How to Build a Tech Startup with Zero Tech Experience

How to Build a Tech Startup with Zero Tech Experience 1152 768 James Knight

Here’s a myth buster: tech startups are rarely tech companies.

After working with tech startups for over ten years, I’ve learned most don’t have tech founders or tech executives on day 1 or day even 180. 

If you want to start a tech company, your non-technical background has nothing to do with it.

Believe it or not, tech startups are no longer about building tech from scratch. 

As a non-technical founder, you can leverage tech adjacent, tech advisors, open AIs and APIs, or take the tech off the shelf to bring your idea to life much faster—without diluting your equity against a full-time tech executive. 

It’s all about saving costs and executing things faster: A basic mantra for startup success.

Starting a tech startup with no tech experience isn’t a made-up story. Be sure to read to the end for a recent real-life success story.

Table of Contents:

You Don’t Need Tech Experience For a Tech Startup

OK, you might not be the type to code your way to building a million-dollar tech startup. But you’re not the only one.

A 2014 study conducted in NYC by Endeavor revealed— ⅔ of tech startups are launched by founders without computer science or STEM-related backgrounds.

The significant stakes in the startup environment, whether you are a founder with tech experience or not, are big.

Every startup must turn into a profitable one or be acquired before it burns out.

A startup must address an inefficiency or issue that currently exists. This could be why effective leadership involves a blend of technical and business skills, which can come from a small group (Jobs and Wozniak) or a single person (Bezos).

“I’m not a tech guy. I’m looking at the technology with the eyes of my customers, normal people’s eyes.” – Jack Ma, Co-founder of Alibaba Group

Many tech companies without tech-savvy founders or Stanford graduates have managed to run massive tech giants.

Melody McCloskey, who founded StyleSeat; Michael Dell, the visionary behind Dell; Sean Rad, one of the co-founders of Tinder; and Steve Jobs, who founded Apple, built amazing tech products without former tech education. 

You can, too.

In this article, I will show you how to start a tech startup as a non-technical founder.

You Don’t Need a CTO to Start a Tech Startup

You’re building a tech startup, so you should be ready to invest heavily in tech, right? Bringing in a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) surely makes sense.

However, you must determine if you have the scale for a CTO to manage. Will you enjoy driving an additional role when your CTO has little to do in your early-stage startup?

But, if you are working with the right developers, freelancers, or the right kind of agency— who will not use your naivete and lack of experience or lies and obfuscates— you can make it happen. 

Side note: Even if you’re using tech adjacent, open sources and APIs to build yourself a tech product. You will need massive help in customization and implementation. That costs money and time. 

Here’s the caveat: Even with a technical co-founder, you’ll likely need technical execution support. The person you want to be in your long-term tech executive seat might not be the same person who can scrap together a bunch of different technologies at day zero. 

For the execution, you will require full-time hires, contractors, freelancers, or an agency. This can be tricky and time-consuming. Here is some help.

Hiring Developers and Freelancers For a Tech Startup

Finding the right tech support as a non-technical founder can be challenging. Here are a few ways to make it easier for your tech startup.

Use Trusted Sites To Find Talent

You can find talented developers online using trusted sites like Upwork, Linkedin, and Fiverr. Take the time to read reviews, check ratings, and verify the credentials of candidates.

Communicate Your Project Needs

Outline the scope of your project needs to potential talent. Explain the goals, deliverables, timeline, and necessary technologies or skills. It’s good to know about your desired tech here—more on this as you read on.

Request Proof of Work and Expertise

Always ask candidates for more information about their previous experience as a programmer—and request samples of their work, such as code snippets, project documentation, or links to previous projects they’ve contributed to. 

Set a Clear Budget

Agree on a project budget or hourly rate before the job begins. It sets clear expectations, reduces potential misunderstandings, and helps in budget management and legal protection.  

A Non-Tech Background is a Good Thing

Success often asks for a non-linear route. Many blame Complexity Theory for the success of many startups. 

This might explain why Airbnb didn’t originate from seasoned hotel professionals—and why not all tech companies are founded by computer scientists. 

