How I Run A Software Business With Zero Tech Skills

By Welly Mulia | Business

Have you always wanted to start a software business… but a lack of tech skills stopped you?

Or maybe you’re already running a software business now, but you’re frustrated because you’re at the mercy of tech freelancers or employees?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions, you’ve come to the right place.

The solution is to bring on a tech partner to your business. Before you start thinking: “Doesn’t that mean I have to sacrifice some equity?”…

Let me tell you (based on real experience) that it’s totally worth it, as I’ll explain in this post.

We’ll go over why you need a tech partner, what things/qualities to look for in one, and how to find a great partner.

WHY you need a tech partner instead of employees

(1) Employees come and go. Your partner is here to stay.

According to CompData Surveys, employee turnover rate for 2016 across all industries was 17.8%.

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Some industries are even worse. Starbucks boasts an appalling 65% turnover!

Though I don’t have the exact numbers for a partner turnover, I’m pretty sure that number is less… if you know how to look for a great partner.

If you were servicing hundreds or thousands of customers with your software, and suddenly your tech employee resigns, who is going to fix those bugs, improve the software, and introduce new features?

It surely can’t be you because you don’t know anything about coding.

(2) Skin in the game

With a partner, he/she owns a part of the company. He has vested interest in making sure his company succeeds.

Having put countless hours of sweat (and most likely money) into the company, the partner has ‘skin in the game’.

What would his family and friends think of him if he were to fail in the business? How is he going to pay his bills if the business is not successful?

Though not every employee is like this, it’s not uncommon for one to have thoughts like: “I’ll do my part just enough. Why should I be overly concerned about the success of the business? Why should I work overtime and during weekends? I don’t own the company.”

(3) Save a lot of money

When your business is just getting started and hasn’t made any profits yet, you can’t afford to pay salaries… both to yourself and your partner.

Fortunately, a partner usually has no qualms about it. He understands that success takes time.

If you were to hire an employee, you’d need to pay him every month, starting on day one… even when the software is still in development mode and not ready for sale.

Now that we’ve covered why you need a tech partner, let’s move on to the next part, which is…

WHAT to look for in a tech partner

(1) Great attitude/work ethic

I’ve always believed that attitude and work ethic is everything. How a person approaches life and work tells a lot about that person.

Skills can be learned, even when you know nothing about that specific domain. Attitude, however, is very difficult to be changed, if it can be changed at all.

It’s better to look for a partner with a great attitude but not-so-good tech skills, than a partner with excellent tech skills but possess a poor attitude.

Case in point: recently at Zaxaa, we were looking for a customer service person and we filtered the applications down to 2 candidates… whom we extended a trial invitation to try out for the position. We only need one eventually, so this was a test to see which one performs better.

Both candidates look good on paper and during interviews. However, just 2 weeks into the trial, one of them frequently missed our daily standup meetings and gave excuses like…

(We all work remotely by the way…)

This is a sign of poor attitude/work ethic and we immediately let him go just after 2 weeks, even though the trial was supposed to last for at least a month.

(2) Passionate

I know this sounds cliché, but you want to partner with someone who is passionate in what he does, in this case, coding.

Why?

Because in the beginning, he’s not going to get paid for his efforts, and it helps (A LOT) if he enjoys what he is doing. This will make him feel like he isn’t really ‘working’. Rather, he’s just pursuing his hobby.

Put yourself in his position… if you’re not getting paid and you don’t enjoy your tasks, would you have the energy and motivation to keep doing it every day?

(3) Resilient

Everyone, especially millennials, likes instant gratification. Almost everything is instantly ready at the push of a button.

The problem is, instant gratification is the one thing you’re definitely not going to get in business.

In the early days, it’s really tough when you keep pouring in hours after hours of sweat and labor into developing the software and seeing no returns.

I totally know how this feels as this is what I and my tech partner experienced back in the early days when we were first developing our first software, Profits Theme.

We’ve invested close to a year… every day working on it… without seeing any financial return!

