I get the sense that when I tell people I’m the non-tech founder, I lose their respect. Why are marketing/sales founders treated like the lowest life form in startups?


  • you should stop worrying about what people think. it’s hard – everyone goes through moments like this in some form whether its a role, product, etc. but my guess is you’re doing what you’re doing for the challenge. change perception through action/accomplishments. focus on hitting home runs with your end of things.

  • Its not about being a non-tech founder, its about credibility. Many successful tech companies have been started by non-tech founders – a lot of whom come from Oracle – Tom Siebel (Siebel Systems), SalesForce.com (Marc Benioff). These guys were primarily in Sales, the key part being, they had the necessary domain knowledge to be credible.

    Normally people tend to be skeptical of non-founders who are building “concept” startups. If you’re building a company that you have little background in, people would give a pass to technical founders since the technical folks could build it themselves and in the process they could iterate on the idea and pivot to a different product should needs change. If for example, your idea is to create a “customer feedback platform for consumer goods companies” but you have neither the technical background or have worked with CPG in the past, then people are going to be skeptical.

    However, say you were VP of Sales at Caterpillar and you’re starting an industrial procurement platform for heavy equipment, I’m sure everyone is going to take you seriously.

    @Jake

    • I don’t understand why pivoting seemingly excludes the non-tech members of a team?

      The startup pivots and the startup team work towards that pivot.

      • Well I might have been mistaken when I assumed that OP doesn’t have a technical team (ie. pre MVP or pre-product). If he’s the non-technical founder of a team that has a tech chops its different.

        A lot of non-technical founders pre-MVP rope in programming “volunteers” to help them build the MVP or outsource the programming and it makes pivoting a lot harder since it basically means starting from scratch vs repurposing the codebase.

  • Don’t worry about your perceptions of how people are reacting – just go kick ass. Success tends to cause that other stuff to melt away.

    • Agree. Everyone has limited value outside their own expertise. Imagine your lead developer trying to sell your investors or customers..he probably feels pretty damn inadequate too.

      Belief and salesmanship are what (I wager) will get you respect. The guy on a mission shouldn’t have time for these concerns. Don’t make time for these concerns.

  • I’m non-techie myself and for most of last year had learning to code as a milestone on my roadmap, I’d totally absorbed the cultural group think that having the ability to code is essential for startup founders.

    I interviewed for a scholarship for a coding course and it was awful -I performed horribly in the aptitude tests, all the worst memories of my maths O level lessons flooded through my mind. I left that interview believing I’d failed and that my startup journey was doomed.

    This is nonsense of course, marketing sales financials are all necessary expertise to have in a company, devaluing them can also create a only-developers-are-unicorns culture and if that’s what it’s like where you are I’m not surprised you’re frustrated.

    Cultural change is hard but necessary, why not have a dialogue with your cofounders and discuss what you can do differently?

  • The people that have started companies know how incredibly valuable these skill sets are. As for everyone else, next. The tech and non-tech components both bring a huge value and they should be respected as such.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions of what makes a great company. Whether its from the glory that the media has laied at the feet of coders over the last few years, or the general hubris that many smart geeks carry, technical skills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The biggest failure for most young techies is believing that the world will beat a path to your door if you just build the greatest widget/service. Fortunately for you, that is a fallacy and a death sentence for any new venture.

    Contrary to news reports there is no shortage of great engineering talent, there is a shortage of great sales and marketing talent. Far too many companies are being launched by engineers who dont have a clue as to what the market wants or needs let alone the ability to sell.

  • Take heart in knowing that Steve Jobs was a non-tech co-founder.

    Try not to feel bad, but the world views engineers as magicians. Reality or not, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  • Wait until the next shakeout happens with these tech “founders” and “CEOs” who know shit about markets, customers, and running a firm. Then we’ll see who is treated how, the nerd f*ing up the product again or the last man standing bringing in a new customer.

    • That’s a very poor and amateurish outlook; if you’re being serious, you need to grow up. I wrote my first line of code when I was 11. I spent a decade turning down development jobs because I wanted to focus on learning how to build a successful technology business. I went from technical degree (CS) to somewhat technical role to fully non-technical role just so that I could have a handle on marketing, mar-com, product management, sales, etc. Long before that I worked in telemarketing selling AT&T Called ID telephones (it was new tech back then) and another telemarketing job helping homeowners refinance their mortgage. Try making a cold call getting a complete stranger within minutes to trust you and disclose personal info so that you can quality them as a lead or not for coming in to meet a loan officer. And now with my latest startup, I wrote every single line of code working with two non-technical founders where we’ve successfully raised Series A funds.

      Point being, anyone who doesn’t respect the hard work a non-technical founder has to do to sell and validate market fit is naive. And thinking that a technical founder doesn’t know shit about anything but technology is also a very poor presumption. I know more about about each side of the table than I can get done on any given day. And most of it means crap because the market will humble you and show you how wrong you are in both your intuition about business and product.

  • Biz dev makes the company go. A great NT founder can sell whatever the dev team builds, they get people excited a about their vision and they continually bring interesting opportunities back to the company. Do this and the rest will fall in to place

  • It is easier to verify if someone has strong technical skills vs non-technical skills, because technical work is more concrete. As a result, there are more bullshitters or lightweights pretending to have non-technical skills than technical skills. As a result, a random stranger who says they have non-technical skills is more likely to be a bullshitter or a lightweight.

    This dynamic is not particularly fair, but is typical whenever you compare disciplines with hard-to-BS vs. easy-to-BS measures of achievement.

    Also, a lot of technical people probably suspect that non-technical people do not fundamentally respect their work and see the world as a contrast between “the nerd f*ing up the product again or the last man standing bringing in a new customer”, as a commenter above so honestly put it.

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