Build a technology company without a tech cofounder

You don’t have to be the geek to start a technology-based company. Plenty of high tech companies have been started by people from all walks of life, without having an advanced programming certification.

Core ConversationAt South by Southwest, this was the subject of “How to Run a Startup Without a Tech Cofounder.”  Suzanne Xie, founder of Weardrobe, and Sahadeva Hammari, founder of several start ups, shared their experiences at having the passion without the coding skills.

Because this was a Core Conversation, there was a lot of audience participation. Based on the discussion, here are the top three sources for tech help.

1. Students
You can use computer science students from a local university for programming. Another audience member offered a caution. Students do not yet have real-world experience. Their code probably reflects that. Don’t expect elegant, simple code from people who are still learning.

2. Community
If you have a compelling enough vision, you can build an online community to assist with development. Basically, you are asking people to volunteer to help with your coding.

3. Freelancers
Several people suggested online sites where you can search for freelance tech help. E-lance, oDesk,, crowdSPRING, and 99 designs were all mentioned.

Check their work
Erica DouglassNo matter where you get your tech help, have a qualified programmer review their work. From the audience, my friend Erica Douglass, offered her perspective as both an entrepreneur and an expert level PHP coder. She said you can’t do an adequate job of being both. However, she does have an advantage because she knows how to check the product of coders working for her. You may have to try two or three freelancers to find a good one.

In a different presentation, Ross Kimbarovsky of crowdSPRING said they made a mistake by not learning what they needed to know to supervise code development. At least find the right advisors, who could help you. Look for your local programming groups. Don’t assume that because you are working with someone who *should* know what they are doing, that they do know what they are doing.

If you want to take a different approach, the group had two suggestions.

1. Design your site as an app first. Distill the idea down.

2. Do the idea without using a website. Think of other ways to make it work.

Finally, don’t try to make your idea perfect before seeking your programming help. You’ll probably have to adjust your idea to fit what’s possible.

Photos by Becky McCray.

New here? Take the Guided Tour. Like what you see? Get our updates.

About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

Wondering what is and is not allowed in the comments?
Or how to get a nifty photo beside your name?
Check our commenting policy.
Use your real name, not a business name.

Don't see the comment form?
Comments are automatically closed on older posts, but you can send me your comment via this contact form and I'll add it manually for you. Thanks!


  1. Ross Kimbarovsky says

    Becky – there certainly are challenges in building a startup without a tech co-founder, but it is possible to do (and I bet many would be surprised by how many technology companies were started by people without a strong technical background). Plenty of examples (including my own company, crowdSPRING, demonstrate that persistence and good planning – including incorporating the advice you’ve shared in this article – help.

    If your readers are left wondering whether they need a technical co-founder – perhaps they’d find some value from a video post I did this past fall on this subject – Do You Need A Technical Co-Founder?

  2. says

    Ross, that is a great video post. Thanks so much for adding it. Your whole video series on startups in incredibly valuable.

    Justin Briggs, @Briggsly, added this on Twitter:
    It’s possible to build a tech co as a non-tech founder w/no $$ if there’s a vision. But it takes a strong & encented dev team.

    There’s also a great comment from Barry Dalton, on the MyVenture Pad version of this post.