It is possible to startup a sucessful software company without being a programmer?


the idea is simple. How to execute, i don't know.

I have an idea for a software. Very good and simple idea, and I think it's simple to execute too. This software can bring to life a new company. I have full design, marketing and coordenation experience, but no programming knowledge. Maybe no problem, world is full of programmers. But, how can i do it? It's real possible? I mean, manage the company and probly a github repo. Ok. But where and how to find real trusted programmers and don't just have my idea stealed?

I don't see a real easy solution. Maybe the only is to learn a language. But I don't want to start from zero again in a new carrer.
Tks for any advice.

Strategy Ideas Leadership Copyright Software Licensing

asked Sep 26 '11 at 12:25
H 7
133 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll

4 Answers


It has advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are:

  • That you are not side tracked from your business goals by new shiny ways of doing things.
  • That you have a large amount of the skills a developer doesn't have, (Marketing being one of my main issues).
  • For me the writing of the code is the easy bit, all the other stuff, like engaging with the market, doing pitches, getting known through the media, managing the finaces, hiring and firing, being visable ... thats what I find challenging ... if you have a lot of these covered then your in good shape.

The disadvantages

  • Developers think differently and in detail, if you are not used to it you may struggle to manage them.
  • You have to rely on a developer who may or may not be on the same page as you.
  • Not knowing the details about implementation means you are unable to help when the site stops working and you are loosing money ... You can hire the skills but its not the same as being able to think through the problem yourself from the beginning.

Approaches you may take:

  • Find a technical co-founder. This is a "key brain" who is going to be on the same track as you and help naviagte your ship from the technical side. As you say the world is full of developers, but much rarer as developers who think from a business standpoint ... finding, attracting and working with one may be hard.
  • Find a contractor/developer. If you have a very solid project, broken down into 2 week to a month "mini-projects" and you can hand out each one as a discrete entity then you can manage and work with a contractor or general developer. The level of detail I describe is high but it is required if you don't really know what your getting when you start ... assuming the developer "gets it" is your fastest way to failure ... not because developers OR you are stupid but because they just have a different view of the world, different experience and differnt set of priorities.
(Full disclosure, this is what my company does, I will try to be as unbiased as possible)
  • Find a development company. This is a good option if you have the funding, they have all the established practices, systems and teamwork already, you don't have to waste time working out all the "surrounding details". You will need a solid specification or find a company who is big on doing this before you start ... DO NOT commit to a development until you can walk through wire frames and have a good design. The key issues you will face
    • Upfront development costs are typically higher, but for good reason. They can scale up to more people easily, they have huge amounts of library code/standards/processes which get you there faster and more coheseively, especially the larger the project the more you consider this option.
    • Not their sole priority. Obviously they have other clients and if you can't commit they have no choice but to reassign people to whereever the money is coming from ... this can be very good and very bad all in one ... if you don't have any more work for 3 months, it doesn't cost you that much and you still have kept the "domain knowledge" (a major problem when swapping contractors). If you need a big thing RIGHT NOW then it may be hard or costly to get it as the resources are reassigned ... often though there is an ability to shuffle.
  • Find a Venture Development company / technical partner. These are typically development companies who will perform the same roles as the 2 above and add in contacts to the Venture Capital community and hopefully some more experience you can draw on. They are looking for people with ideas and drive who can be the public face, business drive and the "industry expertise".
    • Their good points are they usually can get the development done quickly, understand the trends in the industry, help guide you through the issues and understand the business need
    • Their bad points are that they typically want more ownership in your company than you may have given to a technical co-founder. They are backing several companies so are not solely focused on just your idea ... which means that you need to be on the ball more as far as the product is concerned over a technical co-founder, but less than a developer.
How to ensure you remain owning your idea.

