Being resourceful as a non-technical founder

19th Mar 2017

Christina Chun, 1Scope CEO

The most common question posed by founders with limited software development expertise is “how do I recruit a technical co-founder”. Having a great idea leads to the desire to share the experience with someone who can build the idea. This reduces up-front staff costs, but can cost you up to 50% of your equity for a CTO depending on how much traction you've built. This is completely valid if the CTO is value aligned and has the same vision as you. Because at the end of the day, it is team effort. However, the fact so many people ask this question implies technical co-founders are a rare commodity and how you go about finding a good one seems troublesome.

I took a different approach as a non-technical founder. After all, we're in Australia- a country with many resources and people who are willing to help kick start your enterprise. I used all the resources available to me to build out a quality and timely MVP (minimum viable product) of my web platform. A successful application to the UNSW’s FounderLab enabled me to engage a lead developer (Thank you Gwilym Humpreys) to lead a team to build the MVP. Friends who had studied and worked in different fields (actuary and pharmacy respectively) but had existing software development experience had a desire to develop their skills in the new language (Node.js and React) that 1Scope is written on. Together this formed the nucleus of the original software development team and just over a year later, we have a developed platform and a team to support it.

Bringing it back to present, in order to fulfil the role, our developers are encouraged to step up and work intimately with the business team rather than fixate only on completing development tasks. In terms of broader direction, there are industry professionals who believe in us and our product, and are willing to invest time to offer expert advice. Following our involvement with the UNSW FounderLab, we have benefited from mentors from numerous organisations including Atlassian and PublicisSapient. Specifically, finding the right expert to solve a problem got a whole lot easier during our residence at Alphabet Common (for those who are interested, more information at the end of this blog). Our team works in an office full of brilliants minds in technology, strategy and innovation - which definitely helps with 'scaling-up'.

For example, one of the big problems we have been facing stems from our organisation’s strategic pivot towards data. The success of 1Scope now relies heavily on our ability to solve the problems of current and future customers with data. Our data must therefore be underpinned by best practise data systems and architecture.

The resident experts we called on for this problem were Tim Chapman (Head of Analytics) and Sibbs Singh (Strategy Consultant) from 2DataFish. Experts in data systems and processes, and data strategy and monetisation, respectively. The exposure, and contrast in perspective and specialisation between Tim and Sibbs made us realise that very rarely would startups be able to get access to this knowledge. If anything, only companies 5+ years in operation would be able to afford their services. However, getting this right from the very beginning pays dividends (on both the technical- data optimisation and infrastructure, and business side- forecasting costs and revenue, communicating your USP and having an actionable vision).

For those operating in a similar space, I would like to share three of my biggest learnings.

ONE | Clean data

All our wildest ambitions and vision for where we are heading will be made harder if we don’t first design and create a clean data set, or as Tim puts it, “make sure the plumbing is right”. We need to focus on ensuring our data can answer the most important questions of the key stakeholders in our business network. Many startups build as they go, but the consensus around the table was (after you build your MVP) - if we're going to exist in 5 years times with the aim to take action x, we should start building a system that will support that.

TWO | Experiment

Essential to determining the best way to interact with our users is our ability to experiment with the alternative options (keeping in mind, data-informed designs). Whether it is with our marketing approach, or the features we introduce to the platform, we were encouraged to continually test our assumptions. As our student users learn and educate themselves with the opportunities provided by our platform, the team needs to learn alongside them, educating ourselves on our users.

THREE | Keep it simple (#kiss)

Don’t over engineer or find complex solutions before getting the basics right. For example, the development team at 1Scope have been devising sophisticated solutions and algorithms to improve our ability to match our users with the opportunities that best suit them. Tim suggested starting with a much simpler solution which enables the team to create a narrative (and point system) about our users as we develop the product.

1Scope’s success to date can be attributed to two things. First, the strong work ethic and determination of the team, and secondly, the guidance we have received from in and out of the Publicis.Sapient family. My key advice to any non-tech founders looking to launch a new venture is to make use of all the available resources that exist. There is an immediate rush to hire for certain roles, but this may not altogether be necessary. Be efficient.

I’m not altogether rejecting the idea of a CTO and indeed we may need one in the future, but so far we’ve been fortunate to partner with various generous people and organisations that have fulfilled the role and given us to opportunity to expand in a lean manner. I’ve said it before but the tech industry in Australia is very supportive, and there are a lot of generous and experienced professionals who genuinely wish to make a difference and contribute to new tech companies. I’m profoundly grateful to all of those individuals and hope to one day also give back.

*Alphabet Common is a ‘scale-up’ residency programme hosted by Publicis.Sapient, Sydney, that invites early stage start-ups, looking to scale to the next level, to work from the Publicis.Sapient offices. During their three-month stay, selected residents receive a fully equipped work space, expert advice from the Publicis.Sapient team – including strategy, creative & design, user & experience design, technology & digital delivery, as well as data & analytics - and the opportunity to be part of the broader Publicis ecosystem. Alphabet Common is a purely altruistic endeavour – no equity is taken in the resident company - that brings to life the Publicis.Sapient brand purpose ‘enabling human potential’.