If not for our resilience, we wouldn’t be here today and there would also be no Zaxaa.

(4) One who put vision and mission statements away

I really think vision and mission are overused.

At least for me… for the past businesses I’ve been involved in… the vision (initially) was ‘to make money’.

A lot of my business friends that I talk to also had this same vision. Surprise, surprise!

I think the reason for this is… most people who start a business don’t have much money, if any, to invest in the business (i.e. bootstrapping).

While vision and mission statements are enviable and cool, they’re not really necessary to get your software and company going. Money and cash flow are.

Your business doesn't need vision and mission to survive. What you need is cash flow.Click To Tweet

These vision and mission statements have their place when a company has gotten their initial base of customers and start making some money. From there, they can craft their vision and mission.

But prior to that… nah.

Also, along the way as you’re pushing your software to users, you’ll learn a lot about them (read: your customers) based on their valuable feedback. You might pivot your initial idea and go into a different direction. You let your data and customers guide you, instead of ‘assuming’ what you think they need/want.

Yelp, the famous review site company that reached $2 billion valuation in 2016, was originally adopting a ‘friends asking friends for business recommendation’ business model.

When that failed to take off, they dug deep into their data and discovered that a large number of users are using the ‘review local business’ feature the most. They decided to pivot their original idea and went ahead with this new direction.

The rest is history.

This supports the idea that crafting your vision and mission should come later when you’ve gained some momentum.

You now understand what qualities to look for in a partner. Let’s get the last part going, which is…

HOW to find a tech partner

Before I get into the hows, allow me to share my experience on how I was able to find my current tech partner, Adi Djohari — whom I’ve been working with for the past 9 years.

It was the year 2008 and I wasn’t yet involved in the software business. I was looking for a coder to help me edit and customize the cart software I was using at that time, aMember. It wasn’t a big task as there were only a few minor things to customize.

The first place I turned to for help was my customers and subscribers, since they already know me and my business and consumed content regularly from me.

I sent out a broadcast email explaining what I wanted to accomplish. A few days later I receive a few applications for the gig. Based on the price quote and time frame given, I chose Adi.

Over the next week or so, he did a great job. Work was delivered within the specified time frame. As a person, he is easy to communicate and work with. He also responds fast. I paid him and we both parted ways since this is only a one-off project.

A few months later, I needed the help of a coder again.

Guess who I contacted?

To cut a long story short… over the next few months, Adi helped me with some more of my projects.

Eventually, when I started new projects like WOW Minisites (a minisite design service), Premium Squeeze Page Templates, WordPress Themes and Plugins like Profits Theme, Premium List Magnet, Premium Viral Magnet, and of course Zaxaa… he was and is my tech partner, up till now.

So here the steps to find your ideal teach partner:

(1) Outsource your first tech gig

Even when you don’t have any ‘real’ work to be completed, go ahead and outsource (and pay for) your first tech gig anyway. The ultimate purpose is to find your ideal tech partner, not to get work completed.

If you do have real work that needs to be done, the better since you’ll be killing 2 birds with 1 stone — get the work done and take this opportunity to look for a partner.

(2) When you have no real work to be completed, come up with a stripped down version of your software idea that you want to pursue

Why a ‘stripped down’ version?

Because — remember — the goal is to find your partner, not to complete your software. A stripped down version is cheaper and faster to build.

Say your software idea is to create a website chat app that can:

  1. Connect the visitor with a customer service agent
  2. Store visitors’ past conversations
  3. Automatically send messages to website visitors based on how long they were on the site (x minutes) or how frequent they visited (visited x times)
  4. Detect keywords the visitor types and automatically redirect him to the relevant help center article or knowledge base if an agent is not around

A stripped down version of the app could be that it only needs to do 1 — connect the visitor with a customer service agent, since this is the most basic feature a chat app must have to be even considered by potential customers.

Again, I have to remind you again… the goal in this phase is not to get customers or even early adopters. The goal here is to find a quality tech partner.

(3) Announce/Promote your gig

Once you’ve decided on the work you want to outsource, the next step is to announce/promote it, like you would when you’re trying to get customers.