Instead, they usually have fresh (newbie) perceptiveness. Let’s look at some examples.


In October 2007, Airbnb was started by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. Both were graduates in industrial and graphic design. They initiated Airbnb by placing an air mattress in their living room and changing it into an impromptu bed and breakfast.

The third co-founder, Nathan, a tech guy, joined in February 2008. 

But by 2009, the weekly revenue of Airbnb shrank to $200. Investors typically seek companies exhibiting exponential hockey stick-type growth. And according to co-founder Joe Gebbia, the company had a horizontal drumstick graph. The company was definitely on the edge. 

One afternoon, the Airbnb team with Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator, searched into their site’s data to figure out why things were not working.

After hours of investigation, Gebbia noticed a common thread among the 40 listings: subpar photos. With this info, the three-person team flew to New York, observed all the customer listing properties, and upgraded amateur shots to captivating high-resolution images.

Just one week later, the results were in—improving the quality of the photos had doubled their weekly revenue to $400. 

This moment of realization and swift action marked a turning point in Airbnb’s journey toward becoming the global phenomenon it is today, with a $85.89B net worth.


Shipt’s Founder, Bill Smith, dropped out of school at 16. Smith spent his career as a serial entrepreneur running multiple businesses. In 2014, he started a financial technology company, where he got familiarised with the technical space. 

Later, he identified a gap in grocery shopping and, to validate the demand, sold 1,000 memberships before writing a single line of code. His varied experiences outside of tech allowed him to replicate another success story. 

Coffee Meets Bagel

Coffee Meets Bagel’s Founder, Arum Kang, started a dating platform as a non-technical founder. She initially faced challenges with freelance developers but eventually recruited a dedicated team.

She also highly insisted on keeping MVPs simple, without too many features— to keep the costs down and put extra focus on solving customers’ vital problems and market research.

All these founders had something more than just an idea. These founders understood that launching a tech company can be expensive. They prioritized a viable business, solid processes, and a strong team in place before committing resources.

These are just a few examples of how non-technical founders, too, can make a BIG difference. 

Learn How to Code Your way to a Tech Startup

Non-technical founders often learn how to code

I know it sounds like going back to school and starting over again. 

But, some non-technical founders have made this possible. They didn’t have a budget to hire a dev and give probably $100,000. But they had time, so they invested that.

An Example – Paperstack

Vadim Lidich, the founder of Paperstack, shared his previous startup’s story of how he learned to write code for his startup from scratch. 

First, he figured out a language for development. He started learning Javascript, which was known to be a multi-purpose programming language. 

The tech product he wanted to create was a platform that would link available office space with potential tenants, effectively eliminating the need for a middleman broker. 

To learn how to code, he used YouTube. He “borrowed” a server configuration from a JavaScript tutorial on YouTube, a signup form from a project on GitHub, and set a database schema from a developer’s walkthrough on Medium. 

His co-founder also joined in; they shared duties and worked together on the project. Both handled business activities during the day, including sales calls, emails, and fundraising, while working on a prototype at night.

They started assembling each code until their real estate marketplace was complete. They were shocked that the entire platform was functional.

This is a prime example of how learning to code is not impossible for non-tech entrepreneurs who seek to learn. 

Utilize Tech Podcasts

It’s not uncommon for non-technical founders to find themselves trying to learn about technology while also raising money, managing a team, and developing a product.

If you find yourself in a similar position, tech podcasts can help you learn about tech and how the world’s favorites were developed.

Check out these Top Tech Podcasts for non-technical founders.

Learn the Basics of Starting a Tech Startup 

Can writing code help drive sales and save you enough to do what you do best? Do you have the time and patience to master it?

There’s a chance you don’t. 

Alternatively, you can learn the basics to help you team up effectively with your newly hired developers or freelancers. 

Here are four proven ways to focus on what you do best.

(1) Build Network = Networth

Use every networking opportunity available to benefit your tech startup.

Share your ideas with the industry veterans at networking events or hold interactions with current customers. Do not hesitate to ask for honest feedback and record their insights. 

This unbiased advice can help you and your development partner bring your ideal tech product to life. 

