how to start a tech startup with zero tech experience
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
I am not going to ramble on in this post about the trials and tribulations of starting a tech startup, because in all honesty, I have only been doing this for about 3 months now - just 90 days. I really have no right to be posting this at all, but I have been asked 4-5 times in the last week how I managed to go from what I was doing before to doing this without any experience in tech or coding. What I will do is be very honest about how these first 90 days have gone in the hopes that someone out there reads this and knows that they are not alone, or if someone is considering embarking on this journey, then they can do so with as much truthful information as possible. When I started, I found a lot of info on tech startups, but it was very much from the perspective of someone who knew how to code and therefore over half of the battle was already taken care of - what I will do is attempt to talk to you about starting a "tech startup" without those skills.
I will start with those who don't have a startup idea yet. You just know that you want to be an entrepreneur. Where do you start? Well...unfortunately, you just do.
Just start - there is no right or wrong way to do it. Well, there is, but you won't be able to avoid the wrong ways without trying them. Stop thinking about it. Just start. Put your pen to paper and start writing, typing on your computer, jotting down ideas and problems you face in your everyday life, things you wished existed because they would solve a problem in your life, or completely "out there" ideas like sending a man to the moon, because remember - at one point in the not so near past, someone said out loud for the first time, "we should send a man to the moon in a metal can that has gas at the bottom and we can light it on fire and launch him at speeds that will make his face go flat and his cheeks look like a bulldog hanging its head out the side window of a moving car."...and I assume that most of the people in that room thought "Yeah. Ok, Brad. Good one"...and yet if you have followed NASA in the last few weeks, they just landed a machine on MARS!! All because someone tried and failed. And then tried again...
If you don't judge yourself and just write stream of conscious, you are going to see A LOT of ideas come out. Full disclosure - my degree is not in Computer Science - my degree is in Theater, and before you laugh know that it is one of the most crucial degrees and has served more than any academic degree ever could. Why? Because for four years I had to be insanely creative with nothing, I had to create full worlds with just a cardboard box, a glue stick and a high heel. I had to stand in front of people and put myself on the line and then have directors and professors judge me openly, in the open forum, and often in media publications and reviews. You want to learn how to develop a tough skin or know who you are inside, get beaten down and put yourself back together and do it again? A Theater degree is what you want...
In terms of what to start - I was lucky. I already had the idea as you read in my last post. The idea for hyred had been in my head for about four years, but I was so focused on doing what was right and playing by the rules that our parents played by, that I kept getting myself locked down in full time employment, letting someone else run my life, and coming home from long days at work, to just collapse on the couch and not have any mental or physical energy to think about anything else, because I spent my entire day solving someone else's problems and making someone else money. If that is you - you are not alone. However, in true entrepreneur style, there will come a day when that no longer works. When that is not enough. When you wake up everyday and see your life flashing before your eyes, and feel as though you have very little to show for it, because although you may have achieved a lot professionally - most of it was done for someone else or at the direction of someone else. For a lot of people that works perfectly fine (and I am actually quite jealous of those people), but for those of us who are OCD, control freaks / wannabe entrepreneurs, you will eventually break. And that break will be the best thing that will ever happen to you, because it is in that moment that your true soul will liberate you from the confines of that corporate life - just let yourself be afraid, but listen to it. This is where meditation is crucial for most successful people, because you cannot miss those little moments when your life is screaming at you to make a move and you don't, because you are paralyzed on the couch from your 9-5 job. Meditation starts to wake up that part of you, while silencing the not so useful parts. Meditation helps grow the part that listens to things like this and starts to notate patterns in your life and helps you make some of these tough decisions, quicker.
When, or if, that call comes - answer it. I finally did. I quit my very secure six figure government job, thought I would start hyred at that point - even went so far as to buy the domain and set up an email address and then became paralyzed with doubt as I had exactly zero technical background, and zero tech startup experience (I had startup and entrepreneur experience - I opened a theater production company when I was 24 on my parents line of credit, I opened a luxury travel company when I was 30 and took people across the world on health and wellness travel experiences from Africa to Bali to Belize, and I opened a gym when I was 32, but there was something about the lack of TECH experience specifically that had that voice in my head screaming - YOU CANNOT DO THIS. Stop. Abort mission - go get another job).
So I got another job. Another boring, horrible office job. I quit after five days. Lol. Not even kidding. Maybe not my best look, but it was one that I had to do....I started on a Monday, walked out on a Friday, and hyred was born (in all honesty I had to pick up a few freelance jobs in between, or deliver burritos to sweaty dudes in 'too small' jogging pants, because you will have to do what you have to do to pay the bills, but my brain had finally shifted).
Let me paraphrase this whole dream of startups and company ownership - this is not easy. This is not always fun. This is f'ing hard. I am a solo founder with zero tech experience, opening up a tech startup, with a ton of marketing / advertising / sales experience, so I definitely had to work a bit harder to figure out how to do this with my skill set, but make it seem like I had tech experience, but wrap it up in a nice marketing message centered in tech (but again, without the actual tech). Simple - no? Anyways, I jumped head first in the deep end now and won't turn back.