My recommendation for sourcing for candidates are in this order:

This is my reasoning for the order above…

Co-workers or ex-co-workers are at the top because you already know them. You’ve worked with them before and you know their work ethic. You know who is capable of producing results.

Even if you’ve never worked directly with a co-worker, chances are you still can guesstimate their quality or even ask someone you know who have worked directly with them.

Friends are next because you also know them already, though not professionally. Of course, you wouldn’t even consider pessimists and those who complain a lot.

Your own customers or subscribers is another good place to source for candidates. Since they already know what your business is about, what you stand for, and your style, working together shouldn’t be a problem. It is where I got to know and discovered Adi — my subscriber at that time.

Next is referrals. Our network of friends, family members, and co-workers won’t want to ruin their reputation by giving us poor referrals. Think about the last time a friend asked you for a restaurant recommendation. You wouldn’t recommend a bad one, would you?

Freelancers are the last place I would look for because you don’t have any kind of relationship or knowledge who the other party is, what their work ethic and attitude is like. Sure, you can read reviews on freelance sites, but that’s about it.

If you have the extra budget and want to find a better tech partner faster, you can even ‘trial’ 2 candidates… like what we did when we were hiring for our customer service team member. Compare the 2 and choose the better one.

IMPORTANT

Don’t tell them you’re looking for a partner. Just make them think this is a regular gig where you pay them money to do their job. If you mentioned you are looking for a partner and this is just a ‘test’ job, you might get some false positives — people who perform really well just to impress you so that you pick them. The reality could be that these people might not be as good as you think they are.

(4) Monitor their progress and result

Once you’ve filtered down to the ideal 1 or 2 candidates, give them the work. Tell them what you want to accomplish with your software idea (hiding your true intention of finding a partner).

Over the next few weeks as you monitor their progress, pay attention to:

  • Are milestones/deadlines delivered within the agreed time frame?
  • Can they be easily reached?
  • Do they respond fast to your questions?
  • Do they send you updates even when you don’t request?
  • Are they easy to work with?
  • Purposely ask them to do something ‘light’ that is not stated in the original job description. Do they complain or require more money? While requiring more money is rightfully just; if they don’t ask for more money and deliver the additional work anyway… it’s a good sign they’re ‘generous’, that they don’t worry too much about trivial stuff and just want to deliver and make the customer (you) happy.

If they fare well in each of the above questions, it could be a sign that you’re on your way to finding your ideal tech partner.

A marriage goes both ways

Bear in mind that finding the right and ideal business partner goes both ways — meaning just as you want to find the right, high-caliber tech partner… the tech partner also wants a high-quality business person to be his partner.

(Just like marriage, both parties need to love each other… otherwise, it just won’t happen.)

People don’t want to waste their time, especially if they’re not getting paid for what they do in the early stages developing the software.

If you have previous business success, make sure to let him know. This proves you have sound business acumen and know what you’re doing, which in turn assures him that partnering with you has a good chance of resulting in business success.

People also don’t want to work with jerks and cheapskates.

One way to show that you’re not a cheapskate is by paying them well for the gig. This shows that you appreciate and value their work. It doesn’t have to well above market rate, but slightly above market rate is a good start.

With regards to being a jerk, I don’t have to explicitly tell you what it takes to be and not to be a jerk, right?

How to apply this to your business

If you’ve always wanted to start a software business but haven’t because you lack tech skills, hopefully this post have shown you that it’s possible to do so… just like me when I first started my software business.

I didn’t know anything about coding then. I still don’t know anything about coding now.

If you’re currently running a software business without a tech partner and relying on employees and/or freelancers, my advice is to start hunting for your ideal partner now.

You need someone you can depend on when your employees or freelancers leave you. If they’re doing a great job and you like them, consider asking them to become your partner. You don’t need to start from scratch.

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About the Author

Welly Mulia is a growth enthusiast, but not yet considered a maniac. He loves traveling, Formula 1, and the internet.