If You Aren't Technical, Get Technical

A few years ago, I was doing some sort of public speaking thing and in the Q&A, a young man asked me for advice for founders who aren't technical. I said, "If you aren't technical, I suggest you get technical" And I meant it. I learned to code when I was a teenager. It wasn't that hard. I think anyone who has the motivation to start a company can find the motivation to learn to code.

Fast forward a few years and I read this story today. Sam Fellig wanted to build a marketplace where folks could buy products that were succesfully funded on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites. His wife, who was tired of hearing all his crazy startup ideas, told him to just do it.

So he went to Codecademy (one of USV's portfolio companies) and started taking classes. Soon enough he knew enough to get started. It wasn't enough to finish though. He had to learn more (I bet from our portfolio company StackOverflow or my partner Albert's Tech Tuesdays), but he kept going. And he did it. He built Outgrow.me into one of Time Inc's Top 50 Sites of 2013.

So to all you people out there who are sitting on your big idea and just can't figure out how to get it built, I would suggest you build it yourself. It can be done. It is done. Every day. By someone who takes the initiative to just do it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    I think learning enough code to become competent and be able to understand the limitations and possibilities is important. However, if your strength lies in other areas of running the startup then wouldn’t it be better to get a technical cofounder.

    1. fredwilson

      yes of course. but its easier to get a technical cofounder if you show up to the meeting with something you’ve built yourself

      1. Michael Brill

        Sometimes… I’ve also seen many, many situations where that technical cofounder loses enthusiasm because they feel that either they need to take over a poor codebase or they are simply rewriting something. So do a really bare bones prototype or build the real thing… the middle can be dangerous if your goal is to find a true cofounder (vs. first employee).

      2. bsoist

        Something that works like you envision it is important. I occasionally find myself working with an entrepreneur who can’t quite express the idea. I think I’m pretty good at asking the right questions to ferret out the concept, but something that actually works is much better – for everyone. In my experience, even something built with the wrong tool is better than nothing. One guy gave me a powerpoint presentation that worked like an app. Doing that made him think through a lot of stuff along the way, and it helped me see the concept the way he saw it.

      3. JamesHRH

        I don’t have direct experience with that statement.I see the best technical co-founders wanting to:1) have an impact IRL2) experience scaling3) build something coolOrdered in diminishing levels of technical co-founder reward.

        1. Michael Brill

          And wanting to see the non/less-technical cofounder have a clear understanding of the market/users/business model/financing/etc. To a technical co-founder, it is less compelling to see that you can cobble together some deficient prototype than it is to see that you completely nail the business side.

          1. JamesHRH

            That list indicates a tech co-founder w some experience, Michael….total agreement.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      The thing is, “wouldn’t it be better to get a technical cofounder” is a lot like saying, “wouldn’t it be better to just get married?”There are no technical cofounders. They’re working on their own ideas and don’t give a crap about yours ๐Ÿ™‚ And, jumping into bed with any ol’ programmer who will have you is bound to lead to a bad breakup.

      1. Michael Brill

        Very true. Low probability of convincing someone to give up on their idea… and even if you do, success rate has to be lower than marriage.

    3. jason wright

      yes, know enough to be able to understand what a real coder is trying to say and explain.

  2. Brandon Burns

    Business idea aside, the technology isn’t complicated, seen in how a noob built it. $5k, a developer from eLance, and the right product design and management skills would have gotten him the same result faster, and probably cheaper when you include opportunity costs. Or he could have found a technical co-founder or founding partner to code it. How many of USV’s portfolio companies were originally coded by the founding CEO? Would you tell those CEOs that they need to go back and learn how to code?I’m not saying don’t code. I’m saying you don’t have to if you don’t want to โ€” especially if you bring other equally important skills to the table. It takes more than developers to start and run a business. And when coding is put on a pedestal like this, the other roles are devalued โ€” and that’s detrimental to everyone.

    1. fredwilson

      a lot of them

      1. Brandon Burns

        But not all. I’m willing to bet barely half.Is the other (presumably) half that didn’t code the original product less-than in your eyes? I hope not.

        1. fredwilson

          there is no one fact pattern that makes us fall for a founding team. but a founder who coded the first version (like Dennis Crowley did) is something we have a very soft spot for

          1. takingpitches

            I like this post by @dens on quora re: coding dodgeball:”Well, dodgeball was the project that got me coding (tho this was the super early version of the dodgeball city-guide in 2001). There were things I wanted to make, no one else was going to make them, so I learned out of one of those “Learn ASP in 30 days!” books (ps: original version of dodgeball was ASP pulling from MS Access).At ITP / NYU, my buddy Shawn Van Every started teaching me PHP / MySQL and I eventually learned PHP by re-writing / resurrecting dodgeball.I’m a pretty lousy coder – I actually only know scripting languages (I’ve never had luck w/ C / Java / etc) – but I know enough to hack together prototypes which is often all you need to get started and get from 0 -> 10k users etc.”

          2. takingpitches

            And speaking of Dodgeball, excerpt from Nick Bilton’s forthcoming book on Twitter up on the Times web site. Amusing that Noah’s Glass first thought was of Dodgeball on hearing about Twitter:”Also, Glass thought the idea sounded too similar to other start-ups, including a service called Dodgeball, which let people use their mobile phones to share their current locations with a note attached. As he listened to Dorsey talk, Glass would later recall, he stared out the window, thinking about his failing marriage and how alone he felt. Then he had an epiphany.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013…

          3. FlavioGomes

            Perhaps because its easier to surround them with professional managers as you’ve been able to better identify their strength. Harder to evaluate non-technical founders in a leadership role from the onset?

    2. JimHirshfield

      “How many of USV’s portfolio companies were originally coded by the founding CEO?”Good question.Disqus – YesTwitter – YesZemanta – YesMongoDB – YesStackOverflow – YesDDG – YesEtsy – Yes4Sq – YesDwolla – YesGetGlue – YesSkillShare – YesTurntable – YesTumblr – YesTwillio – YesThese are just the ones I’m aware of. I don’t work at USV. Just my observations above.

      1. Brandon Burns

        Some of those are incorrect, FYI. Naveen, not Dennis, built most of Foursquare, and Malcolm, not Mike, built Skillshare. I’m sure there are other fallacies in this list, but that’s all I know off the top of my head.Are Dennis and Mike inferior CEOs due to someone else building their products?No, of course not. Because they bring other things to the table.I’m so over this developer on a pedestal crap. It’s so detrimental. Think of the signal that’s being sent to all the other capable people in the world who are more than poised to build a business, but don’t code. You’re telling them that everything else they bring to the table doesn’t matter. It’s crap. And it’s infuriating.

        1. fredwilson

          dennis coded the back end of foursquare’s first version. naveen built the iOS app. when dennis hired Harry, the first thing Harry did was rewrite all of Dennis’s code.

          1. bsoist

            Write code that works, gain some traction, hire someone to rewrite your code. Great plan.

        2. Bruce Warila

          Yup. In the music industry, you could burp in bottle, record it, and then try to sell it as a song on iTunes.Software is similar. There are millions of developers (and growing) building apps and sites. Good luck selling all of those burps without a business team, social marketing skills, and a well-trafficked blog.Art (including software) and business need each other.

          1. Brandon Burns

            Yep. Eventually, technology becomes a commodity. I’m sure when the loom first came out, a bunch of folks started making textiles. They got commoditized… until people who were really good at designing special pieces took the reigns back.True artists are rare. And when the tech plateaus, as it is now, its the art (or in the case of apps and sites, the experience design) that becomes the defining factor.

        3. Kirsten Lambertsen

          I think you are misinterpreting the message. I don’t think we’re saying that your other skills don’t matter – far from it.But, if you are non-technical and want to launch a web-based startup, good luck finding a talented coder to do the work for equity (aka free). IF (IF!) you have the clams to go hire someone, and you don’t know anything about code, good luck (i) getting what you actually want, (ii) not getting taken to the cleaners.It’s not about whether the other things you can do have value. They absolutely do. But the reality of needing to understand code if you want to head up a web-based startup is irrefutable.

