Son: what do you do in your office?
Son: what do you do exactly?
Son: what does work mean?
What do you actually do as a co-founder of a tech startup when you don’t/can’t code? Emails, meetings, phone calls. This sounds vague and doesn’t tell you much. Sometimes, people say hustle. I get what they mean by that. But that’s kind of vague as well and the real ‘hustle’ in my opinion kicks off, when you have a product to sell. But what do you actually do before having a product to sell? My attempt here is to capture what I’ve done on a daily basis as a co-founder while we are building PrognoStore. It also takes into account my role as CEO and throws light on the dual duties. First, some background to provide context on what I did (or didn’t do);
My startup: PrognoStore is Point-of-Sale software for small business. It’s Point-of-Sale, Inventory and Analytics to provide a 3-in-1 solution to be all a small business needs, to manage and run their business effectively.
Early life: Chartered accountant..once upon a time at Deloitte and Credit Suisse
Entrepreneurial experience: Co-founded HGE Capital…an accounting firm
Be the smartest in the room
Read and Research
In most startups, work is always on tap. In PrognoStore, this tap appears to be on full blast. It’s work as much as you can every.single.day. However in a lot of cases, for this work to start, decisions have to be made on what direction/approach we should embark on. Sufficient thought needs to be done for customer research, market and sector analysis, organisation best practises, team culture etc. That’s where reading and research comes in.
A lot of my time is spent daily just soaking information. I’m a glutton for data backed decisions and for PrognoStore, this is our preferred default position. If we adopt a particular product feature, go-to-market tactics, product pricing range, customer support SLA etc, the decision has to be conscious and deliberate. Not surprisingly as CEO, my input is also required in respect of technical decisions, despite being a non coder. Especially for decisions with long term implications. So for instance, I’m heavily involved with platform, database structure, deployment procedures etc. While understanding critical technical aspects of the business is my responsibility, I’m fortunate to have amazing technical co-founders that do the heavy lifting.
Just to be clear, reading and researching of course doesn’t mean I get to make all or even any decision. But it does guarantee that I get to have relevant questions/input and awareness of final decisions.
We all know great UI/UX help sells products. However it plays an even bigger role when you’re developing an enterprise level product, aimed at small business. If they don’t ‘get it’, they won’t ‘use it’. It’s that crucial. There’s just so much at stake that ensuring user’s interaction with PrognoStore is delightful, is one of my core focus. I provide wire-frames to designers, review mock-ups, approve designs, map out customer journeys etc for a consistent end-to-end user experience.
This is the last stand for a non coder CEO, to ensure that the final product does not deviate from the initial vision.
Test the Application
This might sound obvious. But someone has to maniacally test the product especially if you’re not coding. This also takes on even more importance if you’re not in a position to ‘eat your own dog food’. Your job here is to test, find bugs (steps to recreate, screenshots & file in bug system), pass to technical co-founder, retest, close bug. And repeat.
Apart from dedicated test sprints, a non coder co-founder has the additional responsibility to take this job as one of his/her key duties. Nothing is more perplexing than a co-founder who can’t code and doesn’t understand this duty. You should be the person who finds the most bugs in the system.
Top Ten Tips for Bug Tracking by Joel Spolsky
Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users by Jakob Nielsen
My philosophy on this is simple, ‘If you’re not creating the product, you best be working hard to sell it’. Hold on I hear you say, ‘if you’ve not launched, should you really be telling people about PrognoStore?’
Stealth mode is for fighter jets, not startups — Dharmesh Shah
The sad but well documented reality is that for most new startups, the greatest challenge is to get people to care about your product. I know and understand that it’s hard to believe people might not care about what you’ve worked so hard to create, but that’s the way it works. In respect to marketing tasks, I create landing pages, email campaigns, blog posts, advert copy, SEO tactics etc to help spread the word.
The vision needs to be told and sold. Over and over again. This has to be done internally (see startups and meetings) and externally (recruitment, investors etc). Sometimes people think at the pre-launch stage, there’s not much to talk about. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, as the advantages of evangelising are enormous such as;
- Reinforces and clarifies the vision. You understand why you’re doing this and get better about telling your story.
- It provides you valuable feedback on your product, ideas, assumptions,
- You start to get ‘you’. It becomes clearer what culture, values, style etc are important to you
Always on Call
This is probably the most important element of my work. I’m always available. Always. Because of the distributed nature of PrognoStore’s team (across 3 countries), there’s a substantial time difference (+7hrs) which means work literally goes on at all points of the day.
Developers fix a stubborn bug at midnight, I will test it. Developers want a 5am meeting with BA, I’m on it. Someone is excited and wants to brainstorm about a feature at 2am, I’m all ears. Weekend meetings, that’s the norm. Every minute of every single day is spent thinking about this one thing. It’s intense and not everyone can (or wants to) work at this level. It’s a calling hence why it’s called a following a vision.
If you don’t believe in ‘it’, don’t do ‘it’
If you were curious about PrognoStore. We got started in April of 2014 and opening to the public in November of 2015. We are currently in limited beta and you can join here to be notified when available.