Before I ramble any further, let me give you my best advice...don't listen to people like me. Stop googling and just start what you want to start, and by "start", I mean just start saying you opened a startup. Read every single thing you can get your hands on (I read 2-3 books a month and only non fiction that is focused on helping me professionally, spiritually or mentally - don't waste your time on fiction unless it's the end of the day or vacation and you need to unplug). Read...get information and let it hit your brain and be very critical about what information you let guide you and what information doesn't work for you. I would suggest a trick that I learned which was to find your top two strengths and your top two weaknesses and focus on reading only about them. I believe in data and the law of averages, so if you can strengthen your strengths, and also strengthen your weaknesses equally - all that other garbage in the middle will be elevated by proxy. And every few months see if your weaknesses are still your weaknesses and if they're not, perfect - the process is working and now you have to identify new strengths and weaknesses and start again. Like owning a business - you are never done.
So first - read. Second - do. And do, knowing that you are going to screw it up badly. The point is not to do it right, the point is to do it, so you can see if it works and if it doesn't work you will be told quickly and be able to make changes (or what the tech world calls 'pivoting'). So just do it (Nike, don't sue me). Next - talk to people. As many people as you can. And honestly - about anything, really, but preferably a topic close to where you think you are heading. I am a misanthrope by nature so this was definitely one of my weaknesses. I had to work very hard at this one and had to make it a game - how many people could I talk to in a day? A challenge. And then I would bet myself that I couldn't do one more tomorrow. And I did it - it wasn't easy, but it's also not hard if you allow yourself the option to fail. The interesting thing about talking to a lot of people is finding out how many people actually want to help you and are in your corner. People come out of the woodwork in a way I never thought possible. And you never know which one of those people holds the key to unlocking part of your journey that you were stuck on.
And lastly - do it again. All of it. Repeat it - habits are formed by doing the same thing over and over and at the end of the day, opening a company is just a bunch of habits, repeated...doing the work even when you are tired, hungover, excited, happy, sad - doesn't matter, work needs to be done. But rest is also crucial...schedule it and do NOT let yourself miss rest. I completely avoided rest or recovery for the first sixty days of this journey, pretty much worked seven days a week, and I hit the wall hard. It almost made me give up, until I took 3 days off, did nothing but things I considered "lazy", and thankfully I did, because after three days, I was ready to keep going. Rest and down time is CRUCIAL.
Now, real talk...I am a solo founder. I do not have a co-founder, so this was, at times, very lonely and mentally challenging. I spent months by myself at my kitchen island, trying to keep the negative thoughts at bay, trying to focus on the end goal and navigating around the often, daily hurdles and setbacks. Reading things that went against what I thought and realizing in that moment that I was a complete loser and WTF did I think I was doing and then going online and applying for jobs (yes, I did apply for jobs while opening a company that would be focused on helping others get jobs - a therapist will have a field day with that me one day). What I am getting at is that the behind the scenes is not as pretty as we make the pamphlet look. So know that when you start out, expect it and acknowledge it when it comes - it is all part of the process. Let it arrive, work through it (with a glass of wine) and let it carry on its way.
All in all, I know nothing. I learn by doing. You will likely be the same. Don't spend money, don't get yourself bogged down in anything you cannot get out of - sit down and think about what is the smartest and easiest (and cheapest) path of least resistance to get this company off the ground. That is the answer. To this date, I have spent probably $400 on this company. I did everything myself - learned how to build websites, learned how to edit videos, voice overs, web analytics, budgets, marketing plans, social media strategy, and yes, I even write and design the social ads. I am really hoping to secure some funding, because I would really like to focus on things other than the font size on an Instagram Story or how long each slide should remain on the screen, but I want this, and those tasks needed to be done when you start a company while unemployed, with a dwindling back account and a to-do list the length of your arm.
It took me a long time to get here, and then one day it just clicked and I knew exactly how to move forward. We focus too much as a society on days like that - the good ones, without telling about the months of blood, sweat and tears that led up to it. The months prior were gross. They were hard and filled with headaches, anxiety, frsutration, exhaustion, mental health limits, loneliness, no money, too much wine, unemployment, on and on and on. I am telling you this because unless you are one of the tech startup unicorns who get funded in the first weeks, you will likely endure the same. And it is normal and you are fine and you can breathe through it and you will survive.
So...there it is...what to expect in the first 90 days of forming a tech startup with zero tech experience. I officially launched on Feb 23rd, and I feel I have built a good foundation to give it a go. I will continue to update you, because the one thing I find lacking on the internet is a true telling of what this experience is like. And there is way too much information on what you have to do to be successful...remember, nobody knows that, but you. Follow your path, follow your gut. Godspeed...xx