(2) Know your sh*t

No one knows your market better than you.

Help your development team by researching and adding a unique feature to your service or product. No one will do this for you; you have to do this. 

(3) Make it visible

Draw it on the board – scribble down everything.

You can demonstrate a wireframe to make it visual for your developer, where you need that widget, what type of design you seek, and the final layout you’re looking forward to.

Having a layout of what the product should look like helps keep the tech and non-tech teams on the same page.

No Nerds CEO James Knight conducting a roadmap workshop
Here I am doing this for Death Row Records this past year.

(4) Learn from others and let them know

You never know; competitors can save you big time.

It is the cheapest way to avoid mistakes. It always makes sense to focus on failure stories compared to success stories; this is how to learn what to avoid and increase the chances of a successful business future. 

To learn about international business failures, check out websites like (The name makes sense)

Internal Communication is Key For Your Tech Startup

To get the perfect outcome without the need for any further alterations,

To bridge the gap for lack of developer knowledge about your startup idea,

For faster implementation, launches, and updates,

You should master internal communication—translating your needs, market needs, and customer needs to your coder.

Otherwise, you and your development team will be confused, potentially costing you money and hours lost. This happens a lot. I take these calls regularly and hear the stories.

Non-technical founders often write out their product needs while completely omitting to consider the app’s backend. As a result, the time needed to develop an app grows.

This is why I always start every single project with an in-depth roadmap.

Tips for communicating with your dev team

The following tips will help not only when hiring developers or freelancers but also when working together on the all-important product you’re bringing to market:

  • Know the standard developer terms like DevOps, Frameworks, CSS, CSS3, HTML, and HTML5
  • Outline your must-haves 
  • Divide your project plan into bite-sized chunks
  • Dedicate a timeline to each task 
  • Stay ahead of your developers 
  • Don’t assume; confirm things. Everything.

Why Early-Stage Tech Startups Must Presell

There are startup projects and startup businesses; the difference is sheer— is someone buying from you? Do you have any customers, maybe 100 or even 10? 

You can’t be a tech startup founder just by declaring you are one.

You must have a graph going upward and up to the right.

You’ll be an unfunded founder, and your self-proclaimed title won’t carry much weight until you’ve actually achieved something. When you sell something to someone, people start to pay attention. 

That’s why execution is the most vital. 

Many founders I have worked with made this mistake. They don’t start preselling.

A Prime Example

Tom Sagi, Co-Founder and CEO of Hourly, realized that his family’s construction business needed an update to manage his hourly workers’ time and pay. But he couldn’t find a single app that could do everything.

To bridge the gap despite having no prior experience building a tech firm. In 2018, he introduced Hourly, an all-in-one application to handle time and attendance, payroll, and workers’ compensation insurance with a single click. Also, it successfully raised $7.2 million. 

But he waited.

Marketing was put on hold while Sagi built the Hourly platform. He believed that a product couldn’t be marketed unless all the issues were resolved and it was flawless.

But product promotion requires time. He might have started developing Hourly’s brand and audience throughout that development period and created the groundwork for launching Hourly.

Instead, he launched his client acquisition and branding initiatives from scratch when he was ready to launch the platform. 

So, don’t just sit and wait for things to complete. Trust your idea.

You have to make your move now.

Storymapping Can Speed Everything Up

In 2005, Jeff Patton introduced storymapping to address a common problem in projects: focusing on feature development at the expense of the overall user experience and agile software development. 

What is Storymapping?

Storymapping is a technique that visually represents how a solution will be developed incrementally with fast feedback cycles. 

Unfortunately, most tech startups don’t storymap, and more often than not, they end up wasting 6-figures and months building the wrong product with the wrong team.

This happened to several of our most important clients.

Here’s how storymapping is a game-changer for tech startups:

Comprehensive Visualization

User storymapping provides a complete and comprehensive visual representation of a project or product, allowing teams to see the entire landscape of tasks and features at once.

A diagram showing the stormapping process of an app and its user features.
Storymapping Visualization
Gap analysis

Teams can spend time developing solutions and identifying the jigsaw pieces lacking from the solution.