          1. Brandon Burns

            There’s a difference between being technical and coding. The title of this post says “get technical” but the example used says “learn how to code.” Its the latter I disagree with.I have experience leading product teams at several of the world’s best digital agencies. I “understand code” and have some basic coding skills, but I would say that I don’t code well enough to build a whole product from scratch. And I’m more than comfortable with that โ€” because the person who coded my soon-to-launch product is ridiculously bad ass, and it shows in his work. I’m not going to teach myself to do his job poorly when I can continue to do my job well. I’m not going to learn how to be a production-ready coder. Ever. And I dare anyone to tell me that my lack of that one skill invalidates my others.

          2. kidmercury

            siding with brandon in this beef. be technical > learn how to code

          3. Michael Brill

            Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think it’s pretty darn hard to be technical without having learned how to code. That is quite different from actual coding though.

          4. kidmercury

            i would say learning to code is one component of being technical, but perhaps not the most important one. i think learning coding helps one develop an intuitive understanding of databases, however i think it is possible to develop this understanding in other ways (i.e. being a site administrator for a CMS like drupal, using a CRM app, administering sales/marketing automation technology) etc

          5. LE

            I think the same is true for anything creative by the way. Someone might not be a top notch print, web or other designer or film maker/photographer but they might know enough to see something that is right vs. not having any clue at all. That’s more or less what you are referring to with your “understand code”.There are many things that I can do at the 85% level not many that I am at 98% level. But knowing enough to do b or even b- work in a particular area comes in very handy in guiding and seeing others with talent.My personal feeling is either you have it or you don’t. Certain creative things can’t be easily taught.

          6. Brandon Burns

            I’ve solved problems for developers that they could not solve themselves. I’ve had non-designers reveal solutions to me I previously didn’t arrive at myself. everyone is better for it.Being cross-competent is where its at.

        4. jason wright

          did Wilbur and Orville employ a professional pilot at Kitty hawk?the rule is there are no rules.

      2. fredwilson

        rob did some front end coding on etsy but it was really his co-founders Chris and Haim that did all the coding on the first version of Etsy. those guys did some super human crazy ass stuff in the early days of Etsy. i actually have never seen people kill themsleves like they did. i think i wrote a post about that once. wow.

      3. jason wright

        Foursquare too, but i believe Fred said that they very shortly thereafter got someone in to rewrite and restructure the platform. ‘Harry’ or ‘Henry’ rings a bell.take it as far as possible, and then get a pro in.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Yeah, I listed them as 4SqAnd Fred mentioned that in this thread as well.

          1. jason wright

            i’m color blind :-)yet to read the entire disqussion

          2. JimHirshfield

            It’s hard to keep up, I know.

          3. jason wright


    3. kidmercury


    4. Michael Brill

      Sort of. If it’s to build a prototype to show then that model works fine. If you’re trying to go live with something then you’re likely going to get into trouble.

      1. Brandon Burns

        Not if you know what you’re doing. Not if you’ve managed the build of products before.Granted, that’s not everyone. But we exist.

        1. Michael Brill

          Then you’re probably “technical” enough to succeed at it. I agree with your other post about distinction between coding and being technical.

    5. JamesHRH

      Brandon, I said somewhere else, coding was the kickstart that Sam likely needed.

  3. JimHirshfield

    Great story! A case study in getoffyourassism.

    1. Anne Libby

      Hah, this landed in my in-box this morning, as I was (regettably) multitasking between writing a proposal, AVC, and my email.http://bit.ly/16x56rSBy Steven Pressfield, who might be the @JLM:disqus of writing.

      1. ShanaC

        good article!

        1. Anne Libby

          I love his book, *The War of Art.* Like Twyla Tharp’s *The Creative Habit,* it can be used as a counterpoint in discussions with those who believe that creativity and organization/discipline/process are mutually exclusive.

          1. ShanaC

            still trying to convince myself that I can get up early enough to get creative habit to work for me *sigh*

          2. Anne Libby

            Maybe you need to go to the boxing gym every day, like Twyla does.

          3. ShanaC

            more like figure out how to reset my body clock. Probably lamps issue (blue light)

          4. Anne Libby

            So many variables….

    2. JamesHRH

      With the classic spousal kickstart!

  4. Avi Deitcher

    Founding a company – bootstrap, lifestyle, VC-backed, startup, whatever – requires a lot of different skills: sales, marketing, often technical, financial, etc.The early stages require a lot of ad hoc decisions making and a ton of “do it yourself.” You cannot afford a $400k/year Sales VP or similar, nor a CTO, etc.So, if you’re not technical, get technical. But if you don’t get marketing, learn marketing. If you don’t know how to sell, learn it. If you don’t understand income statements, balance sheets, term sheets and cap tables, learn those too.Any founder needs to be somewhat competent at every one of the basic skills.

    1. awaldstein

      Know what you don’t know. Learn enough to feel comfortable getting help with what you don’t know but know you need.

    2. Cam MacRae

      Any founder needs to be somewhat competent at every one of the basic skills.I think that’s largely true.I’ve always found it fascinating that technically minded people are usually at least somewhat enthusiastic about learning about other aspects of the business, but non-techs are a 50:50 bet to run from the room on the sight of code.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        My first job out of college (engineering) was at First Boston. At some point they realized this about the tech folks, and gave them sales/trading assistant jobs on the desks. They just absorbed it and loved it. Some of them did well, IIRC.>I’ve always found it fascinating that technically minded people are> usually at least somewhat enthusiastic about learning about other >aspects of the business, but non-techs are a 50:50 bet to run from > the room on the sight of code.

        1. Cam MacRae

          Starting out at my previous gig we had a technical CEO, a technical marketing manager, and a development manager with a masters in marketing. The development manager was the first to fall by the wayside, I reckon we were a $200m business before the marketing manager replaced himself, the CEO is still running the ship.

          1. Avi Deitcher

            What was the company? Can you share?

          2. Cam MacRae

            I did nearly 12 years here. Not a founder; one of the first employees (pre money).

          3. Avi Deitcher


          4. JamesHRH


          5. ShanaC


        2. robertdesideri

          we redirected many tech folks into trading, it was a no brainier really. they were the best pool to fish in for math, we’d show them the equations we were using for valuation and risk management and they didn’t flinch, and soon were telling us how to improve upon our equations. and they did very well, many went on to be names in the industry, meaning are successful in the investment business. the traders on the desk, salespeople too, didn’t have sufficient math, they couldn’t add value for much longer. if it wasn’t for the birth of bloomberg’s machines few of the non-maths would have survived. and not just trading, we managed overall firm risk as well as back office ops with engineers / coders who we flipped onto the operations research track, who became pros at operations. that was ages ago, still works the same. The old back office managers couldn’t solve an LP problem if their lives depended upon it. Was rough time way back then for non-tech schmoozers, today it’s worse for them.

      2. Avi Deitcher

        How do you do that quote thing in disqus? I think I just tried github style!

        1. Cam MacRae

          Use <blockquote> tags. ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Avi Deitcher

            HTML? Not markdown? very funny…

          2. Cam MacRae


          3. ShanaC

            markdown, oddly, is more technical than html

          4. Avi Deitcher

            But so much easier to write, so much less effort.

          5. Donna Brewington White

            cool! Is this coding? ๐Ÿ˜‰

          6. Donna Brewington White

            @cammacrae:disqus but how do you make it stop?Edit: Never mind. Figured it out.

          7. Cam MacRae

            Haha! In the words of a great man: well played!

      3. kidmercury

        #truth. i seen multiple organizations where the CEOs had such an aversion to technology that it hindered their ability to lead. what could have been an organization doing $50mm in sales ended up doing $10mm sales, confused as to why they could not execute on the opportunity.

        1. JamesHRH

          Aversion is not the opposite of competence though.Putting your hands over your ears and yelling ‘I can not hear you’ when people talk tech is not going to work, really, anywhere anymore.

        2. PhilipSugar

          No, exact opposite, what I have seen is spending $50mm when they only needed to be spending $10mm.

          1. kidmercury

            i think we might be talking about 2 different things? i am referring to organizations with CEOs who are averse to technology and have difficulty realizing why they are not able to scale their revenues. i do agree though that these same organizations would be able to costs, often drastically, with a better understanding of technology.

          2. PhilipSugar

            I have seen the opposite.

          3. JamesHRH

            excellent point.

      4. JamesHRH

        I think competence is far less valuable than understanding.If you understand how SW works, should be deployed, etc., you should be able to do your job as CEO.If you read the Phoenix Project & got it right away, you can greatly improve the long term productivity of your company’s tech people…….you don’t need to be ‘somewhat competent’ at producing SW to recognize and implement those changes.

