Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received As A Tech Entrepreneur
Over the past 10 years of my journey as a start-up entrepreneur, I have received plenty of advice from mentors and people who are much more successful that me.
I Started My Entrepreneurial Journey When I Was 19
When I first came back from Singapore when I was 19, I knew nothing about entrepreneurship and business.
I was just an ASEAN scholar who just completed his A-Levels.
Hungry To Learn — I Seek Out Advice From Many Mentors
I knew I had a lot to learn, so the first thing I did was to find mentors who could teach me how to become and entrepreneur. I went for all the free conferences and talks I could find and just went up and said hi to the speaker of the day who was usually a CEO or founder of a company and asked him or her if I could buy her coffee.
Mentors Are Not Always Right
Over time, I’ve built up a close relationship with many mentors and pioneers of the start-up scene in Malaysia, including founders of some of the most successful tech companies in this region — ASEAN.
However, I’ve come to realise that mentors are not always right.
Especially When No One Has Done What You Are Trying To Do
We can learn a great deal from the experience of our mentors, but they might not be right all the time, especially when they have not done what you are trying to do.
With time, things change, what might be true before might not be true anymore today. Even if they have tried something before, the results might be different if you try it again today, because things are different, or they might have missed out something previously.
The Worst Advice I Have Ever Received
To date, the worst advice I have received from mentors as a tech start-up founder is to not learn how to code, focus on what I did best and outsource the tech.
Do What You Do Best — Leave The Tech To Someone Else
They told me to do what I do best, which was to focus on the business and product development and outsource the tech to someone else.
They Were Right In Their Context — But Very Wrong For Me
To be fair, they were telling the truth about what they feel and were genuinely trying to help. They were also right in their context, because at their age, and with the resources and money they have, it would make more sense for them to just outsource the tech.
They were also right because the businesses they have built so far were mostly just moving conventional businesses online or do not require very advanced technology.
They are mostly copycats, things that have been done before and the technology required to do so was readily available. At least, it’s not hard to hire people who can build it.
You Need To Know Tech To Build A Truly Innovative Tech Start-Up
That was the worst advice I have ever received because if you want to build truly innovative start-ups that have the potential to solve global problems and changed the world that no one has done before, you would need to know tech.
Simply because you would need to iterate on your product so many times that outsourcing it would just be unsustainable. Every new iteration is also technically a new invention that has never been done before.
You Either Need To Have A Steve Wozniak Or Be Your Own Mark Zuckerberg
To start such start-ups, you would either need to be technical yourself or have a Steve Wozniak as your technical co-founder. Steve Jobs din’t know much about building computers, but he had the vision to create great products, while Steve Wozniak was the one with the technical engineering expertise to wire up the first personal computer.
In this region, a Steve Wozniak is going to be hard to find. Even if they existed, they would be working for a big company with a very high salary or have plans to move to Silicon Valley soon. They probably also wouldn’t join you if you weren’t technical.
Outsourcing Is Not Sustainable
Building entirely new products and features that solves a global problem in a way that no one in the world has done before often involved multiple iterations and pushing the boundaries of existing technology. It is simply not sustainable to outsource that.
Especially at the very start when it’s just you building your MVP, you and your co-founders would need to be the one to do everything yourself to keep costs low.
Founders Who Understand Tech Build Things Very Differently
A founder that understands tech well enough or knows how to code themselves often build things very differently from a founder who doesn’t. They know what to prioritise on, what can be done easily with technology and what can’t.
This allows them to be able to think outside of the box to come up with innovative solutions to problems and the most efficient way to build them in a scalable way.
Non technical founders often feature creep and build things in a way that is not scalable because they don’t have a technical roadmap in their head when they were deciding on which products to build.
That would result in huge technical debt which require massive rebuilds as you hit scale.
Knowing How To Code Will Save You A Lot Of Money
Either way, knowing how to code will save you a lot of money, especially during the early stages when you are building an MVP to validate your idea. You will know how to tell good software engineers from lousy ones and can do simple things yourself.
Even if you are just building an e-commerce site, a copycat or a simple booking or listing app, knowing how to code can easily save you anywhere from RM20k to RM60k.
If you are building something truly innovative that solves a global problem, that’s at least hundreds of thousands to millions just to come up with an MVP if you were to outsource it to a development house, and that’s not including all the resources needed to operate and market it.
Knowing How To Code Will Help You Attract The Best Engineering Talent
One of the biggest reasons why my co-founder and CTO decided to quit his high paying job and take a huge pay cut to join me living in the same room at our office together is because I knew, or was learning how to code at that time, and he was inspired by that, my vision and my deep understanding of tech.
It makes things much easier when both co-founders know how to code, because we would be on the same page on a lot of things and understand exactly what are the problems we are facing and how things should be built.
For example, our app crashed a couple of times because of sudden API changes from Facebook due to their privacy issues which also prevented people from signing in to apps like Spotify and Tinder.
We knew that was not a problem with our code, and took steps to solve it together by making quick hacks and fixes to our code base to accommodate the sudden changes by a third party like Facebook.
A non-technical co-founder might start to blame it on the code of the technical co-founder for a problem was has nothing to do with their code base at all.
I Should Have Learnt To Code A Long Time Ago
Given another chance, I would have learnt how to code much earlier.
It would have saved me plenty of time, money, sweat and tears. It takes years to truly master coding, and starting earlier would have made me a much better coder than I am today, that was the advantage that people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg had.
Learn How To Code If You Want To Start A Truly Innovative Tech Start-Up
If you want to start a truly innovative tech start-up that is solving a big problem in a way that no one has done before, I would strongly suggest that you learn how to code.
You might be able to get away with it if you have a lot of money or are building something that isn’t that innovative or just requires simple technology and features that are already commonplace among the apps development firms are building.
Otherwise, doing what you do best — business — and outsourcing the tech would be one of the worst advice you can ever receive as a tech start-up founder.
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