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Yep! I'm a non-funded, non-technical, single founder! I spun a couple of weeks thinking about the founder-shaming dialogues I have had with people of all backgrounds. Living in the Bay Area, and being a non-funded, single, and non-technical founder is either seen as a high probability of failure or as an indication of lack seriousness on behalf of the founder. Just read the application of any well-known or for that matter, any not so well-known incubators and venture capitalists, and in the first 2 to 3 questions you'll come across favoritism toward teams and technical backgrounds. As if the investing community have nailed the anatomy of a successful startup and their selection criteria is a colon of the so-called startup stereotype of a technical team worthy of getting funded. Some go to the extent of declaring their lack of interest in the project itself and focusing on the team only. Majority of even idea-stage venture capitalists and investors reject projects on the basis of being a single and non-technical founder. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of some sort! By the virtue of not being technical and being single you lose the monetary backing and mentorship of the very same people who can help you find a team and close the skill gaps - including but not exclusive to technical skills. So what should you do if you fall in the the non-fundable quadrant of the startup world?
"Find a technical cofounder as soon as possible, or forget about getting funded and consequently succeeding", said or implied most of the people and mentors I have been talking to in the past couple of weeks. At first, it gave me chills! Am I doomed to fail? If my project doesn't have the anatomy of a successful startup, will it fail? Is finding a technical cofounder and team is my utmost priority? If a technical cofounder is the key to become fundable and consequently successful, then what is the value of a business founder like me? These were questions keep dancing in front of my eyes for every second in the past couple of weeks. The answer might have been "giving it up", or "going back to work and making progress with the startup idea as a side project", or it could have even been "finding a cofounder". I was open to all those possible answers, but I was not willing to accept the advice I was given per the anatomy of a successful startup without giving myself a chance to think through it. Here is the summary of three dialogues I have had with me, myself and I to answer those questions:
Problem # 1: Can the project succeed without a technical cofounder?
Getting to that "no" answer was not easy. It took me several days, thinking and chatting with advisors and potential customers to refine the original idea and mold it into something that customers and users would still use and get value from while it can be delivered using an off-the-shelf software out there. Not every startup project needs a technical cofounder assuming that 1) it is not building a new technology but rather using it to deliver its products, and 2) the business founder is open to refine the delivery model to lend itself to an off-the-shelf solution without sacrificing the core value. These two criteria might disqualify your project as a startup but would that matter? You could be just a company enabled by technology.
Problem # 2: Can the project succeed without a team?
There is no doubt that having a team is valuable from two perspective: 1) sounding board and discussion partner, 2) faster or better execution. Former is only applicable when you have at least couple of key activities and they are on hold because you have too many things to do. Unless you are not overwhelmed by the volume of key activities, you do not need a team just yet. The former value of a team as a sounding board and discussion partner can be replaced by your advisory panel. Your advisors do not need to be experienced older mentors. They could be anyone with the skillset different from you who can bring a new perspective. Set up an advisory panel and engage with them regularly in the form of monthly/weekly updates and regular check-ins. Talk with them through the questions you want to answer and discuss the problem you want to solve as if they were your team.
Not every project needs to be funded. Specially if you are a rather experienced business founder with a supportive life partner and some savings that can be allocated to the project. Focusing on getting funded too early or when you do not need it is rather a distraction. Only explore raising funds if you have 2-3 key activities that you cannot afford to do and they are critical to the success for your project.
Problem # 3: Can the project succeed without funding?
At last, I decided to keep going as a single founder, non-technical, non-funded project. They may not call me a startup, but I rather succeed than being a startup. I may never get funded, but I rather find those paying customers than getting funded. Getting funded is not a goal, it is just a means to an end. They may not put my name in the list of hot startups to watch in 20XX, but I rather build a company that creates value for its customers than getting street credit in the Bay Area meetups and xyzCons. I'm not ashamed of being a single founder, non-technical and non-funded. But rather I'm curious to see how far these titles would take me!
Call me startup or not, at the end of the day, I do not need to have the anatomy of a successful startup to be one!
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