Teams can easily rearrange user stories on the story map to determine the optimal sequence of processes for end-users. This helps in prioritizing “must-have” stories.

Avoid waste

With a holistic vision, teams can prevent over-engineering or developing superfluous features. 

Shared Understanding

Allows team members to connect the dots between user stories, features, releases, and the overall product roadmap, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Key points from the Patton, J & Economy, P, 2014, User Story Mapping book sketched out with the writer in the background.
Source: Patton, J & Economy, P, 2014, User Story Mapping book

How to Prioritize Storymapping Steps

Minimum Viable Product – For example, if you’re making an app, your million-dollar MVP might be as basic as allowing users to log in and perform an important action.

Prioritization – You can determine which steps are necessary (must-haves) and which ones are nice to have but not critical (could-haves). This way, you ensure you address the most important user needs. 

Mitigated risk – Storymapping is like a pair of binoculars for spotting potential challenges or roadblocks in your project plan. It helps you identify the riskier areas that could cause problems down the road.

Success Story – A Tech Startup with No Experience (or Money)

BlueVerse came to us as a tech startup with no experience whatsoever and without a penny to build anything. These three young entrepreneurs were just about able to raise the funds for a roadmap workshop.

Without writing any code or hiring a single developer, they created a 12-month, step-by-step roadmap and a clickable prototype in just five days. They showcased their roadmap and functioning prototype to investors, which allowed them to close a 6-figure seed round.

The tech startup is experiencing rapid growth, raising $1M @ $5M valuation in seed financing backed by an elite advisory board, with over $70M generated for its partnered businesses.

BlueVerse CEO Mason Still holding two checks the startup received for funding.
BlueVerse CEO Mason Still, with the all-important funding

A founder can come from any walk of life, and you don’t need to learn how to create an app if you are an entrepreneur with the desire to launch an app; instead, you need to understand how to complete tasks.

Market research, sales prowess, fundraising, monetization strategy, and hiring are key qualities that contribute to your tech startup’s success. Non-tech leaders need to be good at attracting technical talent.

Teams with various expertise, where individuals complement each other and work together to achieve common goals, have the highest chance of success.

Starting a Tech Startup?

4 Things Founders Can Do to Keep Their Process Fresh

4 Things Founders Can Do to Keep Their Process Fresh 1200 844 James Knight

As a company grows, its processes most scale.

Or, they can decay.

Here are 4 things you can do to make sure your processes scale alongside your company.

🧍‍♀️ 1. Focus on People

99% of process problems start with people.

The right team following bad process will get the job done.

The wrong team with perfect process will fail anyways.

Any process audit has to start by understanding your people.

Start with your team, not your tools.

👑 2. Start at the Top

The people usually blamed for process are the ones at the bottom

But process comes from the top.

When investigating a failing process, always start with leadership and work your way down.

The bottleneck is usually near the top of the bottle.

⏳ 3. Explore the Fractal Hourglass

At every process level, there are four types of people involved:
– Stakeholders
– Executive
– Manager
– Contributors

These form an hourglass shape.

The SEMC Hourglass chart
The SEMC Hourglass

1. The top half is concerned with Strategy.
2. The bottom half is concerned with Tactics.

☝️ On the top half of the hourglass, the Executive sets the strategy and communicates it up to one or more Stakeholders.

They decide where the ship is headed.

If the destination is the wrong one upon arrival, they’re the ones at fault.

If the Strategy has failed, the Executive has failed.

👇 On the bottom half, the Manager receives the strategy from the Executive and translates it into tactics for the Contributors to implement.

They decide what direction the ship should point to reach its destination.

If the ship doesn’t arrive at the correct destination, they’re the ones at fault.

If the Tactics have failed, the Manager has failed.

This pattern starts at the top and repeats itself at each process layer.

A Fractal Hourglass.

🌹 4. Make Lifecycle Charts

When investigating process, we often start with our org chart.

But to establish clear processes, we need to understand our process lifecycle.

