On Being a Non-Technical MBA Co-Founder in a High Tech Startup
1 Year @ VividCortex!
Bam. That’s exciting. We are onto big things and it’s awesomely motivating to work with our team, on big client problems, and to see the fruits of our labor solve problems that likely touch almost everyone on the internet in some way or another.
I’ve learned a lot by being an entrepreneur, most of which forces me to be a generalist when it comes to specific skills. Of course, those skills you master as an entrepreneur are more people-specific. They are related to selling, encouraging, promoting, discovering, and retaining. They are also related to effectuation which is the process of systematically de-risking early stage startup ideas.
Anyway, this is all buzzy stuff. What’s less buzzy are the specific skills I had to develop and learn as an non-technical co-founder in a very high tech startup.
Top 10 Things I Learned as the Non-Technical Co-Founder
1. Learn Technology Language
Developers don’t say split up or install. They say refactor and deploy. Developers have a specific language and you have to learn this language so you fit the culture and understand what’s going on.
2. Learn to Code, Even if a Little
I’ve learned the basics of SQL, R, Gitflow, and Python. It’s not enough to be super productive as a developer on the team, but I can relate to issues that people face. I now have a R skill-set that surpasses my peers at VividCortex, and that’s going to be a huge asset as our company grows. I also am proving to the team that I understand what they are doing is really hard and I admire it.
3. Use Your MBA to an Advantage
A lot of morons rip on MBAs because they haven’t ever dealt with issues that relate to what an MBAs train you for. Sure, an MBA skillset isn’t necessarily a great fit for an early-stage startup, but you probably have a better understanding of cash flow, deal structure, statistical modeling, funding sources, negotiating, etc than your peers. Use that to your advantage. Own the finance side. Own the marketing side, because marketing needs to be financially driven to some extent.
4. Hire People by Appealing to 3 Simple Rules
People will want to work with a great team, with a sense of purpose and be challenged. It’s that simple. Make sure you can clearly communicate those issues to your candidates.
5. People are Everything
This is obvious, but you may have missed this if you never worked in a startup. Treat all clients, advisors, employees, contractors, etc with equal respect.
6. Do Stuff You Don’t Like to Do
I am a big CrossFitter. You improve yourself by tackling skills that aren’t your strengths. The same can be said of personal development at a startup. Don’t like sales? Just try it enough. You’ll figure out a way to get good at it. You should be fully incented by your equity to pick up the slack where needed.
7. Let the People Be Free
Human’s seek and enjoy freedom. Build that into your culture with flexible schedules, open vacation policies, etc. It will be obvious who isn’t performing and can’t manage that freedom.
8. Set Short Term Stretch Client Goals and Reward People for Meeting Them
Teams align around achievable, stretch goals, especially when there is a small reward at the end. We’ve set goals that align developers to key customer/business issues, like revenue and/or banner customer deployments. It’s important to always focus the tech team towards these key business goals.
9. Admit You Make Mistakes, Are Wrong, and Don’t Know
It’s ok to not understand stuff. No one is going to think you are less of a leader for asking what something means. Understanding your lack of knowledge is very important for being able to seek advice, make decisions and do what’s best for the company.
10. Buy Some Whiskey for Your Co-Founder
Baron and I buy each other a progressively older bottle of whiskey at each major milestone. It’s about having fun. Life is short. Enjoy your work. It is your contribution to the world.
Cheers to 1 year and to many more!