        1. Cam MacRae


      5. Donna Brewington White

        Probably the people who think that code is a form of higher math. Which for some means any math without $ involved.

    3. Anne Libby

      Yes.And while it may take 10,000 hours to become a truly skilled manager, anyone who cares can learn some rudimentary management skills in far less time than that.If you want your team to get things done, it would be wise to care.

    4. Susan Rubinsky

      I totally agree. I know several great programmers who started businesses who all were clueless about Sales and Marketing. In fact, a lot of coders believe “if you build it they will come.” Their companies failed accordingly.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        “if you build it, they will come.”a.k.a. the motto of the 90s! ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. awaldstein


        2. JamesHRH

          Loved that movie but I figured out that it was not a documentary…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          1. ShanaC

            field of dreams right

          2. JamesHRH

            yes.I met Kevin Costner in an elevator in CGY a few summers ago. Nice guy.He spoke to my son, even though, I would think, he would have to know there was a 50% – 75% chance that I would recognize his voice (given my demo) and that would generate a fandom assault risk.He was wearing a cowboy hat (Stampede), it was 9ish AM on a Friday morning & my kids were in swimsuits – he asked about being excited about going swimming (my guess is that the roller coaster that is his career has levelled him out to relative normalness – but its a guess).I said hello and told him that Field of Dreams was a wonderfully crafted, near perfect movie (I had no time to tell him that I particularly liked that the author – CDN W.P. Kinsella, btw – viewed the movie as ‘reflecting the spirit of the book perfectly, while making the technical changes required to turn the book into a successful film’, roughly.)Then I introduced him to my daughter. It went like this:Dad – ‘Mr Costner is a grade A big time movie star’.Daughter – ‘Really?’Kevin Costner – (laughing)Nice.

          3. falicon

            He’s also a fraternity brother of mine (Delta Chi) -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wik… …which, in the early 90s (when I was in college) was a bigger deal than it probably is now ๐Ÿ˜‰

          4. pointsnfigures

            Tin Cup? Just kidding.

    5. JamesHRH

      I am with @awaldstein:disqus on this topic.I think it is far more common to not know what you don’t know – ask Donald Rumsfeld on that issue – and have that be your main roadblock to success.For lots of people, learning to code may be the answer.So often in life, the key is to know what is the right thing for you to do – its not like their is a shortage of suggestions out there.

    6. PhilipSugar

      Yes, +1000 that was exactly my reaction and what I was going to say. Super well put.

    7. Anthony Serina

      Perfectly said. Work hard to build your strengths into defining characteristics and work hard enough on your weaknesses so they don’t hurt you. It is also very rare that your weaknesses to become your strength.

      1. Vasudev Ram

        >It is also very rare that your weaknesses to become your strength.Interesting. Reminds me of the book “First, Break all the Rules”. From Wikipedia: “Some key ideas of the book include what the best managers do and donโ€™t do: they treat every employee as an individual; they donโ€™t try to fix weaknesses, but instead focus on strengths and talent;”http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…

    8. Donna Brewington White

      It seems that once someone has the motivation, impetus and drive to start a business then the one aspect that can’t be learned is taken care of. Although I guess the ability and willingness to learn need to be part of the initial package.

    9. Ryan

      You and Fred make some great points. I wish someone would have pushed me to learn the code with my first startup.On the other hand you do have a lot on your plate as a founder and not everyone has the time to learn the technical stuff, and you have even less time to master it like you probably need in production.I’d recommend any first-time entrepreneurs at least understand the concepts and learn the lingo to speak with techies. If you don’t understand the tech of your business you probably won’t get much respect.www.radiumcrm.com

    10. hv23

      Let’s not forget design: just like technical understanding helps long after you stop hacking on the prototype and pass the coding on to the “real” engineers, UX/product design skills serve your decision-making ability at every stage of the company lifecycle. We’re seeing a good amount of entrepreneurs/developers signing up for Designlab (trydesignlab.com).

      1. Avi Deitcher

        That’s always been a personal weakness of mine. I started as an engineer, then learned management, then the financial side, then sales & marketing, etc. But I have always been weak on design, despite knowing how crucial it is. I will check out your labs.

        1. JamesHRH

          The following is a joke, design people!Design is really simple.1) Take out something and call that revision 1.2) Take out something else and call that revision 2.3) Repeat until it is unclear what your design is or what your product is meant to do or it is unclear how a user interacts with your product.4) Go back one revision.Done.

    11. FlavioGomes

      The most important skill….is grit.

      1. FlavioGomes

        Second most important skill…is how to engage other people. Coding…is an auxiliary skill set.

      2. Avi Deitcher

        Can you learn grit?

        1. FlavioGomes

          No, I don’t believe you can. You can be inspired by it, but as you point out, I mistakenly aligned grit as a skill…however, it’s a trait that trumps most all else.

        2. Anne Libby

          A good talk by Angela Lee Duckworth on grit. Even though I’m a bit TED’d out, this one is classic.http://bit.ly/19BDVc9

          1. FlavioGomes

            Interesting. I pointed out grit based on my own experiences. Nice to see others who studied it feel the same way.

          2. Anne Libby

            I really appreciate her work. And she just won a MacArthur “genius” award, just past the 10 year mark she speaks of in the video…

  5. falicon

    technically speaking…I love it!

  6. Aaron Klein

    I first learned how to code at age 10, reading the BASIC manual. My parents’ friends quickly learned how to say no to the annoying kid trying to sell them relatively useless “programs” on a floppy diskette for $5.Fast forward to today. I’ve hired a team much better than me to engineer most of what I’ve been involved in building, but my depth of understanding of software theory has made the products I’ve worked on a ton better.Knowing what’s possible and how you get there makes a difference.

  7. LIAD

    what I’ve found in my own tech-aficionado with no ability ==> tech-aficionado with limited ability journey is that we couldn’t be working in a nicer or more caring industry. really heartwarming.the sheer number of free tutorials, ebooks, open-source libraries, detailed Q & A posts on every conceivable edge-case is incredible. the desire to help others and share experience and knowledge is unparalleled.I don’t see bankers/lawyers sharing what are effectively competitive advantages with everyone else in the world, for free.—Whilst never going to be a pro-coder or anywhere close, the limited abilities I have allow me to:1. take small projects from idea to deployment singlehandedly2. hire developers better3. relate to developers better4. deconstruct & analyse 3rd party apps 5. foresee development bottlenecks6. contribute to internal tech discussions7. maintain (modicum) of respect of developers8. have an outlet for creativity9. get into a state of flow which is awesome10. feel like a super-hero when stuff I write actually works#GetTechnical

    1. Avi Deitcher

      That is a good point. The tech community is incredibly willing to help people out. I wonder what it is about the (often introverted) engineering world that creates such a willingness to share…

      1. awaldstein

        Great topic.I had the opportunity to ‘run’ a voip focused open sourced community a while back and asked myself the same question as tens of thousands of people just helped each other all the time.One reality is that there is never just one answer, always a direction and that makes communications an ongoing part of the solution forever.Tech communities from a developer perspective are both intriguing and so so powerful marketing platforms. Use them whenever they are the right answer.

        1. Avi Deitcher

          The psychology is fascinating, wonder if anyone has done studies on it.I think part of it is altruism, part of it is the engineer’s value system of respect. StackOverflow taps into it with the points, the old Java forums (remember them?) used those funny little symbols in a similar way. What were they called?

          1. awaldstein

            Don’t remember…but this string made me check my old community and has it changed. http://www.trixbox.com

          2. Avi Deitcher

            trixbox? Isn’t that Asterix@home? That was you??

          3. awaldstein

            Just checked Wikipedia and they have it wrong ;)Was started by Andrew Gillis (great guy, brilliant programmer). When I was at Fonality at the beginning, we hired Andrew and developed .org into what became trixbox as the open source feeder community to Fonality’s offering.Great community. Never crossed over. Lots of learnings. I so love communities for what they can do and for their inability to usually do what you want!

          4. Avi Deitcher

            inability to usually do what you want.Love it.

          5. awaldstein

            When they do coincide they so rock. My first two wins in the beginning of my career–relaunching Atari after Warner and CREAF–where both built on the back of the developer communities.

