41
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points


Developing a product is only the start of the battle. Once you have it developed, then what happens?

Are people just going to line up on their own and buy it?

I doubt it. So, there are many roles needed, it depends on what you can do, and what you are willing to do.

For example, can you help handle the book-keeping, and keep things running smoothly? Perhaps it may help the developers not run out of fresh coffee, so, you may be able to help with that.

It really depends on what stage of development the startup is in. If you don't have a prototype, and you want to get investors based on the idea, then marketing may be more important than the developers.

If you could give an idea of what skills you have and what stage of development the application is at, then it may be easier to answer your question.

answered Jan 20 '10 at 12:20
James Black
2,642 points


Depending on the trust level, there is plenty of work. Business side of things, market analysis, research of competing products, Q/A and Validation work, the list goes on.

answered Jan 20 '10 at 11:38
Centurion Games
626 points


If you have any experience in the industry the software is aimed at or you can relate to a typical user, you can provide insight into design, testing and marketing.

In Joel On Software, he talks about the Abstraction Layer which creates an environment where coders can focus on programming. Anything you can do to promote this will be a big help. Be available so they can grab you and do a "Hallway Usability Test" which is #12 on the Joel Test. From what I've heard/read, Steve Jobs did not make many programming contributions to Apple, but I think he had input in just about every other area of the business.

Try to learn some coding. You'll find out pretty quick if you want to pursue it any further.

answered Jan 20 '10 at 13:49
Jeff O
6,169 points
  • +1 very good Steve Jobs example. – Sparagi 14 years ago


I am an "operations guy" and have been in business operations almost my entire career in startups. Two of those startups were technology companies and here is where my value was:

  1. Devs and bizdev guys could focus on doing their jobs, because I dealt with all the daily "nuts and bolts" of running a professional organization (like dealing with government, contractors, lawyers, finance, HR stuff, administration, etc. etc. etc.)
  2. I am a "closet geek", so I learned from devs how to do PHP and CSS, picked up some server management basics, got good at infrastructure, than started learning DB management. So some of the mundane network admin stuff I could handle without wasting dev time.
  3. Since I believe everyone should be in bizdev and marketing, I shadowed our bizdev folks and helped build new services.
answered Jan 22 '10 at 06:57
Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points


First, you should figure out what you are good at. Trying to be a bean counter, when you're not, is a bad idea.

With technology startups, in the beginning, 99% of the work is programming. Most businesses start off as products. If you're not the programmer, you're probably bringing something else to the table, like money or some other skill or a lot of energy.

If money is not your thing, then you'll have to do everything else. With startups, the work never ends. This is not a bad thing. It's just a reality.

You can try and do all the odd and end jobs, but eventually, you'll have to make decisions. Making decisions is probably the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur. In the meantime, try and figure out how much you can outsource and keep directing traffic in your company.

answered Jan 20 '10 at 12:52
346 points

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