I don't know if you saw the news but the company I work for recently purchased LearnDash, the leader in online learning in the WordPress ecosystem. That company was founded by Justin Ferriman, a non-technical founder. He did so much that is right that it made me reflect on these lessons for non-technical founders.
1. Collect & Pay Attention to Market Feedback. Constantly.
Simon Parker, in 2003, looked at entrepreneurs to see how quickly they adjusted their beliefs. The quick answer? Not much. Feedback comes in but it's more ignored than trusted. And this makes sense, right? Entrepreneurs have to be willing to hear and ignore the negativity around them all the time. But that also leads them to potentially miss valuable market feedback.
While many technology startups are founded by engineers, it leads to the dynamic of building a product from the inside out. They come up with something, build it, and then try to find a market that wants it.
Non-technical founders don't start that way and can benefit from it by focusing on market feedback, non-stop. They build from the outside in – focusing on target markets and how to build something that they want to buy.
2. Don't Overspend – Even if you think money is cheap & easy to find.
Jeffrey Petty and Marc Gruber, in a study published in 2009, looked over 11 years of venture capital decision making ( a total of over 3600 deals) to discover that later stage investments don't follow nicely after early round investments.
In short, just because you've received early money (and you're being encouraged to spend it – because there's always more), doesn't mean you'll have an easy shot at getting more from the very people telling you such.
One of the things I've appreciated about the business that Justin created is one that never got caught over-spending. Non-technical founders that focus on profitability early and don't overspend give themselves the best shot at long-term success.
It's an anomaly in the WordPress ecosystem to start with a premium product and never offer a free product. Companies like LearnDash and GravityForms highlight a very different approach that you can't really argue with.
3. Develop Key Advisors Early
When John Leaptrott started looking into small business owners, decision making, and the natural conflict created by entrepreneurs that also are trying to create and manage a family, it was natural to expect that there'd be time management challenges.
What he didn't expect was the conflict and challenge between entrepreneurs and their advisors – leaving the owners to make decisions on their own and using their gut. That almost always minimizes the chances of excellent decision-making.
Non-technical founders will do well to quickly bring on advisors who can help them think strategically about their business.