          6. ShanaC

            no, but i think they’re related. my dad uses it

    2. kidmercury

      “I don’t see bankers/lawyers sharing what are effectively competitive advantages with everyone else in the world, for free.”then you are not looking hard enough. the same free stuff exists for all the banking stuff. in the VC world they all blog about term sheets and their version of finance.tech people are not special. they are boring and regular like everyone and everything else, and always will be.

      1. LIAD

        i don’t see a banker comparison. have goldman sachs shared the tech and config settings behind their trading systems? fb/twitter have.

        1. kidmercury

          lots of algo sharing in the investing/trading world. tradingview dot com, fxcodebase dot com are two off the top of my head.it’s not like tech companies are all about peace and love and sharing. they’re also all about the NSA and apple-style secrecy.no one is special. everyone is boring.

          1. pointsnfigures

            Disagree with you on sharing in the trading community vs VC community 100%. Speak from deep experience as a trader, and some experience investing. Goldman tossed a dude in jail that supposedly stole their HFT code. The tech community has open sharing and much more collaboration.Traders only tell you what they are doing after the fact in order to get you to act so they can get out. Selling into strength.

          2. kidmercury

            goldman tossing a dude in jail is like how apple goes after everyone who does anything remotely similar to them. with trading you have social trading, you have small timers sharing their trades because they know none of them matter enough to push the market, and you have stuff like currensee, tradency, and there is one that fred invested in — i honestly forget the name but it is mirror trading for stocks.

          3. pointsnfigures

            There is no “sharing” in algo trading. Small timers sharing their trades is information sharing. My 1000 lot order won’t impact anything. Algos are programmed to read the chatter. Get enough 1000 lotters one way, they’ll take the market the other way, shake them out and take the opposite side.

      2. ShanaC

        my cofounder and I were noticing that. Being interesting is slightly more complicated than it looks.

      3. Brandon Burns

        More amens.Though, really, you’ve said it all before. Mostly because this conversation is tired and beaten. #next

        1. LE

          Check out this blog post “designers”:http://insideintercom.io/ho…Here is the product pricing:https://www.intercom.io/pri…Have no clue what “free” gets you. (Fail there).Yet, they’ve raised millions:http://www.crunchbase.com/c…What do all these engineers work on?https://www.intercom.io/com…(maybe disqus can poach a few)This has nothing to do with your reply btw just thought you’d find that interesting given the irony of a “teaching” post on good design on a site that fails on communication of concept.I love that they say “used and trusted by” and show a bunch of companies that only people in “the lifestyle” would know and give a shit about.Can’t comment on the quality of the product however seems to be a way to use technology to solve a problem for people that aren’t even attempting to do it manually.

          1. Brandon Burns

            The founding team has a desirable Facebook/Google pedigree. I’d dig into my issues with that crock of shit if I weren’t currently boarding a red eye / did enough whining this week. ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      +1 on the comment about the community. I’m old enough to see how much things have changed since I launched my first startup in 2000. I really think coder culture is making its way into the society overall, and that’s a really good thing for the future of our species ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Vasudev Ram

        >coder culture is making its way into the society overall,Yes, Including use of words like “awesome”, Even my non-techie friends use it nowadays ๐Ÿ™‚

    4. Matt Zagaja

      The law is open source and you can always represent yourself. Most lawyers (like me) will use free materials on Google and I’m a big fan of FastCase which lets you search cases for free on iPad and iPhone along with the new Casetext.com. Is it a good idea? Failing fast in programming probably means you reboot a virtual machine or something. Failing fast in law might mean you end up in jail or are party to a contract where you lose all your shares in Facebook.

  8. Brad Lindenberg

    What you are saying Fred, is that there are no shortcuts.

  9. JLM

    .Learning to code for a contemporary founder is as fundamental as learning to tie your shoes. No argument from me on that score.Being a CEO is an exercise in becoming a 360 Degree Businessman of which coding is one element.I have long espoused the 360 Degree Businessman — I have a 50-page “appreciation” of this which I used to share with other CEOs when I was a YPOer — who has a working knowledge of leadership, management, finance, marketing, human relations, law, accounting, negotiations, graphic design, construction, branding, litigation, legislation, politics, regulations, insurance etc. etc etc. and, yes, technology in all of its forms.Are you going to get that much knowledge by the time you’re 25? Hell no but you can damn sure get a start.You have to continually educate yourself on a self help basis.Don’t stop with tech. Keep on learning and growing until you can see in 360 Degrees.JLM.

  10. Russell

    Yup, Codeacademy is get-technical 101! For someone who also wants a hands on environment and interaction with ace programmers I’d recommend generalassemb.ly. Taking their front end web dev course in London. If you want to check it out – fill out the below or ping me a note. https://generalassembly.wuf

  11. Geoffrey Weg

    Getting technical would be great, but it’s not your only option. WordPress, SquareSpace, Disqus and the like can be incredibly powerful platforms that you can frequently hack into at least an MVP. WordPress especially given their vast plugin library. As a relatively non-technical person, I’ve successfully relied on these platforms for a number of projects.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      True, but I’d say you still need to know html, css, javascript, (and php for wp).

      1. Geoffrey Weg

        Basic HTML/CSS knowledge definitely helps with achieving a bit more customization from these platforms in terms of design. But for me it’s usually in the context of utilizing the platform forums to get customization advice from others, or to use Firebug to trial-and-error different designs.

  12. kidmercury

    oh god, not this conversation for the 10 millionth time……you’re not going to be the best at everything. so you need to choose, and you need to understand how you can work with others who are skilled at various disciplines. being able to operate at the intersection of disciplines — i.e. marketing + engineering, sales + design, etc — is where it’s at.going on to codeacademy may very well be a worthwhile endeavor, but the odds of it turning you into a star engineer without you puttting in your 10,000 hours are very slim. and you will need to put in an additional 10,000 hours to master sales and marketing automation. and search engine optmization. and paid search. and closing sales. and designing user interfaces.this leaves you two options:1. mass create time2. pick and choose, cobble stuff together, learn as you go, and embrace the attitude of ALWAYS BE LEARNINGbut don’t be fooled by the silicon valley self-delusion that engineering is the be all and end all.

    1. Elia Freedman

      I don’t think the point is to become a star engineer, but know enough to build a prototype. I’m not a great salesperson but I can go sell if I need to and understand how to negotiate.I like to think of founding CEOs as Lake Okechobee in Florida. It’s miles wide and only inches deep. Got to know at least a little about a lot of things.

      1. kidmercury

        i like the lake okeechobee analogy!

        1. Elia Freedman


      2. LE

        I’m not a great salesperson but I can go sell if I need to and understand how to negotiate.Would like to point out that those things are “analog” and have a much higher tolerance for error than something like coding.In any case all these things (sales, negotiating, coding, karate [2]) are good examples where knowing a little can be dangerous.I can tell a person [1] who just read a book or six on negotiating or sales (stuff at airports) a mile a way and they look foolish to anyone who actually does that stuff and has never needed to read any books (of course you do need to read books to learn to code no doubt.)[1] For one thing they totally telegraph what they are trying to do much like an actor in a play exaggerates what they are trying to have you believe.)[2] I always get a kick out of those tv news reports that show women learning a few defensive karate moves in case they are attacked. Couldn’t be a more foolish thing to try.

      3. FlavioGomes

        90 percent of the fish…live in 10 percent of the lake.

        1. pointsnfigures


          1. FlavioGomes

            Nice…I’ve got worldwide navionics, side scan and gps devices, and a host of accounts on forums….trouble is, I share the honey holes exclusively with my wife…and even then…there’s a few places that only I know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. Brandon Burns


    3. Vasudev Ram

      >but don’t be fooled by the silicon valley self-delusion that engineering is the be all and end all.good one, kid.

    4. fredwilson

      Oh god, this reply again. If you don’t know about something learn a bit about it. Being ignorant sucks. Just like living in chicago

      1. pointsnfigures


        1. JamesHRH

          I am going w low blood sugar issue…… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      2. falicon

        Have you ever lived in Chicago? It’s actually a pretty nice place…drop that last line and I’m with Ya…

      3. Donna Brewington White

        I love your and @kidmercury:disqus’s relationship.

      4. kidmercury

        hahahahahaha!!!!!! bears vs giants tomorrow night….giants will be 0 and 6!!! #embarrassingthough with sports my loyalty remains in philadelphia, who is admittedly atrocious this year.i agree with your reply: if you don’t know something you should learn about it. always be learning! my personal motto. well actually 9/11 was an inside job is my personal motto, but this is a close second.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          There it is. You had me worried for a moment there. (see email)

      5. Richard

        FUNNY! My gf is also laughing.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Was at the game….Bears beat the Giants. Not decisively, But they won. We won’t beat the Packers…..hate the Packers.

