You are running a tech business even if you don’t think you are
Have a website? Send out email newsletters? Advertise online? You are in tech. And if you are running a software, retail, or marketing company, you are totally in tech.
I recently interviewed Nelly Yusupova, the talented creator of TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs, a boot camp for founders to become more tech-savvy, and CTO of Webgrrls, an organization with the mission of helping more women succeed in tech. As she puts it, “No matter what business you are in, you have to use technology to serve your customers better; whether that means building an interactive website, a web application, or a mobile app.”
Nelly’s bootcamp, TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs, was designed for founders and anyone hiring and overseeing developers. She started teaching because she saw too many entrepreneurs (many of them women) wasting thousands of dollars on technology mistakes. In two days of training, she breaks down all the technical jargon to help entrepreneurs communicate with their development teams and shares the exact process that she uses with her team of developers. She helps entrepreneurs take their startups from idea to launch and by learning the right processes, to catch mistakes early and avoid costly mistakes. I remember the $5,000 we spent on our first web site for Little Pim some eleven years ago, that we then had to literally trash and start over! I am just glad we didn’t spend ten times that amount.
I asked Nelly to share the most frequent and expensive mistakes she sees female founders making.
Top 5 tech mistakes made by women entrepreneurs:
1) They fall in love with their idea
Before you build a product or write a line of code, you must talk to your customers and get insightful feedback. We know this, but don’t always do it. Sometimes we start building an expensive site or app prototype only to find that our customers don’t think we have the right product or pricing.
Nelly says, “Learn whether your idea is valid or needs to be revised before you invest in costly tech.” You can get pretty far with wire frames and a PowerPoint deck. This approach helps you determine what will or won’t work and allows you to navigate the correct course early and often.
2) They want to get the developer involved too quickly
Once you’ve validated your idea, the next big mistake entrepreneurs make is wanting to hire a coding developer too soon. In the development process Nelly teaches, writing code is actually step number seven!
The first six steps are: validate idea, build prototype, optimize and refine prototype, hire a developer (but not writing code just yet), pick the right technologies, and determine minimal viable product. Step number seven is where you start writing code.
Do the first six steps and it will save you a lot of time, money, and sleepless nights. If you want to learn about all of the steps check out Nelly’s free video class.
3) They are too hands-off and trust the tech team to do everything.
Another big mistake is when the founder gives product specs to a developer and trusts that everything will be done—checking back in only when the final product is ready. This is a recipe for disaster, according to Nelly. If you take this hands-off approach, more often than not you’ll find your product is not implemented the way you had envisioned.
Maybe your directions were unclear or maybe something was impossible to implement technically; or maybe your developer just misunderstood. Regardless of the reason, you should avoid this situation. It is much easier to stay on top of the development process along the way than it is to fix things later—or worse, start over!
Coding can be expensive; re-coding is even more expensive.
4) Outsourcing or off-shoring incorrectly
Off-shoring is very attractive to a lot of entrepreneurs because you can pay developers in other countries for a fraction of the cost of US developers. However, if you don’t have a good process for managing the development process, you can literally lose thousands and thousands of dollars.
Before you off-shore or outsource the development of your application, make sure you have a solid development process in place.
5) Accepting free help for things that need a skilled pro.
In a startup environment, money is always tight, so it’s understandable that founders look for a deal when hiring a developer, but don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.You have to hire professionals who will get the job done and get it done right the first time. You may have to pay a little more, but it will get done…if you manage them correctly.
When your old college roommate says her nephew can code your website or application, just say no!
“Traditionally women are less technical,” Nelly explains, “so they may have more fear about technology, failing, being taken advantage of, and not knowing how to work with developers. There’s always fear of the unknown. People perceive a big, dark mystery around technology and it’s really because they don’t know enough about it…they don’t know the lingo, the right questions to ask, or the correct processes. Everything is a black box, as I call it.” She goes on to explain that, “One of my greatest joys is to demystify the entire development process. Once you know the lingo and the process, there is no more black box! You feel more confident.”
Nelly adds that the outcome of attending TechSpeak and learning the development process is almost always a huge savings of time and money, and sometimes a parting of ways with current tech people who just aren’t cutting it…something you can only realize once you know what you should be looking for.
“I have had people fire their CTOs after my boot camp. They realized the CTO didn’t implement the right processes or that the application they built is not as robust as the CTO led on”. One boot camp attendee and (female) founder said, “I am finally able to have conversations with my developers without feeling intimidated.”
Are you conversational in TechSpeak? Here are some of the basic terms:
- Differences between programming languages java, PHP and Node.js
- Lean and agile project management (waterfall vs. agile)
- Wireframes (when and how to create and use them)
- Custom code vs. the cloud vs. third party applications
- How to leverage APIs to avoid writing code (and save money)
One of Nelly’s favorite things is helping women become more autonomous. “There was a woman with a startup idea who, after taking my boot camp, got accepted to an accelerator without a technical co-founder because she showed them she was fluent enough and could do it on her own.”
Nelly says that most founders don’t need to know how to code themselves. It would be akin to learning a new language in terms of the investment of time and energy and not the best way to spend your time when you have to run a business. It’s enough for founders to become tech literate and learn the tech process, which will help you avoid miscommunications with your tech people. You will speak their language, understand their perspective, know what they need to know, and most importantly, how to communicate it properly.
I love that Nelly has provided a solution to something that has often been a big stumbling block for so many and that she is helping to level the playing field for women in tech. Once you are conversational in tech, you can move onto getting conversational in fundraising! Read my blog You Don’t Need a Business Degree to Talk Finance to get started.
Stay brave (and geeky),
** TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs is a 2-day bootcamp in New York City that teaches entrepreneurs the entire development process using Lean and Agile practices so they communicate effectively with their development team, see the red flags and catch mistakes earlier, minimizing the damage of mistakes. Use the code MDW10 for a 10% discount on Nelly’s next bootcamp (sign up on the website to get updated when the next event is scheduled).
Read Nelly’s TechSpeak Testimonials here: