Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why build a startup, especially if you can't write code?

First of all, let me start this post by saying that it’s been 2 1/2 years since I’ve first created this blog and 4 years since I’ve made a decision to start learning technology and working on building PreAcquaint.com
I’ve never really held a job, except as a teenager and in my early 20's in various restaurants, as a bus person or waiter. I’m the self-employed type.
I became an aluminum siding contractor in 1988 and eventually morphed the business into a roofing company.
In 2001, I switched to restoring old brickwork and quickly created a unique approach to that business, really focusing on matching materials so the repairs would appear to be invisible (no discernible difference between the repair and the existing wall).
The system I put together provided me with a powerful marketing advantage over other masonry contractors, netting me a substantially above-average personal income.
My instinct was to license my knowledge in the hopes of becoming well-off by helping other create more value for themselves and for their clients. And I did some of that.
By 2006, I was interested to find a way to build wealth for myself and did some back-of-the-napkin calculations and came up with a figure as my “exit” target.
I knew nothing about startups — that is the only concept I had.
As I was too busy making a decent income in my masonry business, not much happened for some years.
By 2010, I came across some reading materials on the subject of goals which really stirred me into action.
I decided that the best way to proceed would be to build a website.
I didn’t know it was supposed to be called a startup.
I didn’t know that being an internet / mobile app entrepreneur was the newest bandwagon to jump on.
I got started in order to hopefully fulfill a long-term goal of mine. It’s as simple as that.
As it turned out, startups are hard.
Failure happens, but it is part of the process. You don’t exactly know how to get there, but you’ll eventually have to figure it out. That’s what an entrepreneur does.
My having to confront the inherent level of difficulty present has brought me to question my motivations.
“Again, why am I doing this?”
To get rich, or at least to become financially independent?
Or is it actually in order to create an impact in the world?
Could it be deep down for legacy?
Or might it be simply to benefit others after all? (Here is a thought that may be the key to being truly happy.)
To make a long story short, as a result of the journey that I went through, I’ve eventually changed my original position and have turned my focus on building something that I want to see exist in the world, regardless of whether I’ll make money with it or not.
I still care about the outcome, but I’m happy to give first and not worry too much beyond that.
I’ve brought PreAcquaint.com to the point that there are many interesting stories, but it’ll need more than that to really takeoff; and so I’ve recently largely turned the focus, for the time being, on making it into something I like to read myself, kind of like a side project of sorts.
Does that seem like something which can easily be monetized?
It’s a little hard to imagine right now, I’d say, to put it as positively as possible.
Should I drop it and find an idea that can more effortlessly make money?
And this is the important point I want to make which ties to the question posed in the title of this post:
I’m not going to simply drop PreAcquaint to build something likely to be more profitable, as I don’t have a better idea right now anyway. And I’m not going to build something else just for the sake of doing a startup.
That would seem senseless to me.
You don’t build a startup simply for the sake of building one, because “it’s the thing to do these days” — just like being a lawyer was the thing to be several years back.
By the way I appreciate the nuance of having experienced entrepreneurs wanting to build a startup simply for the passion of doing so, for their second or third time around, but that is a different state of affair than what I’ve described in the prior sentence.
You build a startup because there is something you genuinely want to build.
What drives PreAcquaint.com is my desire to connect people in a meaningful way— connect them to concepts and to other individuals.
That is why I’m pursuing this project and haven’t given up. I have a word here for non-technical founders.
So I’d say that if you have a reason to build a startup and you are not doing it only “because people do them a lot these days”, then whether or not you are technically trained will not change the fact that you have a good reason for going ahead. In other words, don’t let the fact that you are not a software engineer stop you, if you are not one. You are doing it for the right reasons, are you not?
But realize that it will be even more challenging, that’s all. [More on that in subsequent posts.]
You will have to learn about technology, not to code yourself most likely, but so that you can communicate effectively with the technical talent you will be managing.
The Andreessen-Horowitzs and the Y Combinators of the world will make you feel like you have no place in technology, as these entities have been established by and for hackers.
But the concept of hacking extends to life in general. You can learn to “hack” solutions to life or business problems without being a coder, of course. In other words, you can be relentlessly resourceful too (an ability not exclusive to developers) and build a company that involves technology even if you are not trained in its application.
Could you manage a hospital and not be a surgeon? I would think yes. However, it would assuredly help to be one, no doubt.
Could you manage an auto mechanic shop and not be a mechanic yourself? Hard to imagine perhaps, but I’ll bet it could be done.
Why would anyone go to the trouble though?
How about this answer: because they had a good reason to build it in the first place.
And so I’ll keep on working on PreAcquaint.com even though I have no computer science background or education, because I want my vision to be realized.
Perhaps you should too, if you're in the same situation.

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