  13. JLM

    .Having already said what I did below, I want to take a little different direction as to more seasoned entrepreneurs.My basic thesis is — you can always hire the talent.The most important element of any startup is the VISION of the founder.Once you have founded a company and, hopefully, gotten to the pay window an entrepreneur/founder/CEO understands how the thing is supposed to work and anticipates the challenges for which they have previously paid high tuition.I once owned a 1956 Chevy Belair 4-door in my rambling days. I could sleep in the back seat, freshen up at a truck stop or YMCA and was off on the road to see the world. Alas, I sold that beauty.I could perform every element of maintenance on it with a dime. That’s right a thin silver dime would turn every screw on that baby — well, I did need a spark plug wrench and a few other tools but you get the point.Later in life, I drove BMWs and when you opened the hood — WTF is all that stuff? But still I had the basic theory and could have an intelligent conversation with a BMW mechanic solely because I spoke the language.Pro tip: Never, ever own a BMW that is recently out of warranty. If you ever have, you know the painful truth of this statement.As an entrepreneur you CAN absolutely buy everything at arms length including technology if you speak the language.The availability of eLance and other offerings make this possible on a global basis.There is more than one way to skin the cat.JLM.

    1. JamesHRH

      ‘Rambling days’ – the only thing stopping you from having your own cable TV gig is 9 months of dedicated effort & a complete lack of interest.

    2. LE

      Pro tip: Never, ever own a BMW that is recently out of warranty. If you ever have, you know the painful truth of this statement.Porsche in warranty first oil change +-$450. (Same deal as Mercedes you get a great warranty but you have to pay to keep the warranty in force). Tires no good under 40o so if you need to drive it after the summer $1800 for snow or all season tires. Plus $200 to switch back (tire to big for any ordinary tire shop and they don’t want to mess with it anyway). BMW in warranty is great though. They cover everything iirc wiper blades and brakes. Found it boring though.My basic thesis is — you can always hire the talent.Agree with this with the exception that it’s great to be able to iterate stuff on your own and hone in on something before having to pay someone else.That said I honesty don’t believe (from last time I looked at codecademy) that it’s the best way to learn this stuff.

  14. Barry Nolan

    Jennifer Dewalt had a background in fine art. But she wanted to code. So she learned to code by building 180 websites in 180 days. And she became the top story on HackerNews.Her story: http://blog.jenniferdewalt….HackerNews appreciation: https://news.ycombinator.co…”It can be done. It is done.”

  15. Peter Van Dijck

    This reads like truth – Fred’s experience speaking.The underlying reason isn’t clear though. WHY should you learn to code? Why, if you could hire a coder who could do the work in 1/10th of the time? Why, if you could hire a tech team? Why, if your business model is so smart and your marketing tricks are so fancy?I think there is a reason why successful companies have founders that code. Something like this: there is a strange and intimate relationship between technology and product. I call it coding WITH the grain of the tech, not against it. And if you don’t understand the technology well, you can’t define the product well. And a coder-for-hire will almost NEVER create a product that is right, because now you’ve decoupled the tech and the product.(With product I mean product market fit).Does that make sense at all to anyone?In other words:

    1. LE

      First, I don’t think “anyone” can really learn that well this way.However there are those that can, just like there are those that can do many things that the masses can’t do.But in support of learning to code I will offer that being able to allows you to iterate faster because (if you have the basic skills down) you can work until something feels, works and looks right to you. Much quicker than having to communicate that same vision to someone else. Creative vision is important.For example I have the ability to work with page layout programs (since Pagemaker 1.0) and can easily create an 85% effective marketing piece all with my own hands. This has come in handy over the years in so many cases. While I could pay someone else to do the actual design work (which might look better) it would totally stunt the creative process whereby I lay out my vision.By being able to do the actual design in real time with my own hands, well, I’ve just found that tremendously helpful. Because it allows me to present things exactly in the nuance that I want (bold, use of boxes, lines, font weight etc.) I know it when I see it. It’s hard to get someone else to do this for me to my liking. There is a direct connection between my brain and what the product is.So the retarded iteration here would be the delay as I layed out a rough sketch and someone created a design and then I had to say “ok can you make this larger/smaller/bolder” etc. and then they would give me the change and I would then make more changes. Here by having the basic skills I can easily rough something together and get it to work. QuicklyAn really minor example of this is my avatar. I shot that myself with a camera on a tripod on a windy day. I choose the frame, did a crop, and had my legs in the exact position that I wanted them to be in. I can’t even imagine having to get someone else to do this (and having to pay for it).

      1. pointsnfigures

        Learning a little something about code is a good idea for startup investors, and founders—even if they aren’t techie coder geeks themselves.Imagine the CEO of a public company that came out of tech or marketing and didn’t know their way around an income statement because “I hire accountants to do that”.Agree, you can hire it but having at least rudimentary knowledge at least gives one the chance to ask a question about something, and the insight to be able to understand.

        1. LE

          Look I’m with you. I know a lotta different shit and it comes in super handy. Ask my lawyers or my accountants. Or my programmers. (My personal feeling though is that knowing to much about law actually hurts you just like having a lawyer as a partner in business can hurt you. They think a certain non practical real life way about things.)That said I simply don’t think it’s the same with dabbling a bit with learning to code. Point being is that the amount of time you would have to spend to pick up something about coding that would be helpful in the same way as learning to interpret a financial statement is a different magnitude of benefit vs. time.Way easier than learning something on code academy might be simply to learn shell scripting which would give you the same overview of programming and allow you to do some very useful things.Or to pickup a book and learn some php or even perl (rather than shell scripting). Install a LAMP stack. If you aren’t learning to actually do something but learning to understand that’s not a bad way. And the book takes you through step by step and you have the same interactivity on your own server.By the way getting a website up and running and being able to keep it secure are to totally different animals. Security aspects are a separate learning curve themselves. And the guys who do this for a living are forever fucking up on that one.

          1. pointsnfigures

            Learning how to do basic code at Code Academy isn’t going to turn you into a hacker. But, if you approach it the right way, you will at least know some intelligent questions to ask, or know the questions to ask the right people who ask the questions that get the best answers.

  16. sigmaalgebra

    Yes, stack overflow is a terrific resource.I don’t know how they keep the quality ofthe information so high, but they do.And I don’t know how they will make muchmoney, but I would have thought the samefor Twitter and Tumblr.How you can write so much everyday andkeep the secrets of how to pick suchwinners — amazing.So, Twitter may have a $1 billion marketcap — nice work.Was up all night — back to my work.

    1. LE

      I don’t know how they keep the quality ofthe information so high, but they do.Free labor. Similar to what makes cruise ships (cheap labor [1]) so affordable.[1] Also what allowed us to build the Panama Canal, Hoover Dam and all those huge projects.

  17. Emily Merkle

    In the past, I have not been a technical person. Specialized in biz Dev / ops. Through this blog and reading up on USV’s portfolio, I started at Codeacademy 2 years ago. I found the content remarkably commonsensical, and the program well done. Unfortunately I had some medical work that set me back in the memory department. I hope to restart my journey with Codeacademy in the next few months.

  18. pointsnfigures

    Learning to code is learning to read. It’s also a creative endeavor. At the University of Wisconsin, they put Coders together with Humanities students. They smash ideas together to see what comes out. I liken it to Nerds mating with Geeks. But in the future, everyone is going to have to be one or the other.

    1. LE

      I liken it to Nerds mating with Geeks. But in the future, everyone is going to have to be one or the other.Why? [1] I mean isn’t that a bit overreaching?Sounds like the same thinking that got us into trouble in schools assuming that everyone needs to learn the same subjects no matter what their capabilities are, or what they are going to pursue or want to get out of life.Think of the case of a child who almost always learns very early on how to use a remote control and a tv set. When there is a specific need people get incredibly smart and motivated.[1] I still do want to know why you feel this way.