Consider the following questions as we move down the Hourglass:
– Where does a need originate?
– Who prioritizes needs?
– Who is responsible for describing the need to the team?
– Who is responsible for conceptualizing an answer to the need?
– Who is responsible for executing that concept?

And then, on the way back up the Hourglass:
– Who is responsible for making sure the deliverable matches the concept?
– Who is responsible for making sure that concept responds to the described need?
– Who is responsible for making sure the described need actually matches the original?

Visualize the answers in Lifecycle Charts.

Chart them out. Then assign someone to each seat and establish accountability.

☝️ As companies grow, processes age. As they age, they can mature.

Or they can decay.

To keep your processes fresh, make a habit of reviewing them.

And then:

🧍‍♀️ 1. Focus on People
👑 2. Start at the Top
⏳ 3. Explore the Fractal Hourglass
🌹 4. Build Lifecycle Charts

Early-stage founder?

Unveiling Customer’s True Pain: 4 Questions for Founders to Uncover Real Problems

Unveiling Customer’s True Pain: 4 Questions for Founders to Uncover Real Problems 1200 844 James Knight

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

Successful startups must talk to customers. But as Ford said, they can’t just ask those customers what they want.

They have to “excavate the problem.”

Here are the 4 types of questions founders can use to identify their customer’s true problems.

1. “Last Time” Questions

These are the best way to kick off a customer interview.

“Tell me about the last bag of coffee that you purchased.”

Grounding the customer in a real experience helps you get real feedback. It keeps the customer focused on their lived experience instead of spouting off speculation.

Focusing on experience can uncover pain points like “horses smell,” “they’re expensive to feed,” and “stables are large and expensive.”

Failing to do so gets you “faster horses.”

2. Generalizing Questions

After describing a single experience, generalizing questions can help the customer move to another—potentially different—moment in time.

“Is that typical when you buy coffee?”

Now the customer is scanning their memory for other times they bought coffee, looking for anything particularly noteworthy.

These questions are critical when you feel like the first instance the customer brought up may not be indicative of their typical experience.

Imagine your customer telling you that the last time they bought a bag of coffee, they were on vacation in Hawai’i, and bought one right on the plantation.

That’s probably not their typical experience.

Generalizing questions help your customer move from one experience to another. But they can also kick them into speculation mode.

If your customer begins waxing poetic about what “buying coffee” means to them, it’s a good time to bring them back down with our next question type.

3. Focusing Questions

When the customer’s head is in the clouds, it’s time to bring them back to Earth.

Focusing questions help us do that.

Imagine your customer is saying that where a coffee comes from is the #1 quality they look for when at the store.

We can bring them back to their lived experience by simply asking:

“The last bag of coffee you bought, where was it from?”

Often, customers are less principled than they believe themselves to be. Focusing questions help us cut through the platonic bullshit and come back down to their actual actions.

Sometimes we’ll also notice inconsistencies between specific experiences the customer describes.

To analyze those, we can use…

4. Comparison Questions

Comparison questions compare a specific instance with another.

Like generalizing questions, they can be useful for identifying inconsistencies between what a customer believes to be true and what they’ve actually done.

They can also help us uncover the context that drove changes in behavior.

If your customer typically only buys coffee from local organic roasters, but last weekend they bought a tin of Folgers at the grocery store, understanding why those instances differ is key to identifying what drives your customer’s decisions.

“This time you said you bought coffee from your local roaster, but last time you just but a tin at the store. Why?”

Maybe they were sick. Maybe their mother-in-law was in town. Maybe they were behind on rent.

Lateral questions can help us identify the real “why” behind each of these experiences.

💯 Talking to customers is a must

But we can’t just ask them what they want.

Successful founders know how to “excavate” their customers’ real problems using four types of questions:

  1. “Last Time” Questions: Triggering the customer’s most recent experience.
  2. Generalizing Questions: Motivating the customer to scan their memory for similar, noteworthy experiences.
  3. Focusing Questions: Cutting through the customer’s speculation to ground them back in a specific instance.
  4. Comparison Questions: Forcing the customer to justify why they acted differently between experiences.

Early-stage founder?

Why do Founders Often Struggle to Be Heard?

