Non-technical co-founder? What do you do while your buddy codes?
Everything else. Anything that could be done by either of you should be done by you.
Some non-technical co-founders feel an air of guilt that they cannot offer assistance to their partners with the nuts and bolts of building product. Finding bugs in code at 3am is beyond them and — bar learning how to code themselves (a whole other story) — there is nothing they can do to help.
Or is there?
Trust me, if you execute on the tasks below, there will be no guilt in the relationship. Cumulatively, what you are going to be doing is more than a full-time role and your co-founder will be absolutely delighted that you’ve taken care of this stuff to allow him to get on with building product.
So what are you going to do?
You should be the go-to guy when it comes to knowing your customer and what they want. What are their problems? As Clayton asks, what are the jobs they need doing? How are they getting these jobs done at the moment? How could your product help?
As part of your daily routine, schedule one-to-two client calls. Every day. Very quickly, you’ll notice patterns in those conversations which can be directed back to your co-founder to help steer product development. Jason Evanish has an excellent article on this.
UX (User Experience)
Given your newly found tight-nit relationship with your customers, you should be the guy championing the experience they have in using your product.
Note that UX is not UI. Designing a User Interface is beyond you, but keeping your customer front-of-mind and ensuring that every touch-point they have with your company is a positive one is not. You can survive with a poor UI, but not with a poor UX.
Customer Service can be a make-or-break area for some startups, and is often absolutely central to a customer’s experience of a product. Therefore it is vital this function gets the attention it deserves at the founder-level.
This is a biggie. I believe one of a founders most important tasks is to tell great stories about how a customer’s life will be made that little bit better by use of his product.
Of course, anyone starting a company will be able to communicate how feature X of their product solves for customer problem Y. But it takes that extra something special to turn it into an aspirational tale that takes the customer’s mind wandering to a better place; a better place made possible by this wonderful and simple product.
In speaking to customers, you should be noticing the features/problems they mention most often and the language they use to describe them. You’ll want to match these priorities in your product and mirror their language in your stories.
Take your customers to a wonderful new place. But keep it simple. Which means you should master the art of…
Storytelling is one thing. Copywriting is another. Copywriting is not just banging out text describing what your features consist of. That’s rubbish copywriting. Honing your copywriting skills will ensure that all written communication — whether it be web copy, email auto-responders, blogging, press releases or investor pitch decks — pack much more of a punch with their intended audience.
Copywriting begins by knowing who you are writing for. Who are you targeting? Do they know about you? What do they know about you? Do they know about your product? Do they know they need your product? Spending 5 minutes answering these questions before writing your piece will give your copy so much more of a focus than otherwise.
While we’ve identified that we must become storytellers, we must also recognise when we should be brief. And to the point. I’m amazed at the number of well-funded startups who do not explain to me what they do when I land on their site.
When a user lands on your site, pick one core thing you have to offer her and make that the main focus of your homepage. Ensure it’s crystal clear what your proposition is.
Of course you have more to say. You have a dozen features to talk about. That’s what other pages of your website are for. Keep your homepage to the point. If I can’t tell what you do and why I should give a monkeys in 5 seconds, you should not assume I’ll expend any further effort to find out.
Joanna Wiebe at CopyHackers offers some great insights for startup founders looking to improve their copy. Sign up for her email list – within a fortnight you’ll have come on leaps and bounds.
I’m no expert on startup fundraising, but by all accounts it is one of the most time-consuming parts of early-stage startup life. Ergo, it’ll take up a lot of your coding co-founder’s time if you let it. Man up and take it on yourself – at least the early stage stuff.
When it comes to VC meetings, you’ll obviously both have to work on your pitch together. And your pitch will warrant a lot of work. But you should take care of the toing and froing that comes beforehand so your man can do what he does.
Founders should blog in three different ways. The first two methods should be started immediately; the final tactic can wait until you are looking to staff-up.
Firstly, founders should blog about their experiences as a founder on a personal blog. Blogging is such a great tool for building credibility, clarifying ones own thoughts, growing a network and increasing publicity – all useful pastimes for a founder.
Secondly, you should blog as part of a content marketing strategy. Start a blog on your company site with a focus on your users and their problems. Doing this is great for SEO and can really give your company a personality. Blog commenters can also be followed-up with as part of your Customer Development efforts.
Thirdly, if you want to get great people to come and work for you, you should start a blog informing the world of what it’s like to work with you. Don’t just talk about your culture and the fact that you have beers on a Friday afternoon. Talk about the problems you try to solve on a daily basis. Talk about your rationale behind the decisions that you’ve made. Talk about your vision for the future. Along with your personal founder’s blog, this will give potential hires a great insight into the real you – which can only work in your favour, right? The Netflix Tech blog does this well.
Be the Google Analytics guy. Be the Kissmetrics guy. Be the guy to tell your co-founder that the new feature he coded last week is reducing sign-ups by 20% so he can unwind it. Be the guy who keeps the rest of the business up-to-speed so they know where you are. Better still, be the guy who understands that even though you have 348 metrics you could report on, you are only going to focus on that one, ‘cos you know it’s the one that matters more than all the others at this time in your startup life.
Retention/Community/Social Media Management
You should own your Mailchimp account and whichever usage-based communication tool is your flavour of the month. You are also ideally situated to give yourself the honorary title of Chief Education Officer, taking responsibility for ensuring that those clients you do fight tooth and nail to convert actually get the benefits out of your product they were promised.
And it goes without saying that if you have a company forum or Twitter account it needs to be manned. And manned by you.
Learning new skills
If, after all of this, you still have some time on your hands, learn some new skills!
You are not going to out-design a designer anytime soon, but with a couple of days of Photoshop training under your belt you could easily tweak your email templates or spruce up that VC pitch deck.
Likewise, a little CSS chops will have you testing call-to-action layout positioning in no time.
Anything you can learn to do yourself means a little less time wasted for your techy co-founder. And as we are understanding, they take a little bit longer to get back into their rhythm than us non-technical brethren.
Keeping everyone else happy
If you need to take your co-founder’s dog to the vet so he can keep coding – do it! If you need to be the lunch delivery boy to keep his energy levels us – do it! If you need to treat his misses to a night on the town so she’s happy which keeps him happy – do it! (What? You’re co-founders – you trust each other, right…!?)
What else can you be getting up to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Image credit: David Martyn Hunt