  19. Kirsten Lambertsen

    This is so freaking true.For the people who are saying to just hire a programmer, I would answer that some people actually can’t afford to hire anyone. Those people *can* afford to use Codecademy to learn to get at least their first version of their product on its feet.Finding and hiring developer talent right now is beyond challenging. Nobody is coding for equity. They’re working on their *own* startup idea! The answer is to learn how to do the basics, yourself. Even if your idea is something that can be 90% done on WordPress or something, you *still* need to know HTML, CSS, Javascript and JQuery (and PHP if you’re using WP).Plus, when you finally do hire that dream developer, you’re going to know what you’re talking about. And if you’re going to hire contract developers you’d *better* know what you’re talking about or you’re in for a beating.Professional developers tend to get twitchy at the idea of a bunch of “amateurs” learning to do what they do and taking all the mystery out of it ๐Ÿ˜‰ If you’re thinking of learning to code, don’t let these folks scare you off. Just do it.

  20. bsoist

    I have been talking about this for weeks. I just had another meeting yesterday and this came up.Nobody is going to tell you that you have to be an engineer, but It’s the 21st century – get literate or go home!

  21. Guest

    if you consider programming as a translation of spoken language into a language computers can understand, than technical ability is not only helpful but actually essential. when you reach a more complex level of development with different programming languages and platforms involved (like us), you will benefit more from principle-technical-insights. it all comes down to: WHAT IF ๐Ÿ˜‰ http://www.youtube.com/watc

  22. Spencer Fry

    This was exactly what I did to build the first version of https://www.uncover.comI wrote an article about it entitled “From Business Guy to Programmer” http://spencerfry.com/from-…. I’ve since written a bunch of articles on the subject on my blog and for Treehouse: http://blog.teamtreehouse.c… My story has inspired a lot of people to reach out to me via email and Twitter to help them. The best advice I can give is that programming requires an idea: http://blog.teamtreehouse.c

  23. Marco Turchini

    A part from sporadic cases, startup CEOs are not coding superstars and the difference between ok and great products is having superstars on the technical side. While I think it could be a bootstrapping shortcut, CEOs need to have a variety of competencies that generally do not allow them to really excel in more than a couple (and usually coding it’s not among those).For me best CEOs are constantly involved in product development, therefore being able to figure the product on paper, anticipate how users are going to interact with it and manage the product creation process are by far more important. Obviously rudimental knowledge of coding could allow a CEO to be even better at managing the product development process.

  24. Michael Brill

    While I usually tell people the same thing (learn to program), the reality is that programming is just too barbaric for most people. Maybe the answer is to make “being technical” much easier.

  25. Nora Clavis

    Iโ€™m always fascinated by young successful entrepreneurs, who manage their ups and down. You did a great job!I recently read this interesting article as well considering this subject. Itโ€™s worth reading.http://larswindhorst-archiv

  26. panterosa,

    SItting on your Big Idea is almost like sitting on your ass. At least that’s what your Big Idea thinks of you – that you are lazy.JUST DO IT!…and try to have some fun in the process. Otherwise your Big Idea will laugh at you for being a loser while your doing it. You and you Big Idea are supposed to have a great relationship.

  27. FlavioGomes

    Learning to code is a great skill to have under your belt but getting “technical” has so many different elements. If you have an idea but no capital resources than DIY coding will likely be your only option. With access to to some capital, I would emphasize learning to spec/design with the ability to choose the best tech stack for your project, as way more important in my opinion. It will help you scale and keep your head out of the weeds.

  28. Richard

    The debate goes but one fact is not debatable, Innovation “within” technology almost always requires one to be technical, or more precisely technical and curious. It is one of the reasons that most innovation seems somewhat obvious after its development. Most innovation is more discovery than creation.

    1. Guest

      “technology almost always requires one to be technical” – if you go by kevin kelly’s definition of technology than anything human made is technology. hence da vincis drawings of an airplane are technology. you should check the innovators dna: the work by hal gregorson is the killer. he talks about discovery and delivery skills; those who just deliver without discovering are not really innovative โ€“ which is the majority of companies.

  29. rlasa

    In a startup you need thinkers that can do. Everybody should learn, think, and do ALL of it. Learn, then do = really learn and master by doing Do coding, do sales, do marketing, do PR, do raising $, do networking. Do or die!

  30. JamesHRH

    JimHirshfield Just a couple product whines Jim.1) How come I cannot “@” known Disqus members who are not part of this particular discussion (Trying to “@” Mr Wilson on something today & cannot…._> Assuming there is a reason this is not there, as that is usually how Disqus rolls.2) The thread controls appearing on rollover is a little to reductionist design for me. I had to literallly think……’Hmmmm, where have they hidden the thread controls?” but I did find them fairly quickly.FWIW.FWIW2 – I literally do not comment on sites with something other than DSQS (maybe once or twice ever on FB, which would be the exception).

    1. LE

      That whole mechanism is messed up and doesn’t work well from a user perspective.Not only that but how is a new user supposed to even know to do that (when it does work)? (Same with how would they know how to do block quoting or bold or strike or whatever else that aids in readability).The idea is to have a feature that works well so people use it and it helps with engagement.Getting someone to mention someone else helps with engagement. That could be someone in the current conversation or someone who hasn’t made any comments that day at all.The thread controls appearing on rollover is a little to reductionist designI’m still waiting to hear an explanation of why it’s done this way. Must be something I hadn’t thought of in my many years of graphic design exposure.

  31. aweissman

    To paraphrase the Minutemen: “our startup could be your life”

  32. Elia Freedman

    As a developer I’ve gotten more from StackOverflow than any other single resource. Joel and his team created an amazing resource.

    1. Michael Brill

      If they could only figure out a way to automate all the copy/pasting I do, they’d have an infinite software-generation machine.

      1. LE

        What is the exact keystrokes you use and workflow that would make it better?Separately part of the problem with cutting and pasting is that you are shortcuting in many cases understanding of what is going on.(By the way on some sites there is an exploit where people imbed malicious code into a cut and paste action.)

        1. Michael Brill

          Sorry, it was a joke… but SO has saved me countless hours/days/months. Having said that, more than once I’ve simply copy/pasted a snippet without worrying too much about it (things like ridiculous regex strings that I figure have already inflicted enough emotional pain on humanity that adding my own isn’t required).

          1. LE

            I wouldn’t get stuck up to much in regex in something that you can do as well with a simple “if” statement.Regex is one of those autistic things that people perseverate over. Has many uses and is valuable but you don’t make any more money by wasting time on a regex. Besides there are people you can pay to come in and clean stuff like that up.Programmers (since I have been paying attention) are always having these pissing contests over code efficiency as if everyone is designing the Saabre system or something where computing resources are scarce.By the way are you able to touch type? Meaning w/o looking at the keyboard?I personally find that it is best not to cut and paste things and to make sure to understand what is going on. Otherwise it makes it much harder to troubleshoot something that isn’t working.

          2. Michael Brill

            This is probably too much of a digression… but that’s my point on SO. Why go through all of the primary research pain when you someone’s already done it? Of course you want to go through and see what the solution is, but in some cases you’ve got bigger fish to fry and it just doesn’t matter. Just like you don’t have to dig into your database driver – you’re happy that the results just show up.

  33. William Mougayar

    I’m interpreting this to be aimed at young people that have an idea and want to get a working prototype or pilot going.Totally agreed that you can shake a lot of trees by showing something that has your vision embedded in it.Back in my HP days, I was a Systems Engineer in the field. When the first HP PC came out (the touchscreen HP 150), I programmed a simulation that took patient data from a monitor into the PC using Basic, and started demoing it to customers to show what’s possible. It wasn’t a product, it was a demo. That infuriated the division manager because I was selling a future (big no no), but it sparked a lot of discussion into whether they should build that product. They later developed something like it 2 years later.

    1. andyidsinga

      I’m interpreting this to be aimed at old people who have an idea and want to get a working prototype or pilot going….just like they wanted to (and might have done in another context) when they were young ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. Zach Stevens

    Exactly the kind of Wed morning advice I need! I’m one of those people who just needs to get off his a**, learn this stuff and get technical. Thx for the inspiration.

  35. Daniel Friedman

    Startup founders aren’t the only ones who need to learn code โ€“ we look for technical skills in every position at Thinkful. For an increasing number of positions, code is necessary to achieve self-sufficiency, regardless of your position.

  36. gigmania

    Its a hackers rule world. The people capturing the value today are either coding it or financing it. I’m a business guy, launched first internet start up in 1999, with an INSEAD MBA that has launched a couple scores of web and mobile products, but not knowing how to code left me on the side lines for important moments of the game. Exploring developing an MVP for a recent product/business idea, I decided it was high time to learn to hack up my own MVPs and enrolled in http://www.hackreactor.com. Humbling but fantastically empowering. Too early to give you an ROI but I’m bullish on the potential return.