Why do Founders Often Struggle to Be Heard? 1024 655 James Knight

The MICE quotient is an invaluable tool for understanding the story you’re telling.

It’s a concept that comes from fiction but applies equally well to sales and marketing.

By understanding the four MICE conflicts, founders can turn their vision into a captivating narrative.

Good stories are the same — in fiction, non-fiction, or copy. They all revolve around conflict.

The MICE quotient describes the four primary sources of conflict you can use:

1. 🗺️ Milieu
2. ❓ Inquiry
3. 🦋 Character
4. 🌋 Event.

Let’s explore each one:

🗺️ Milieu conflicts focus on the setting of the story.

A Milieu story begins when our character(s) enter a new place.

It ends when they exit.

In Milieu conflicts, the struggle to leave entertains and educates us.

For products, Milieu stories are about our customers returning to a place of comfort.

Something has changed, and they’ve entered a new, scary world.

Our product helps them return to the one they came from.

❓ Inquiry conflicts focus on a question.

An Inquiry story begins when our character(s) discover a question they don’t know the answer to.

It ends when they find that answer.

In marketing, Inquiry stories are best used to entice the customer into reading more.

We open the loop with a question they’re dying to know the answer to (“But how?!”).

We close the loop when we’re ready to move on to the next big question.

🦋 Character conflicts focus on character transformation.

They begin when our character becomes dissatisfied with their life or their circumstances.

They end when the character transforms into the person they want to be.

Character stories are best used as the over-arching narrative our customer moves through.

At the start, they’re not achieving their full potential.

They want more.

Our product or service helps them become that better person.

🌋 Event conflicts are all about changing the status quo.

Something big has happened. Our characters have to respond.

Event conflicts begin when the status quo is threatened.

They end when the character is returned to the status quo or to a better version of it.

Event conflicts are great for discussing your company’s role in the narrative.

They’re perfect for answering “why now?” What changed in your customer’s world to make your product relevant today?

In 2023, there are plenty of “events” to use in your stories.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the explosion of AI.

Each one of these threatens the status quo and provides new conflicts your customers have to navigate.

Understanding the MICE quotient can help you craft compelling stories & captivate your customers.

Use the 4 conflicts:

1. 🗺️ Milieu
2. ❓ Inquiry
3. 🦋 Character
4. 🌋 Event.

And watch your vision spread to customers, investors, and the world.

Early-stage founder?

Recession, Who Cares? – Why Founders Should Embrace the Recession, Not Run From It

Recession, Who Cares? – Why Founders Should Embrace the Recession, Not Run From It 1024 667 James Knight

Recession. A big scary word.

When the economy shrinks, there’s less for everyone. Less money in the money stream. Fewer jobs on the job tree.

When markets slow, growth slows.

But not for startups.

Recessions are macro-level events.

They affect the market as a whole.

If you’re at market scale (think Google or Amazon), then they affect you greatly.

Google (~30% of online ad revenue) and Amazon (~40% of online retail spend) are the market.

They’re macro-level companies.

But startups aren’t macro-level.

Macro-level changes aren’t evenly distributed.

Even if the system as a whole is trending one way, parts of the system can trend the other.

Global temperatures have risen ~1C since 1900 [1].

But 2022’s winter storms brought record-lows in many American cities [2].

These aren’t contradictory.

Recessions are no different.

Just like the climate, it’s possible for some areas to cool while others experience record heat.

Startups just need to go where it’s hot.

Macro changes cause migrations.

Rising temperatures in Burgundy threaten the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs.

But that same warmth in England is helping them produce quality sparkling wine for the first time in history.

Startups should be planting in England, not farming in Burgundy.

What does this mean for founders?

For the first time in a decade, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have hit the PAUSE button on their growth.

They’re not throwing piles of money at every tech hire in the country. They’re not investing in new, risky industries.

They’ve shut themselves in the cave, hoping to wait out the winter.

The biggest predators in the woods are sleeping.

As a founder, recessions shouldn’t scare you.

Change runs through your veins.

Fuck the Macro. Embrace the Micro.

Early-stage founder?