Can you run a software company, without a software/tech background


Whenever smaller entrepreneurs get their software company up and running, some venture guy comes around with a heck of a lot of money.

What if that venture guy don't know anything, whatsoever about software development and see the whole development team as an expense, instead of a value generating unit? It's all about sales, even with the software that they sell performing very bad, getting more and more difficult to maintain because of technical debt incurred at an early stage.

The venture guy hires a managing director, that knows just as much about software development as himself.

Can he ever succeed?

I'm curious to hear others' opinions on this.

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asked Oct 10 '09 at 20:08
Martin Hn
234 points

4 Answers


I've been writing software professionally for 15 years and my experience is that software companies that are run by non-software people rarely work.

Software is very unusual product to make and to sell. Estimating costs on anything more than a few weeks of work is extremely unreliable. Knowing how to hire the right people is critical and it is so easy to be fooled by wannabe developers. Products are never finished, and they become obsolete through changing technology. Selling high-value software can be tough just because it so intangible. In order to sell , non-software sales people tend to promise changes and enhancements to customers that are often not possible or prohibitively expensive.

I think you need to have experienced the software development process in depth to be able to successfully guide a software development company.

Look at the examples in the industry:
Microsoft -> Run for most of its existence by a developer.
Oracle -> Run by a developer
Borland -> Was run by a developer during its successful times
Google -> Run by developers

How many other industry sectors have head people who started by doing the dirty work in that industry? I don't know the answer, but I suspect it is much more common in the software business.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 22:28
Darrel Miller
246 points
  • I totally agree with you. Salespeople promising impossible things is a classic. It's very frustrating to sit and watch all the mistakes happen, all the wrong decisions that end up costing money. And you can't do anything about it, because you don't get a "vote". Depressing! – Martin Hn 15 years ago


Recipe for disaster I have seen more than once. Success is possible but only if the techies are trusted and left alone to get on with it. (Of course if the business is not software but something else, you may be able to get away with maltreating your IT dept more.)

answered Oct 10 '09 at 20:21
11 points
  • I'm talking about a company selling software, that they develop in-house. But it is all done wrong, in my opinion. So you've seen it more than once? In companies you've worked for? – Martin Hn 15 years ago


It's sad to say but some of the most successful software companies in the world are selling hard to use, hard to maintain, poorly supported software. As tech people we want there to be a direct correlation between the quality of the software and the success of the company but I just don't see it. Good software might make it easier for a company to succeed, but it definitely isn't a requirement.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 22:44
James Avery
570 points


I'm mixed on the topic. I run a web design company and a short sale software company (both part time), but have no personal coding experience, beyond reading a couple basic PHP, CSS, and HTML books and courses. I consider myself a jack of many trades and unfortunately a master of none, other than perhaps actually considering business strategy and direction.

So of course I don't think i can start a software company on my own. The new venture I am working with a friend of mine who has extensive coding and software building experience. I think our combination of talents is a huge winning combo.

Before I did IT, I was in the construction industry. Transitioning from PM in construction PM in software was really not so different in so many ways. I'm also able to pick things up quickly and I sure have learned a lot, but running a company is running a company, just like being a PM is being a PM. They are generalized skills that can be broadly applied.

Back to the question: I do think you can run a software company without formal tech background, BUT I do think you have to be able to quickly understand the business model and you certainly need people in the company who have the technical knowledge to move it forward.

answered Mar 16 '11 at 02:52
1,171 points

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