founder stories

Starting a tech startup as a non-technical person

For the folks in this group who can’t code to save their lives, let me start this off by saying you do not need a technical background to start a tech company.

It’s OK if you can’t code an app, build a software product, or even create a GPT wrapper. While other people are focused on building the product, you have the opportunity to specialize in something just as (or more) important: distribution

Our team loves this tweet from Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch. You see, most first-time founders spend countless hours creating beautiful, tech-heavy products. 

In contrast, serial entrepreneurs are more interested in understanding their customers, validating their ideas, and nailing their marketing efforts. They only want to build new things if their customers demand them. 

And this mindset is a huge competitive advantage.

Mastering distribution is an art. In this week’s episode of Uncapped Notes, we share examples of how two non-technical founders built successful tech startups by validating their ideas before building a product. 

How Stitch Fix generated $1M in revenue with no code

Katrina Lake was a student at Harvard Business School when she had an idea to create a personalized fashion startup. This little idea later became Stitch Fix, a public company that’s currently valued at $470M.

Stitch Fix uses a lot of artificial intelligence, sophisticated inventory management, and complicated logistics to make everything work. How did Katrina build this without having a tech background?

Well before Katrina built anything, she had to first answer the ultimate test: will people pay money for this? 

So the first version of Stitch Fix was nothing complex. Katrina created a simple Google form that asked customers for their clothing and shopping preferences. Then Katrina would use those preferences to manually shop for the customers herself. 

People loved the results and service they received, not knowing it was just Katrina behind her computer doing everything. They continued to use the service and started telling their friends about Stitch Fix. It’s been rumored that this Google form alone generated $1M in revenue. 

Without spending a lot of money or time to build a fancy product, Katrina validated that there was a big market for personalized shopping. This manual work didn’t scale, but it gave her a front-row seat on what customers actually wanted. And since she had traction and momentum on her side, it became a lot easier to recruit technical talent later on.

How Eric Bahn started multiple tech companies as a non-tech founder

Eric Bahn, one of the general partners at Hustle Fund, didn’t graduate with a computer science degree. Or even a business degree. He graduated with a degree in sociology. But somehow Eric managed to build successful businesses and co-found a VC firm investing in tech startups. 

How did he do it? Let’s use his last company as an example. 

Read Your Story is a personalized children’s book company that Eric started with his sister. They wanted to create children’s books that featured the names and actual faces of kids as a gifting company. 

To validate the idea, they didn’t write or print a single book. Instead, they ran Facebook ads to see whether they could add people to their waiting list, inexpensively. Each lead costs between $0.50 - $1 per email with dozens of people asking, “When can we make our children’s books with you?” 

Only when they had customer demand did they start to recruit people to build the tech. 

PSA to all non-technical founders

Both Eric and Katrina’s stories sound simple, but this type of thinking is not common. When founders pitch Hustle Fund, most focus on their product. They usually don’t emphasize the customer research they’ve done or how much traction they have.

Great startups need to focus on both product and distribution. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to code. Discard the idea that you have to be a technical founder if you want to build a technical startup.

Investors love hustlers who are scrappy, resourceful, and determined to nail distribution. And if you can successfully prove there is a big opportunity, technical talent will be more excited to join your mission.