Thursday, November 14, 2013

A glimpse into what it means to be a non-technical founder in a technical world

I started working on PreAcquaint.com close to four years ago, around February of 2010.
It has thus far been a marathon, not a sprint, that’s no kidding.
At the time I was (and still am) a restoration mason.
I have, however, been aspiring to something more challenging for me since a young age.
In January 2010, while reading a particular book, I got triggered to action and decided to get into the internet technology business, even though I knew practically nothing about it.
It would most likely look to any outsider as though I haven’t moved much in that time.
After all, Instagram started on March 5th of the same year, and was acquired by Facebook in April 2012 for approximately $1 billion dollars in cash and stock by Facebook.
But I have made progress, even though silently.
I had to internalize the process and learn a lot. I’ve had to do a lot of preparatory work.
I’ve done a ton of reading about startups, raising venture capital, technology, etc., often while eating breakfast, during spare time, etc.
I’m listening to blogs or audiobooks most times as I drive my vehicle, workout, cook, etc.
I’ve basically crammed an education’s worth while concurrently outsourcing the development of three (?!) websites so far that I’ve had developed while not knowing how to code, to boot.
It’s like starting a mechanic shop and and not knowing anything about cars.
Or starting a hospital and not knowing anything about surgery, or the human body, for that matter.
But I’ve been reading my fair share about the technology itself as well, to the point that I can have a reasonably sensible conversation with a developer or designer about the process, and I can remain involved at all stages of it, while learning as I go along.
And all the while being my own angel investor, and keeping on managing and working in my contracting business.
During the time that this has been going on, I have made some acquaintances in the Toronto startup community. These individuals, for the most part, were already immersed in the field prior to getting into a startup.
Throughout that same window of time, two of them have already started and abandoned several ventures and are still at it. They even have gotten funded.
But being an unknown quantity in the technology field, I was left with the option of proceeding slowly.
I would have had to be a fool to seek funding when I didn’t know what I was doing.
I started out with the intention of connecting people.
I had no words initially to describe it, but I wanted to acquaint people to one another, in a social network that would allow for new connections based on mutual attitudes and interests.
After searching for a fitting and available domain name for three days, pretty much full time — it may be hard to believe, but it is not even an exaggeration — I finally turned to my favorite dictionary, a reprint of Noah Webster’s first, originally published in 1828.
On the third trial of opening pages at random and going down the columns with my index finger while reading the entries, I stopped at the word “preacquainted”.
It encapsulated exactly what I was engaged upon, and being that the word had dropped out of the language around 1912 (it would appear), no one had claimed the domain name for it before me.
Now I own a dictionary name, and I didn’t have to buy it off anyone.
So while my new friends have changed their names 3 or 4 times, I’m still working on PreAcquaint.com.
The social network still exists, but it is now called PreAcquaint.net. The jury is ultimately still out on that one.
That was the first web site.
The second one was a deal site that was added to the social network. What I’ve learned from my mistake there, is to never build a product when everybody is else is already doing it. You have to be early on the cycle, or just before it.
The third project is what is currently called PreAcquaint.com, which is a site that shares inspiring, real life stories which tell what something is like, with the aim of creating empathy.
The somewhat altruistic nature of it is because I’ve learned along the way to focus more on creating something that means something to me, rather than simply aiming at getting rich.
That iteration of the website was completed well over a year ago, and I’ve been working on putting a little team together to gather a wealth of good stories in order to create a block of good content; while at the same time looking for (and eventually finding) a designer that could really fix the horrible design I had created.
During the process of trying to get a new design implemented, it became evident that a lot of the original code had to be fixed, so I had to find a new developer, as the old one couldn’t / wouldn’t implement the new design.
And that’s the point we’re at now.
I’ve communicated the above in order to hopefully provide some insight to those who might wonder what it’s like for a non-technical founder to find his or her way around.
As I said, it’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint.

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