HOW TO MAKE IT AS A NON-TECHNICAL FOUNDER

Written on the 22 May 2015 by Laura Daquino

HOW TO MAKE IT AS A NON-TECHNICAL FOUNDER

THE SOCIAL media startup community isn't just a male techie's world that girls are playing in with photo filters and hashtags, as these two female non-technical founders would prove.

All ten of our most popular social networks were founded by men, and canvassing a selection of startups tells a similar story. We could then get into the lack of female representation on boards and across entire industries, despite females graduating university more than men.

We reach a point though where it no longer makes sense to dwell, and rather focus on the green shoots of females trying to change the ecosystem.

Two of this kind are Rebekah Campbell, founder of social search engine Posse, and Danielle Lewis, founder of marketing analytics company Scrunch.

Campbell and Lewis have leveraged themselves and their startups into the 'boys club' without computer science backgrounds or web development and programming skills.

Campbell was previously the founder of Scorpio Management, one of Australia's must successful artist management companies, before she realised technology is now critical to scale a business.

Lewis (pictured right), of Brisbane Threads, is relocating to New York in the next few months to push out Scrunch on a global scale. 

So, how exactly does a non-technical founder drive a startup?

"Make sure you hire awesome people who have worked in successful tech companies in the past," says Lewis.

"We have five engineers and two non-tech founders. We didn't have engineers at the start and tried and failed many times with outsourcing and agencies.

"Focus on what you are trying to achieve and the right people will come to you."

Campbell, with a golden Google connection, echoes this.

"The key to getting it off the ground is finding that one technical person who you can really trust," says Campbell.

"I initially recruited a team in India to create Posse and it came back full of bugs, then I hired developers from Seek which was also pretty disastrous. I remember thinking my team looked nothing like Mark Zuckerberg's in The Social Network and just had to change that immediately.

"I ran into Lars Rasmussen (Google Maps founder) at an event and asked him for advice and he agreed to coffee, we then became friends and he became integral to helping me build Posse's tech team."

"I also think non-tech founders can sometimes be better off because they look for real-world problems which will actually make the world a better place if solved, as opposed to just rolling out really impressive technology." 

Posse now has a network of 60,000 shops and recently merged with Beat The Q.

Before trying to schedule meetings with founders of billion-dollar companies, however, Campbell says it is important to have already invested significantly in your product.

In today's world, there is little point going for coffee with nothing to bring to the table.

"The first thing was spending $20,000 to buy Posse.com in an auction in the middle of the night, during a time I was trying to buy a house," says Campbell.

"I remember telling my mum and she was like, 'What's a domain name? Surely you don't need that'."

Campbell says before meeting with Rasmussen, she also reached out to "pretty much everyone I knew".

"I spent three months talking to focus groups and friends of friends and would ask 'Why do you like sharing' and 'Tell me about your last trip and the places you discovered' and found that people's eyes really lit up when talking about cool places they had visited.

"It was a lightbulb moment, again and again, and it became increasingly obvious that sharing was all about lifestyle and signalling your lifestyle to friends.

"I then knew that the product had to be a platform that functioned as a beautiful visual representation of lifestyle, pinpointing special places along the way, and had what I needed to make mockups and formulate case studies of users for pitching purposes."

In the above, there lies a secret. Open communication.

Campbell is all about making deeper connections with others and feeling things out, true to her INFJ personality. It's no wonder she has pivoted Posse around a higher purpose 'to make city life more human'.

Campbell's method of communicating appears to be working when you consider she has raised $5 million for Posse in just a few years.

Campbell says being a woman has made the process more difficult though, and she is constantly rejigging her pitch after every presentation (pictured left is a male crowd at the Google Developer's Conference last month).

"My first pitch was for Sydney Angels and was at a gentlemen's club. The lady at reception actually said I couldn't go upstairs into the meeting room because of this," says Campbell. 

"I eventually got up there in front of 60 people, where there was only myself and one other female in the room.

"The recent fundraising round I did, which stretched 50 meetings in the finance sector, there was only one woman in all of those meetings, a junior analyst.

"That kind of thing really frustrates me."

Campbell and Lewis are accustomed to knockbacks, but the difference is that it drives them even more.

"You need a thick skin and to be prepared for a whole lot of no," says Lewis.

"Someone in the Brisbane investment community actually said to me that I will never make it because I'm female and blonde. That's a secret driver now."

Campbell, who is the only female shareholder in her company that has 120 others, says confidence is the number one thing stopping women from entering these worlds.

"You have to present properly at all times, not just with an idea that is a collection of your plans and thoughts, but as a really confident and polished business, even if that's totally not how you feel," she says.

Another issue is she can't just bring more women onto her board, when there are few women in the broader picture.

"Women disproportionately let go in the GFC and the men at the top mainly looked after their mates," says Campbell.

"I think the root of the problem is in finance and something needs to be legislated to shift the culture."

While individual differences account for a lot, Campbell believes gender representation is responsible for the different threads woven throughout companies.

This is part of the reason Posse merged with Beat The Q, which was founded by Adam Theobold, who is of a technical background.

Posse and Beat The Q will soon by re-launching as a mega-app based on discovery, recommendations, loyalty and payments - "an ultimate shopping app" according to Campbell, where both herself and Theobold will be at the helm.

"A balance is important as early stage investors generally make up your first boards," says Campbell.

"I find my male engineering colleagues are more data-driven and have that killer mindset, whereas I am more insightful and people-focused.

"Both sides have value and when one side falls by the wayside, that's when the culture goes out of balance and the company suffers."


 


Author: Laura Daquino Connect via: Twitter LinkedIn

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