Business Strategy · Marketing Strategy

As a non-technical founder should I learn programming or hire engineers to save costs?

Pasy Freelancer, Motivational Speaker , Volunteer

November 6th, 2017

Even tho I would not mind to learn programming I just don't think it's economical. The business-side of me keeps telling me that's too long to wait as much as it sounds ideal to me right now from a perspective of saving cash and reducing risk.

From some of the research I have done it looks like it would take 2-3 years and languages like Ajax PHP MySQL under one year. My take is that coding takes a lot of brain juice and energy that might be better allocated to investing in business strategy, marketing, making connections, hiring people, writing business plans, pitching etc

What do you think?

Ambroise de La Gorce CEO @RecoHero, B2B sales expert | looking for a tech co-founder for an e-commerce SaaS product

Last updated on November 6th, 2017

I was in the exact same situation a few months back, I hope my personal experience on how it turned out will help you.

I knew nothing about coding, database architecture, languages, frameworks, servers and so on. I lacked of expertise and mainly needed to focus on the business side of things to get things moving, eventhough the tech was a major priority. Learning how to code is a long-process, while just hiring someone might not be a great solution on the long-term.

What has worked for me (and what I would suggest you to do) is to hire a part-time senior developer as a PM/CTO/Technical Advisor for 6 months. Just dedicate 2 hours per day talking to the guy to ask him any questions, if he's good enough he will be able to answer you everything you need to know and walk you through the process.

Help him understand your vision of the business, while letting him manage a cost-effective outsourced technical team to build your MVP and letting him take technical decisions. Eventually even if you won't know how to code per say, you'll understand how it's done. You'll be able to lead your tech team yourself after 6 months and even make tech-related decisions, while taking care of the business side of things.

Happy to hear other suggestions, hope it will work out for you nicely.

EDIT: Also if you want some fair advice, drop the idea of PHP. Instead, focus on efficient and high-potential new tech like node.js, express.js and react. Personal opinion ;)

Jayram Joshi Venture Technologist, Enterpreneur,Agile,Devops

Last updated on November 10th, 2017

Building a startup is very demanding. It is very demanding even when you are focused on doing things that you have expertise in. Acquiring a new skill, in this case programming can make the task even more daunting.

The only reason why you would want to do it yourself is if you have absolutely no cash to pay an engineer or you can't find engineers who will work only on sweat equity. Otherwise my suggestion would be to hire/partner with an engineer(s). Ideally you should go with a combination of fixed monthly salary & a stake.

As a startup founder one of the challenges you will face is , there will be many people who will want to work for you if you pay lot of cash. They will not necessarily be passionate about the product or have skin in the game. Offering some stake for lesser upfront payments takes care of this challenge to some degree

Jeff Lillibridge Digital jack of all trades and idea guy

November 6th, 2017

Great question and I am currently going through the same on my end.

One thing to consider is that if your MVP doesn't need to be too complicated, there are tools out there like Bubble where you build web and mobile apps with no coding experience. This might get you to a spot where you can validate some assumptions and gain a little bit of traction - maybe enough to get you to the next step of securing investment. Then, when the time comes you can use that funding to hire a CTO & development team to build out a more sophisticated and scalable product.

Chetan Amin Founder CEO

November 8th, 2017

Pasy, Look at option like to build your web application without programming. If you need help contact support their services are free and should help you.

Anton Hughes Tech and experienced lean fintech startup

November 6th, 2017

It may not be economical to be come a good programmer. But spending some time learning the basics will give you the ability to communicate better with developers.

As well as learning the basics, you should also consider finding yourself a technical co-founder.

Richard Rosenthal Owner at Unbound

Last updated on November 7th, 2017

Take a shot at learning to code and see how far you get with it. Absolute worst case scenario, you lose maybe a month but develop a better understanding of what you're looking for in a developer, the vocabulary of the industry, and the various types of work that go into a project like you're looking at. I have personally quit projects because the only reason a client was being billed for features was they didn't know any better. On the opposite end, I've watched stubborn owners throw away money on features at the wrong time or which would predictably not be needed because they didn't understand enough about the process.

Best case scenario, you find a knack for it (even just a small part of the process), and are able to spread your resources farther (pay for a supplemental developer AND some design work, or advertising, etc). I even have a client right now who taught themselves to code while I was working on one of their projects, and now I just occasionally advise them as a consultant when they run into a wall.

Also note that you don't have to create a finished product for a coding endeavor to be worth while. Developing a MVP or even just basic proof of concept is a worthy middle ground between learning it all yourself and hiring everything out.

Either way I endorse the idea that a relationship with a developer for consultation at this point can only help.