  • Divide and conquour Break the problem down into bite sized bits and pay for each bit, source code and all. Basically if you can break the design down into small subsets and hand over enough or have several developers work on "areas" you effectively are the only one who holds the entire solution.
  • Draw them to your side. Give the developer shares in the company,his has 2 key benefits, firstly they are now motivated by the same things you are and it ensures the longer term "investment" from them ... which is a key thing you need after you have released as they will be the one who knows the details.
  • Describe the IP and take out a patent or copyright. For specific classes of idea/problem you can take out protection for the idea ... this is somewhat expensive and painful but if its the right sort of thing then you can protect it.
  • Own your market. Any developer who doesn't have a good idea themselves and needs to steal yours are likely not to have the marketing and business skills required ... if you own your market and your side of the equation then their side won't go as well as yours.
  • Worldwide scope. Depending on your developers background, your risk of losing the idea will vary pick a suitable one ... if you don't then it isn't the end of the world, they may put it into their language or take it in a different direction ... its annoying and "not right" but practically your ability to address 100% of the worldwide market in the next 3-5 years is as close to nothing as makes no odds. Pretty much every very successful website has 3 or 4 rip offs in different languages and different cultures.
answered Sep 26 '11 at 18:11
Robin Vessey
8,394 points
  • nice. many tips. thanks. – H 7 12 years ago


I designed and launched an online application without an ounce of coding skill as a non-technical Founder. I should add it's not "successful" yet as we are pre-revenue, but we did succeed in pushing the product off the shelf and have acquired customers.

I tried to find freelance developers that at least shared values at the core of the biz (sustainability, environmental) and who were good communicators. It's been tough as the 4 we have hired moved on to FT gigs & a steady paycheck. I think this challenge is part of being an early stage biz.

As far as them stealing your idea, in my experience you just have to risk sharing it and put it out there. To make changes or new iterations for production, they have to access your code (via GitHub) or another vault. Same with the C-Panel via hosting. I trust my intuition and got references. I have had 3 great experiences and 1 bad one with developers. Most people have told me non-disclose agreements are useless, but you can try and get them to sign an NDA if stealing worries you.

I wish I could write code! That would save time and $ - alas, I have a day job so until we can find a Technical Co-Founder, I need to pitch hit with freelancers. Best wishes!

answered Sep 26 '11 at 14:13
Richard H.
175 points
  • oh, nice experience too. thanks for sharing. – H 7 12 years ago


To follow on Robins excellent advice, I would add the following:

Execution isn't simple. You have an idea, you have design mockups, and marketing experience. That's great.

Have you got a business model? A clear understanding of what your customer segment / segments are - their needs, their price anchors, their propensity to pay? How about customer interviews? Have you gotten as-objective-as-possible individual segment feedback on your (not-yet-built) offering to validate need? Some companies even go so far as to get payment from customers to include them in an early beta launch of the product.

We all get enamored with our own ideas. Paul Graham (of Ycombinator fame) wrote a great article entitled "How to get startup ideas " where he answers the tough question - Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly dangerous: it doesn't merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.

In short: don't solve a problem that no one has. Validate all your market / demand assumptions as early in the game as possible and focus on a customer segment that urgently needs your product.

Once you launch, then the real work begins - your assumptions / research has to face the realities of the market.

answered Apr 2 '13 at 08:46
Jim Galley
9,952 points


Try using contractors. There are development firms in India, China and Russia whom you can hire for lower prices than in the US. Sign non disclosure agreements where necessary. You can also look at freelance websites to hire freelance programmers.

If you don't know programming, and you need to program, your only two choices are 1. Learn to program and develop it yourself or 2. Trust somebody and let them develop it.

answered Sep 26 '11 at 18:51
172 points
  • -1 because non-disclosure agreements will not protect him from a Chinese, Indian, or Russian programmer from stealing his idea - which is his stated concern. – John 12 years ago
  • Actually you can never be sure that some programmer is not stealing your idea, with nda or without. Whats inside a programmers head stays there. – Christian 12 years ago
  • Yeah, John and Christian are right. – H 7 12 years ago
  • If you don't know programming, and you need to program, your only two choices are 1. Learn to program and develop it yourself or 2. Trust somebody and let them develop it. – M.Ali 12 years ago
  • @ Adeem . If you write this as an answer, I''l choose it. – H 7 12 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:

Strategy Ideas Leadership Copyright Software Licensing