  37. JamesHRH

    I am going to go so far as to say the following: getting technical is a waste of time for most founders.In Sam Felig’s case, getting technical got him started, which was really his roadblock, I bet.Commercially successful startups need these 3 things from their leaders:1) An attitude that accepts a lack of knowledge, which is different from a lack of understanding.2) The rigorous discipline of ensuring that each successive group of adoptees is a solid acquisition: team, users, customers.3) The ability to persistently alter your team’s focus.Read this article for a quick master class: http://firstround.com/artic…How you go about the delivery of these 3 things is totally variable; as variable as the number of successful founders and startups that exist.I have stated before – great startups have 3 types of fit:1) Founder / opportunity fit2) Product / market fit3) Model / scale fitThink about David & The Climate Company or Sam & Outgrow – totally different people with totally different approaches.Without Googling him, just by looking at his site, I have $5 that says Sam is a highly curious story teller type guy & not the borderline actuary, data monkey David is.If you have all 3 leadership factors & hit all 3 fit gates & you still fail, you had some bad people involved.

  38. andyidsinga

    A lot of folks (esp. non-technical, but technical too) have a hard time imagining the crappy’ish first version of their product getting any traction.Imagining the eager, and somewhat forgiving, early adopter can help build the motivation.Getting that first crappy thing into user’s hands and hearing “thanks” or “oh, cool” is the ultimate in motivators.

    1. Richard

      I needed to hear that, again.

  39. LE

    Another skill that comes in very handy is the ability to make a promo film, do basic photography, and of course be able to spin a funny story. [1]http://outgrow.me/collectio…http://www.geltfiend.com/co…[1] Dollar Shave Club comes to mind.http://allthingsd.com/20131

  40. Daniel So

    i wrote a blog post about this today while comparing Hangul (as today is Hangul day here in Korea) and Javascript. Please excuse me as I quote myself (shameless plug!) http://wp.me/p3YZ7E-13 :”Sometimes we forget that programming languages are just that: languages. Weโ€™re so used to associating programming with math that we forget that it is also literature. And because we do that, we have an entire population of non scientific/mathematic students who consider programming impossible, incomprehensible, indomitable. But thatโ€™s a mistake. Yes, the algorithmic aspect of programming does require a lot of mathematical thinking (Iโ€™m looking at you, tail recursion). But itโ€™s not as essential as these days with the prevalence of higher-level languages and shouldnโ€™t stop people from trying. An English major, such as myself, can find some consonance in their previous linguistic studies with the syntax of programming, and use it to their advantage. And what program wouldnโ€™t benefit from more cogent, expressive comments?”But yeah. Sometimes people are afraid to “get technical” because they’ve been trained to believe it’s impossible for them. Like the Lonely Island said in “I’m on a Boat” — I’m like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible!!!

  41. Cem G

    Fred – I love your articles but I have a quick question on the basis of the logic in this one.I’m based in London and I want to come and see you in NYC. Unfortunately I don’t know how to fly a plane (like coding I didn’t get the chance to learn at school.)Would your advice be to learn to fly a plane or buy a ticket on British Airways?Far from a perfect analogy but if you’re starting a company wouldn’t your time be better spent testing an MVP, rather than learning how to test it?In the same way my time would be better spent getting to NYC to see you than learning how to get there?



  42. Richard

    Not all Coders are “Technical”. Not all technical people are coders.

    1. Michael Brill

      And thus began the meme of silicon valley zen koans.

  43. ShanaC

    I have super mixed feelings on this post.There is no way in hell I could build what I am working on by myself (particularly in a sustainable way). It is a level of technical above my head. Above many people’s heads, including some long term engineers, if I think about it. I’m extraordinarily lucky in that regard.OTOH, I dont think my cofounder could do it without me either. he’s highly introverted, and couldn’t really deal with a lot of stuff that has to be customer facing.As he says “We need each other”Still, I also don’t think it would work if I weren’ta) Highly technical, enough to teach myself how to code and start building the occassional thing for myself*and b) Willing to research and implement answers (JFDI) by myselfOf the two factors, knowing him, b is way more important than aI would say b is the thing that makes a true.You need to be a person willing to put the effort even if you are the nontechnical person – that is way more impressive than knowing how to code a prototype.

  44. Duncan Logan

    A perfect example of this is Michael Perry at http://www.KitCRM.com. His technical co-founder left the 2 person team for a high paid job, Michael buried himself in Codeacademy for 18 days and then finishes KIT. – which is now taking off.

  45. Donna Brewington White

    When you offered the Codecademy challenge a couple of years ago I convinced my son to take the course with me. And then life happened and I dropped out. My son continued and based on this is now studying comp sci as a freshman. (Loves it.)One strategy may be to just make sure all my kids can code but yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m going to learn. Thank you for the continual reminders.

    1. JLM

      .This is a real world example of how special the AVC.com community truly is — you sent your son across the country because of it.It also shows his Mother is quite an adventuress.Well played.JLM.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Thank you, JLM. Yes, AVC has been a tremendous influence. Adventuress — I like that. I guess I have never had the luxury of playing it safe or doing things the easy way. I wouldn’t mind trying just to see what it’s like. But not yet. Too much left to accomplish.

    2. JamesHRH

      You need to learn to code like Fred needs to do his own taxes.

  46. Jeremy Kovac

    I couldn’t agree more. I joined @dashbookapp this year and they are 100% encouraging to all their staff to constantly be learning new skills, specifically technical ones. If anyone is curious about what we’re building here at Dashbook, I highly encourage you to watch our product video here: http://www.youtube.com/watc…and check out this blog post our founder wrote a week ago on how the way we consume information is changing. http://dashbookapp.com/lab/

  47. Ben Milstead

    What’s amazing to me is how often I’ve witnessed non-technical founders make arbitrary product decisions that freak out the development team.

  48. Guest

    You need both.But which is worse, tech going biz, or biz going tech? There’s a sweet spot in between both of those that’s key to achieving product-market fit as a startup. Everyone needs to be technical, creative, and business minded. Whomever’s strongest at each one will need to take responsibility, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t contribute.There’s a big label problem in each scene. “Are you a developer?”, “Are you the tech guy or the business guy?”. Most of these questions come from people that can offer absolutely nothing, but by being so indifferent to what problem you’re trying solve or the mission of your company, they make the startup world seem like something it isn’t. It’s not about the glamour or hype, it’s about the doing the work, or at least learning how. Nothing frustrates me more than someone saying, “I can’t do X, I’m a Y”.Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t apply artificial boundaries on what you can or can not do.

  49. AlexBangash

    I would like to extend that: seek founders who are technical, VC’s who are coders and LP’s who are technical. To me, your github account says a lot more about you than your linkedin profile. The future belongs to the doers and makers, hackers and painters.

  50. Rachel

    True dat. But not everyone is quite as sharp as Sam Fellig

  51. Esayas Gebremedhin

    if (you aren’t technical) {get_technical}else {be_creative};two of my favorite innovators started their career as “creatives”. steve jobs was into calligraphy and ray kurzweil actually studied creative writing. if you are determined to render your imagination you will always find a way; either by being technical or creative. more often technical people end up working for creative people, because they lack imagination. i was never in a situation when i couldn’t realize my imagination and often it was technical but also creative.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I think creative trumps technical. But together, powerful.

    2. JamesHRH

      Great post & great examples Esayas.

  52. Tyler

    Technical and Non-technical are too broad and divisive of terms to actually characterize people. Technical seems to describe a person who is fluent in a number of languages whereas non-technical makes someone sound like they are mystified by simple html.By these definitions it would take years of constant immersion to really become “technical”, leaving no time to really be effective in any other capacity. However the non-technical person should know enough to give good direction, judge good work and above all else hire individuals with the types of immersive knowledge required.Where do categorize the person who knows general html, css and javascript enough about enough to not be mystified by software?

  53. Tom Labus

    It may be better to be a bit creative and imaginative for growth since you may be able to cobble together an app without actually coding at some point soon.I don’t want to have to wire the house when I move in or put in pipes for water



  54. ErikSchwartz

    Let’s stop conflating “technology companies” with “companies that use technology”. Almost all companies use tech to a some extent these days, very few companies create new tech.There’s a lot of companies out there that are considered “tech start ups” that really are not tech companies.

