Finding the Technical Know-How to Build Your Great Startup Idea

PW_24_1.jpgHere’s a common problem that many aspiring ed-tech entrepreneurs face: They have a great idea, but they don’t know how to build it.

In fact, I think this is the most common challenge educators face when trying to launch an ed-tech startup. They know exactly what they want to create—thanks to their years of experience in the classroom—but often they aren’t developers, so they don’t have the technical expertise to build it.

There are three ways to handle this situation:

1. Hire Someone

PW_24_2.jpgOne option is to hire someone to build your ed-tech product/service for you. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. For one thing, it can be hard to figure out whom to hire. There are many developers out there, but they’re not all necessarily good, or honest. A friend of ours lost quite a bit of money when the developer he hired didn’t actually deliver on his contract. You can mitigate this risk by getting referrals and references, but it can still be hard to know whom to hire, particularly when you don’t have the technical expertise to evaluate the person’s work.

Another challenge is that you need money to hire someone (often, quite a lot of money) and you may need to continue paying for the developer(s) even after the initial version is built. Because if you don’t have the technical skills in-house to manage your product/service, then you’ll need to pay your outside developer(s) to maintain the site, make changes, create updates, etc., for as long as you’re running the startup. These costs can add up really fast.

2. Learn Yourself

PW_24_3.jpgYou can always learn to code yourself. There are many resources to help you learn how to build a website and do some elementary coding (see Code Academy, Treehouse, Code School, even Khan Academy). There are also coding bootcamps that can train you to become an entry-level developer in just eight to 12 weeks (see this NPR article).

But, in my experience (and maybe I’m just a slow learner), it takes a lot longer to get proficient than you think. It’s one thing to put together a basic, 2008ish-looking, functional website with some links and text. It’s a whole other thing to put together a slick, modern-looking site with all the features that you probably want and then open it up to the public. It’s unlikely that a few hours of coding lessons online will teach you everything you need to know. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to code though. I’ll write my next post about why I think it’s still important to learn, even if you don’t plan to build things yourself.

3. Partner With Someone

PW_24_4.jpgThis is the most popular option. And in my case, I lucked out. My co-founder, a web developer, also happens to be my significant other. (See my previous blog post). But for many aspiring entrepreneurs, the first step on their startup journey, is finding a technical co-founder who can help them build their great idea.

If this is the path you’re considering, here are some great blog posts/articles about what to think about when searching for technical talent. They’re a few years old but they’re still highly relevant. They also raise issues worth considering when searching for any technical talent, including if you’re considering hiring outside developers.

Humbled MBA Blog: Please, please, please stop asking how to find a technical co-founder

This great blog post talks about how you don’t find a technical co-founder, you earn one. You should also check out the Hacker News comments to the post.

Martin Gruner: No, I won’t be your Technical Co-Founder

This great blog post, by a developer, talks about why he turns people down when they ask him to be their technical co-founder. Definitely worth reading. Also, check out the Hacker News comments.

Founder Dating: Questions to Ask Potential Cofounders: The Master List

This article is more of a general reference. Many of these questions also apply if you’re planning to hire a developer. Also, check out the Hacker News comments.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions @professorword.

Until next time,


See also:

  Have questions or feedback? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @professorword!

Photo Credit: Flickr user Marjan Krebelj, Flazingo Photos, Michael Pollak, and Vancouver Film School






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