9 C-Level Experts Share Advice For Non-Tech Startup Founders

Would you like to ask your favorite entrepreneurs how would they kickstart their internet startup again from scratch if they have to?


We have already done the heavy lifting for you and bring some of the best and renowned entrepreneurs and veteran technologists onboard.  We talked to 9 experts to share their insights and best practices with us.

What we asked:

- How would you start your startup again from scratch, if you have only $10,000 left?

- How would you hire the right developers for it?

- And what is the #1 characteristic you would see in your first developer who will build the product for you?

Here's what they added -

Mike Wu, CTO of VSCO

"Let's say you have to start all over again, and you only have $10k left to spend. How do you spend that money to build VSCO from scratch and hiring a developer for it, and what #1 characteristic you'd look in that developer while hiring?"

Mike added - 

More important than anything, you want to look for people who believe in what you are embarking on. They must believe in you as an entrepreneur and believe in your vision and mission. It's a bumpy ride and nothing is guaranteed including compensation! Closely following that would be hiring a developer who has great product instincts. $10k is not much to work with these days, and I'd spend it on anything necessary that would get us closer to the MVP.

Jean-Philippe Leblanc, VP Product of Engineering at Shutterstock

1) What is your number #1 tip for entrepreneurs who are seeking out a developer for their dream product? 

2) What is the number #1 characteristic of a developer that you look for when hiring?

Jean added -

As an entrepreneur who is seeking tech talent, I would focus on finding someone who shares an interest in your dream product. In my opinion, the first few employees in any given venture are more than what their function prescribed them to do. They should, naturally, be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, seek out someone who you are comfortable being yourself. Just looking at technology fit when hiring someone will probably not work in the long run. We should hold off hiring anyone if the personal and culture fit is not present.

Humility. With the world of technology in constant evolution, any developer should be humble enough to accept that they don’t know everything. When I’m hiring, I’m looking for individual who is not afraid to learn, regardless of their seniority level.

Jim Murphy, Director of Engineering at Shopify Plus

The answer to both the questions is: I try to find developers that have demonstrated their own intrinsic motivation and enjoyment for doing great work.

Good developers learn technology and process and can even assimilate into various cultural practices but if they don’t fundamentally enjoy developing they will never be great and likely won’t even be good for very long. This can be a tough business at times and a joy from the work itself is critically important, otherwise, it's unsustainable.

Usually, there are clues that are left behind that show their intrinsic motivation. Their Github profiles, stories they tell about projects they have worked on, etc.

Marty Zwilling, Founder & CEO of Startup Professionals, Inc.

I get asked this question quite often, and I doubt if you will like my answer.

I recommend to non-techy entrepreneur founders that they never outsource software development, no matter what amount of money they have, unless and until they have a techy equity co-founder CTO to spec and manage the work.

I have seen too many non-techy entrepreneurs spend millions outsourcing their software with unsatisfactory results, no matter how reputable the company is. They just don’t speak the same language.

A startup should never outsource a necessary core competency.

Duncan Logan, Founder & CEO, RocketSpace

I love the comment by Bill Gates that "everyone overestimates what can be done in a year and underestimates what can be done in a decade." 

A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are building a "tech-driven" startup and you don't know how to code (even badly) it is going to plague you for a decade. When you are starting something new you have time, once things take off, you have no time. 

Action No. 1. Go and learn how to code. You don't have to be an expert but learn enough so you know what good looks like - get to conscious incompetence so at least you can look at the work your coders deliver and assess why they are doing things the way they are. It will keep you informed and keep them honest. 

Action No. 2. Find a buyer for your idea. Not your mother, not your friends. Before you build anything, do a ruthless assessment of the idea. You only live once, the last thing you want to do is spend a decade on something no one wants. 

Action No 3. Your $10k is not for paying people. If you can't find someone willing to spend evenings and weekends working with you on your idea for the first 2 to 3 months, change the idea, search harder, find a better way to pitch it. On day 1 you have no cash and lots of equity. If people aren't willing to work for some "sweat equity" then you don't have a strong enough idea .... yet. 

Finally - the quality of the developer... passion, passion grit and more passion. You have a 2 person canoe to get down this river. Your survival is dependent on each other. Find someone you would risk your life for and who would do the same for you. Don't be blown away by their resume or skills, dig deeper to their character. As they say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog that matters. Find someone you know has the mental toughness to win.

Michael Tremblay, InvestOttawa

My background is all tech . . . but with big Multinationals like Microsoft, SAP, EDS, Digital etc. So, I’m not sure that I would qualify as a veteran entrepreneur in the way that you are asking the question. However, basic business principles apply -  With $10,000 to spend, I would start by ensuring that I am targeting a market-led Innovation that has long range, global viability where differentiation is clear. In that we live in a world of transient, global workforces – there is no real pressing need to hire an FTE developer at an early stage . . . I’d either find a tech-savvy partner to share the risk and build a company with. Or contract for services based on a well-defined spec levering cloud services and platform technologies that have generally available technical resources to limit risk if something goes awry.

Dan Hoogterp, Founder of Hatcher

Before spending a dime, I'd get candid feedback from my network, focusing on those who are quick to point out real challenges, etc. Before choosing a development approach, I would spend a great deal of time identifying the few capabilities really benefit my business and the platform's users. I would look for a developer that is inquisitive, user-driven, pragmatic, and energetic. I would prefer those with varied tech and domain experience, and willing to work for equity/cash mix.

David Cohen, Founder of Techstars

I would probably set up a blog, make it look good, set up a company website (similar) and start being a thought leader in the space in order to attract a co-founder who can help with the technology.

Ayush Varshney, CTO of Darwin Labs

What is your number #1 tip for entrepreneurs who are seeking out a developer to hire for their dream product?

Hire someone with very strong fundamentals and a great attention to detail. Any language, framework or technology can be learned very quickly by such a person. Make sure that the person has the talent to take things to completion. 

What is the number #1 characteristic of a developer that you look for when hiring?

Hunger and attention to detail.

Okay, so we have come to the end of the post. Hope you liked this approach of bringing the C-levels to shed some light on "what would they do" if they are in your shoes.