Techs you mite want to look at either for learning or that a developer you hire would probably use:

Django (Python)

Laravel (PHP)

Rails (Ruby)

React,Node(JS) - note that react can be used along with django, laravel, or rails

Lastly, I want to respectfully disagree about some previous advice given on forgetting about PHP - PHP has a bad rep (arguably deserved) among developers because of its history (which at this point is just that), but if you're looking at a startup, either learning on your own or bootstrapping a team, Laravel (a PHP framework) is an excellent choice.

Guy Brockless Head of Growth Marketing

Last updated on November 7th, 2018

Good question, it's a dilemma almost every non-technical founder faces and there is no one right answer. Below I've considered a few possible scenarios depending on the stage of your product and my take on solutions:

1. You only have an idea, no validation from target market or MVP:

  • Use 3rd parties to construct a data driven market validation process or (do it yourself) - briefly, this could look something like:
    • Have wireframes and mockups built and display them on a pre-launch landing page. Run marketing campaigns to drive traffic to the page. Measure engagement, interact with early adopters to understand needs/pains. Use data to plan MVP

2. You know there's a market, you just need an MVP to start getting traction

  • Using an agency or specialist team makes good sense here. Building an inhouse team would be costly upfront and risky (bad hires, wasted time, not able to test devs for quality before hiring)
  • Make sure you choose a company with a track record of working with startups and developing lean MVPs (not corporates!). One which demonstrates an understanding of your business vision and it's end-goal. Ensure they understand and work with you to plan an MVP development roadmap (not the whole product built now - it's a waste, build something lean, test your assumptions with your target audience, continue or pivot).

3. You have already built and tested an MVP, achieved product-market fit and proof of traction and wish to scale:

  • Do not outsource - the software is your core offering and too valuable to be handled by a 3rd party. Build an in-house team of A players to continue the development of your product.

If you're ready to hire an in-house team, make sure you test them sufficiently, use a technical talent sourcing service or hire an experienced CTO. My answer to a previous question may be helpful to you here:

How to hire and test developers as a non-technical person?

Great question, when hiring developers (something we do very often) we follow this format once the developer has passed the interview stage:

  • Complete 2 challenges on CodePen
    • Challenge 1 - Creating a responsive form
    • Challenge 2 - Finding and fixing bugs in code
    • Example feedback
      • 9.5/10 (+) Overall working solution
        (+) Really unique and clean styling
        (+) Event optimization
        (+) Query optimization
        (+) Documented code
        (-) Minor issues with memory optimization (uneeded data attributes)
        (-) He could apply a little cleaning in his code but nothing major
      • 2/10 (+) Working Solution
        (+) Unique styling
        (+) Optimized events
        (-) Didn't follow the no globals rule resulting in a simplified solution that we can't review all aspects of his skills
        (-) No comments
        (-) Copies complete form and appends multiple forms to the dom
  • Complete a testing task from one of our live projects
    • Usually a feature that is fairly standalone and doesn't require huge knowledge of existing project.

We keep detailed notes in a spreadsheet regarding each developer, their progress in testing periods and even beyond that once they are hired. This is to make sure we are investing time and effort in growing our talent.
As a non-technical person I wouldn't risk hiring technical talent yourself, especially if you have limited funds. You may end up with a working prototype but if the developer made the wrong choice of technologies, didn't annotate the code or provide good documentation then you could find yourself with something you'll have to scrap completely and rebuild from scratch later.

Sara Tateno Strategist, web developer and all round nice person. Founder of

November 8th, 2017

I was in a similar situation but given that 90% of startups fail, decided to take the plunge and learn to code first so that I could start anything without needing to find a cofounder or have a stack of cash. Coding bootcamps only take 2-3 months - I built the alpha version of my site and that then helped attract tech talent and ££. You don't need to go that far, but I found a little technical understanding goes a very long way in working with developers.

Your best bet is to do what you can to prove traction without needing to develop anything, and using those proof points to attract a co-founder and/or investment.

if you've got money to burn, then as others have said get a tech advisor on board and pay for a developer. But do spend some time user testing your product 'on paper' beforehand.

Matthew Mackintosh Student, Programmer, analytical thinker, green energy service provider, researcher, ideologist.

November 6th, 2017

While you hire engineers to help write your codes, take out time to learn how to code just task yourself say two to three hours a day and it would just be a part of you. But spend more time building your team.

Maninder Gill Founder CEO,

November 7th, 2017

It depends on what part technology plays in your business. If its a big enough part (say... if the value that your business creates cannot exist without the technology ) I would say, find yourself a co-founder who can take care of technology. If technology is a smaller part, you could look at hiring - start with someone senior who still likes to code. Someone that makes sure you are not

required to do anything technical. Make sure this someone sticks around for the long haul - its very difficult to replace people who builds the foundations of a technology solution.

Learning technology is not about knowing how to program in a language or 2, its a lot of other things that comes only with lots of time. Can you imagine learning business strategy, marketing, making connections, ability to hire a good team, writing business plans and pitching well in 2-3 years. Its roughly the same with technology.