Tech company startups couldn’t become hotter. Your only problem: Thinking that Python is just a fearsome snake while Ruby On Rails is a little-known mystery novel by Agatha Christie. But if you are really convinced that your complete lacking in technical know-how is actually an insurmountable barrier to starting a business that has a significant tech component and getting it off the ground, then you should get inspired by the New York start-up Hukkster.
Hukkster co-founders Katie Finnegan and Erica Bell are former merchandisers with J. Crew and have experience in management consulting coupled with a shared passion for good deals. Their site – which was re-launched in September 2012 following a private beta – enables shopaholics to give a specification of what they would like to pay for a specific item and then wait to be notified when the item is available at the price.
How did this pair of enthusiastic entrepreneurs with a lot of retail experience but no experience in engineering make it possible for such a tech-heavy concept to get off the ground? Inc.com talked to the couple to find out their tips.
Get networking. Really hard.
You think you have networked enough prior to commencing your business? If the Hukkster co-founders are anything to go by, you probably have not.
Finnegan says that they had talked to each and every person that they knew – or maybe even their grandma’s uncle knew – that was in the company startup space to gain insight into the idea. They did that for 3 or 4 months, pretty like every weekend.
Both co-founders also agree that checking out the buzzing New York startup scene with a lot of fervor for networking was also key to getting their idea starting and keeping going.
Bell adds that they reached out to any person they knew who did have a startup in New York. It is through this network that they were introduced to VCs who had the ability to give them some feedback early on. They were also introduced to some later-stage startup founders who have also been mentors along the way. They spent a lot of time talking to any person that was keen to listen to them.
Applications are not there just for applying.
Startup accelerators are a great platform for entrepreneurs accepted into those programs, but Hukkster co-founders believe that they can offer a boost to any founder who is looking to make clarification on their business idea – whether they actually send off an app or not.
Bell says that the team pulled up some of the apps for incubator programs like Y Combinator or TechStars, going on to actually go through the process of giving answers to all their questions quite early on in Hukkster’s life. This forced them to answer some really difficult questions.
Finnegan agrees that that process was very beneficial. Though some of the questions were very long and difficult to answer, it ensured that:
- they were aligned;
- they got thinking about the right things; and
- they really had a real vision that could take an idea forward.
That is what really made it possible for Hukkster to transform into a company from their idea.
Passion is Non-negotiable.
Though stellar technical talent is a great thing, it is not sufficient. When starting a startup, you should insist on finding a technical partner (or partners) that will understand the bigger picture of what you are trying to build and is equally excited about it.
Bell says that when they were vetting their technical team, it was more about finding those people who could relate to their project as well as having the passion for what they were doing than just having a great CV. There is a necessity of the whole team really understanding the bigger picture, it is not just about the coding skills.
Finnegan adds that what they were looking for – and what you should also look for – are technical folks who can bring ideas to the table, not just sitting there and taking notes. You want a person who is thinking, not just executing. Do not just jump at any person that comes first, you will get a much better product if you are patient enough to wait for a person with the passion that actually understands the big picture.
Have Enough Courage even to Look Silly.
Asking people to explain some technical terms for you may make you look and feel foolish, but you would feel more foolish if you ended up with a product that didn’t meet your expectations.
Finnegan says that it is very easy – especially in a technical meeting – for people to get into technical jargon that may make you feel like you are kind of lost. Do not feel shy to ask what something means. You could also explain in layman’s language how you want something done; being comfortable to dig into the details is very important. This way, you will quickly learn the technical jargon as well. You shouldn’t just keep quiet from the start and say ‘Oh, they are the experts,’ because at the end of the day, this company is yours and you will be accountable for all the decisions that are made there, whether they were discussed in a jargon you didn’t understand or not.
Offer some Engineer Catnip.
The Hukkster co-founders also believe that attracting some great tech talent to a project isn’t only a matter of waving cash; providing an interesting engineering challenge to solve is also key. Don’t just opt for the cheapest and simplest way to do things just because this might ease your non-technical nerves, being at the cutting-edge level has many advantages.
Finnegan says that Hukkster’s product was 100% developed so that it can be in the languages that are cool and exciting for engineers, it is what important for them. It isn’t necessarily about paycheck all the time but really about if it is an interesting as well as complex problem to resolve.
She adds that though they could have simply spent less amounts of money on the development and done some ad hoc stuff in an unexciting language, they made a strategic decision to build a company that could foster intellectual curiosity in their engineers. Making this investment did really help them gain a lot of credibility with engineers.
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