    1. LE

      Sex sells so the appeal of being called a “tech” company is obvious.



    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks for the link. Hadn’t seen this yet. I never get tired of this story.

    2. JamesHRH

      You don’t invest & tell Pat.

  55. tywhite

    100% agree. Just came to this realization myself a few weeks ago.After leaving Eventbrite a few months ago, I’ve been trying to find the perfect cofounder for a company I’ve wanted to start for a while. For a wide variety of reasons (mostly timing), that’s proven more challenging than anticipated.Finally, a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to suck it up and start coding. I’m decent at HTML/CSS, but had never touched Obj-C (mostly because everyone says it’s really hard; it only sort of is). Within a few days, I had an app that did roughly what I intended (I was no ambitious in my feature aims), and now have been learning WAY more by dialing it in and fixing bugs for a couple weeks. It’s still not the *company* I wanted to start, but it’s a start, and it might help convince a cofounder to come on board.An engineer I used to work with always said: “It’s just software. We *can* do anything.” Ultimately the hard part is just in how your time can be most effectively spent. Sometimes that means going to meetings and hackathons and wherever you might be able to meet someone who can help you build your idea, but sometimes it means picking up some new skills and building your dreams yourself.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      This is actually inspiring. Except for the part where you ALREADY knew some HTML/CSS. (I’m starting from scratch.)Building your dreams yourself. Not sure you meant that to be a play on words given some of the building analogy in the thread but it works — love it.Good luck building yours!

      1. tywhite

        Thanks! The HTML/CSS knowledge is *barely* applicable to Obj-C coding — laying things out (static-ish, design-focused) vs making things happen (dynamic, functionality-focused). I think the biggest hurdle to overcome is being able to look at code and figure out what’s going on in it. It’ll take years before you can write an app (or anything) from scratch, but having enough of an understanding to be able to duct tape other code together and tweak it to do what you want is really valuable.A friend started learning to code Obj-C at the same time that I started just *doing* it. He got through four good lessons on codeschool.com and still doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. I just started pasting stuff together and figuring out how it worked by trial and error. I now have a (mostly) working app, whereas he has nothing.”Learning to write code” is a bit different from “learning to build stuff with code” — as an entrepreneur who doesn’t ever want to get a job as an engineer, I favor the latter ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. Drew Meyers

          Awesome. I’ve been contemplating learning Ruby…this is another added kick..

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Ah, writing and building — helpful distinction. Thanks.You probably could do what you did because of some inherent aptitude. My son took to coding very quickly and loved it. But he also was a whiz at Legos and is an amazing figure-it-out-as-you-go cook and will someday probably be an entrepreneur. I think those things are related.



  56. Guest

    @fredwilson — For years I kept hoping SV stars would code something smarter than 5-stars ratings and also solve semantic-sentiment analytics => improve Human-Systems intelligence.For years the same-old, same-old 5-stars and semantic-sentiment systems appeared. As an example, YouTube posted a blog about how useless 5-stars was back in Sept 2009. Yet FB launched their Movies offering with…5-star ratings.So I did as the adage told me: “When you want something done, DIY.”I coded my Perception pH(R) rating plugin as part of my patent-pending system:* http://senseus.co/ratings/p

  57. William Mougayar

    This seems to be the week where this discussion is popular. This article talks about 4 tech CEOs that know how to code: New Relic, MixPanel, Parse, Rainforest.http://venturebeat.com/2013



    1. LE

      Sure it’s helpful to talk jive. But how much jive is enough jive?http://youtu.be/g0j2dVuhr6s…Care to quantify exactly what you mean by “understand code”?



  59. LaVonne Reimer

    It’s late in the dialog here. Lots of good material. I agree there is nothing more empowering than just building your own thing. I have many regrets that I didn’t just teach myself how to program our app. But not writing any of the code doesn’t mean I don’t deeply understand it or am anything other than a helpful partner to my team. The experience that still seems most relevant to me is from my degree in music. I could play a piece for piano and imagine it rendered for orchestra, how all the instruments whatever their key would interact with each other to carry a melody or the harmony. That’s exactly how software seems to me. I hear it.

  60. Alexander Peschkoff

    What is the point of wasting your time on learning the skill which is one of many (and not the main one) to make your startup happen?.. If anything, any founder should read Zig Ziglar’s book – if you can code, but cannot sell (idea, product, company, etc) you are toast.When it comes to coding, there are tons of offshore skilled programmers who’ll do it for the price of a Big Mac (I am joking, but it’s not far from reality). You need to know WHAT to code and WHY, not HOW. IMHO.

  61. Pro Mobile Auto Detailing

    Excellence post.. Well done

  62. Glen Hellman

    A tech CEO and founder needs to have an understanding of the process building a tech product but I don’t agree that means they need to be a programmer. Just as a founder doesn’t need to be a sales person or a CFO.In fact I’d argue that the best CEOs are like the best Business Coaches, they don’t come to problems with pre-conceived bias’s to how things must be done. They ask good questions of their teams, they drill into issues with the team and they hold them accountable.Technical people with no sales or marketing ability can managing the sales and marketing process as well as Business folks can manage a technical process.

  63. Sean Hull

    I agree. I built a business starting in 1996. Post 2001, it was very very rough.If you’re hungry enough, it can be done.

  64. bravo builders

    good post

  65. Jack Gavigan

    The primary advantage of having founders who can code is that there is no gap between idea and implementation. The person who has the idea can implement it. The person who talks to the customers can iterate the product based on the feedback they elicit.If the Business and Technology skills (to generalise) reside in two different people, the implementation of the idea necessitates communication between those two people. The Biz guy has to explain to the Tech guy what the product should do. The Tech guy then builds it and, when he’s done, the Biz guy then has to check to make sure that product actually does what it should.If the Biz guy and Tech guy are actually the same person, that means that the delay inherent in the back-and-forth between the two is eliminated. The product can be iterated much, much faster. It also supports feedback of ideas from technology into the business model (e.g. where the Biz person doesn’t realise that something is technically possible and, therefore, hasn’t asked for it), which is often the path to true innovation.The end result is that the iteration towards product-market fit (or “failure”, by which I mean the realisation that the underlying assumptions are incorrect and the startup needs to pivot) happens much quicker. And quicker = cheaper.Whether this approach works for all products and markets is beyond the scope of this comment. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  66. aseoconnor

    Thanks for the kick in the ass.

  67. Pedro Torres Picรณn

    Late to the party but…I think this is 100% true for someone with a “crazy idea” and nothing else to offer. But if you have other things that are valuable to the startup you want to build (i.e. deep experience in a particular market) you’re better off not spending any time learning to code and instead focusing on finding an engineering partner who values what you have to offer and shares your vision.If you are, say, a great doctor who has been practicing medicine for 20 years and are now looking to create online software to allow other doctors to schedule their patients, you probably know the problem you want to solve extremely well and have many colleagues who could help you test out early versions of the product and maybe even become early clients. Do you really want to spend time on codecademy when you have all of these assets ready to go? What’s the opportunity cost of that? And what will that teach you after 2 or 3 months? Or even 6 months? My bet is you’ll be pretty frustrated by the end and still not a lot closer to being able to build the software you need.The “tech community” tends to overvalue coding skills way too much and undervalue everything else needed for a product to be successful. Engineers should learn to value other things like domain expertise and be excited about partnering with people who have those complementary skills to build amazing businesses. I fully believe there will be a ton of very valuable companies started by non-technical founders who will never write a line of code but will bring years of experience and understanding of a market to the startup table. Telling them to “go learn to code” is just plain wrong.

  68. andrewmarcovitch

    This resonates with me. I’m just a regular guy with hundreds of ideas that will never get built unless I build them myself. As a non-technical entrepreneur you search for that perfect idea because the task of actually getting 1 built is impossilbe (since you need to rely on so many other people). If I could just build them myself I would build them all and the people decide which is “the perfect idea.”

  69. ShanaC

    What do you think of Node



  71. LE

    Don’t you remember the character that (I think) Hal Holbrook played in the first Wall Street? Enjoy it while it lasts and make sure to sock money away for the future. The guys that are busy with the current technology don’t have the time to learn the new technology because they have something to lose, are employed and have no time.

  72. JamesHRH

    Ones that write it can fuck up world; rarely do ones that write it run world.