Ways to Contribute to Your Technical Team as a Non-Technical Co-Founder/Early Hire?

By Yasi Baiani

In today’s world that coding is the new metric of literacy, not being able to code is a huge disadvantage. As Steve Jobs said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.” Coding is in fact the new way of thinking…

So one would wonder what could be our roles as non-technical professionals? The more important question in my mind is that how a non-technical co-founder/early hire can add value and not detract value at the early stages of a company? In Silicon Valley, there is a perception among investors that “we need to add 50% to the startup value for every technical co-founder on the team and deduct 50% for any MBAs!”

Despite the hesitation about the contribution of non-technical professionals at the early stages of a company, I still believe there are ways we can significantly add value not only to the start-up as a whole, but also particularly to the product development process:

1)     Be A Rock Star Product Manager: Despite the immense talent, knowledge, and capabilities among the engineering teams, they still need a rock start product manager to bring them the customers’ voice. The lack of time to do market research and coding simultaneously as well as the non-extravert personalities of many engineers make the role of a solid PM at the early stages more critical. A PM with the following characteristics could offer significant value to the development team:

a.     Very passionate about the product the company offers
b.    Can recognize the right customer target
c.     Be able to distinguish between super-users (early adopters) and mass users
d.    Can translate customers’ needs and wants to features that product team can understand and develop

2)     Change Your Hat To A QA: Product testing and quality assurance take a lot of time, effort, and attention. In a large firm, QA is its own function and is generally held by a software engineer. Arguably, a developer could be a better QA since she is more familiar with the common system failures and could put them into more rigorous testing. However, at the early stages of a company, with limited resource, a passionate co-founder/early hire who understands the product well can be a value-added QA by rigorously testing product usability and reporting bugs to the development team.

3)     Be A Process-Oriented Project Manager: Technical folks are left-brained. They perform best under a defined structure, with visibility into the process and what’s next. On the other hand, many CEOs are right-brained and their creativity flourishes when they think outside the box.

We need the visionary, creative people to make big leaps in order to design novel and revolutionary products. However, to reach the highest productivity and satisfaction level internally, CEOs/non-technical co-founders should manage their wandering, creative minds. This means at the early stages, they need to constantly switch between being a visionary, creative person and a disciplined project manager.

They indeed need to implement systems and structures that allow the development team perform at their best. Having weekly scrums and 4-6 weeks sprints, with defined feature releases after each sprint and weekly deliverables are quit common. Knowing the scope of their responsibilities and their deadlines empower engineers to outperform. Breaking down the development process to weekly and monthly tasks brings any technical challenges or delays to the surface very quickly. A good project management system prevents feature creeps, which generally lead to delay in release.

Based on my experience at ActivePepper, these are the ways that non-technical co-founders can add a lot of value to the development process.


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