Should non-technical founders learn to code?

I have been asked this umpteen times, as a non-tech founder should I learn to code? My answer is both yes and no. This question also comes a lot from product managers who cannot code.

I belong to the school of thought which believes in teaching coding to 3 yo. Coding today is like language learning, the more familiar you are with it, the more will you be socially accepted. Coding is like sports, it offers lots of learning, helps in personal growth, creativity, analytical skills and teaches one problem-solving skill.

“The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.” — Paul Graham

Harvard Business School published a study recently which says when a boss can do the job the employees do, employees are happier. The reason is simply that then the boss would be more empathetic. When you are building a new software, there’s a very thin margin between the possible and the impossible, that margin is only defined by the people working on it and the technology being used.

Ideate, Iterate — efficiently

Learning the basics of coding is a great idea in case you are the lone founder or your co-founders too are non-technical. You should not aim to become CTO of your company, but the basics of the technologies being used in your start-up will help you ideate and iterate on possible solutions that you can have for your customers’ problems. As a founder, you need to have a fair understanding of your customers’ problems and the possible solutions they need. If you know how to code, you can test out these different ideas and solutions cheaply and quickly.

Sets the right expectation

It also helps you set the right expectations with your tech. team. I have heard non-coders ask developers questions like “ Isn’t this a simple change? Why is this change going to take so much time? Just move the button down and let everything as is, 5 minutes of work, right? “ Not really, this is frustrating for a developer, that too coming from the founder himself lets the developer down. Learning to code will help you understand the complexity and efforts required to get things done.

Lesser Conflicts

You don’t need to be able to code the product on your own but understanding the nitty-gritty can be highly beneficial when you approach your technology team. This will also help get into lesser conflicts with your CTO and engineering team since you know how things work. This helps you build trust with the technology team in initial days.

Better Planning

Now that you know how things work and what effort it takes to code, you will be able to plan your marketing and sales initiatives better. It will also help predict and project revenues based on future releases.

Hiring becomes easy

The technology business is a competitive space, you need to hire great developers in order to ensure you are on top of your game. You would need to know at least workings of certain technologies to understand what the skills the person you are speaking carries and whether they will fit in. This is very helpful when you are just starting off.

When should you not learn to code as founder

There are numerous examples of entrepreneurs who did not code, yet they have founded very successful companies. Airbnb, Linkedin, Dell were all started by non-technical people.
Lean Startup teaches the founders about sales and marketing, it gives them a handbook to run their startup without having to learn coding essentially.

There are certain cases when it might not be the best idea to learn to code for you as a founder.

If you already have a technical co-founder, then you should play to your strengths. There are lots of other things that need your time, energy and attention in your start-up that do not involve coding but still are a great value add to the business.

You can take care of operations, sales, marketing, hiring, finance and accounting. There is an insurmountable amount of work that needs to be done which is not at all coding.

When you are running the show, you need to do whatever it takes. Learn-Build-Measure is the mantra to follow. Learnings in the initial days will go a long way in getting you to quicker product-market fit.

Originally published at sugoilabs.com on August 1, 2018.


Should non-technical founders learn to code? was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.