Product Development for Non-Technical CEOs
Being the non-technical founder at the head of a code-centric work environment can feel like you’re a fish out of water. If you’re surrounded by individuals who seem to know leagues more than you do about the output of the industry you’re in, then where do you fit into the equation? Perhaps you should pack up where you are and leave the work to someone who knows how to build the product.Now go ahead and bundle that last thought up and throw it out the window.
You may be swamped with folks who can build good code, but can they introduce your product to the public? Can they catch the eye of potential investors? Could they, while simultaneously create your flagship product, construct a viable marketing plan, copywriting portfolio, research competitors and the state of the market, or devise an operational system for infrastructure and operational costs?
There can be no product without an organization to deliver it. You’re more than a salesman, you’re the one in charge of building a foundation for a commercially stable and viable company. The idea that the product makes the company is a fallacy that often goes overlooked, in the same vein that the lead singer is the only important member of the band.
You may not have the most expertise in the room, but you’re still capable of having great product ideas. Your input is just as valuable as anyone else’s in the boardroom; don’t let anyone tell you that knowledge is more important than creativity. Then, while the product creators are put to the grindstone, you can be left to your own devices outside of technical aspects, such as original concept generation, researching the target audience, business strategy, and marketing.
Designing Your Product
Do not let yourself be pulled into the mindset that the design and direction your company will take should be left to those with a technical background. There may be investors that would prefer that, but what do they know? There are numerous companies headed by non-technical founders and co-founders currently thriving, such as AirBnB and Pandora Radio. If anything, distinguishing yourself from your employees and peers’ skill sets provides you the means to put your skills to their greatest potential.
Are you an engineer or an entrepreneur? If you’re foolhardy and start treading in water you don’t know how to swim in, you’ll be doing little more than weighing your company down. Set your parameters and focus on what you’re strong in.
While in the beginning stages of your product design, the number one thing you should concern yourself with in research. Concerning yourself about the ballpark you’re going to be playing in is your starting line. A little scouting guarantees your a fair glimpse into what’s going on in your chosen sector. Among the key areas of interest you should be investing your research time into, you should dive deep into the following:
- Who you want to market to
- What kind of product will fit the audience’s needs with similar products in the market
- Competing companies’ business practices in the market
- General business intelligence
A product without a target audience is a loose cannon. You might not have one in mind, but every product in existence is intrinsically geared toward different demographics. Figuring out who you’re creating this product for is the guiding direction for the entire operation moving forward: development, marketing, advertising, campaigning, you name it. Consider it as if you’re not only learning about the sorts of people you will be interacting with, but how you envision your own product and its place in the market.
During the research portion of the product design phase, you don’t need to have a fully fleshed out concept for your product yet. If anything, you shouldn’t, because you want some flexibility to adapt your practices as you uncover new research information. Keep in mind what impact your product will have on the target audience in comparison to similar alternatives on the market. How can you make your company stand out from all the rest?
That similarity between products is both an obstacle to overcome and a godsend. While you’re examining the market and determining how to separate yourself from it, take the time to learn from your competitors. What are they doing with their property that’s proven effective? Figuring out how they sell their products, their design methods, what their marketing emails look, etc., establishes a strong, genuine starting perspective.
General business intelligence gathering is, at best, vague, but that’s because it covers a fairly broad area of criteria. What’s important is data, and nearly any bit of information about the market qualifies as data. You may want to collect information about pricing comparisons, SEO keywords to adopt, the state of international markets, seasonal markups, competitor performance decisions, and so on so forth. Any little bit helps.
Start researching as early as you can in the design process. It may be tedious, grueling work, but the payoff will not only positively affect the performance of the project, but it’s as much a personal mental confidence booster. With comprehensive research being performed near the beginning, you’ll find that the long-term effects will save you time and money as you’ll have a better idea of how to improve the design process and have a clearer idea about your end goal.
You don’t need to be a technical expert to accomplish detailed research. Really, anyone can do it, but you’re the perfect candidate for the job as it’ll give you accessible, meaningful work to help complement and enhance your company’s workflow. And, once again, keep in mind that at this point in time your idea doesn’t need to be fully-developed at the research stage. Even if the product concept is a bit ephemeral at the moment, research will still prove to be valuable.
Developing the Product Design
Even though your background isn’t on the technical side of the business, the product design and its use can all still be done without knowing how to code. They are, after all, two separate if often conjoined parts of an organization’s success. The need to bridge the gap between how a business runs and who makes the product for the business isn’t a necessity.
You don’t know how to make the product, how it functions and what the intricate lines of code are for? That’s fine. After all, you don’t have to know how the product works to know what it should do.
However, even though you’re by no means hopping on the technical route and reinventing yourself as a software engineer, it would do you well to at least learn some of the basics. Going full throttle and learning programming languages might wind up setting you back, distracting you from your prime focuses. What you should learn is some basic understanding of different kinds of technology and IT services that can serve your organization well in the long run.
There’s a difference between observing your strengths and being ignorant of your weaknesses. Tapping into the technical side of things for a layman’s rudimentary walkthrough will help facilitate your decision making in the future. Like familiarizing yourself with a foreign culture, a little learning goes a long way toward making informed decisions and facilitating conversations with technical experts as you commit yourself to the success of your company.
Will you impress anyone with your knowledge? Probably not, but at least they’ll see that you tried and succeeded to some small degree, and it’s the thought that counts most of all.
Around this point in the process you’ll be starting on getting R&D for the product accomplished. Unless you’ve had prior experience with a technical project of this type, consulting with a technical expert will be your first stop. Topics that you should garner insight on should include the feasibility of the product design, what you should expect as a development timeline, how costly it’ll be, and what they think could improve the idea of the design.
You’re back to the ever important task of gathering information. Researching on your own is in of itself a valuable source of information, but nothing can quite beat having experts on hand to answer any questions you may have. Your picture of the whole is still incomplete, and drawing on a variety of different experts helps piece together what it takes to actually develop the product.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, accounting for the data you’ve compiled, numbers you’ve crunched, and advice you’ve received, you need to take into consideration where this product will be developed. You have three options: in house, outsourced, of a hybrid combination of both. Any one of these options will have tremendous bearing on how your product will be affected.
For the in house option, your company is guaranteed to have the utmost control and direction over how the product is developed, including coding, features, pace, localization, and capability to immediately address bugs and issues that may come up in the process. Granted, this level of control tends to come at a cost, especially if you end up hiring new talent for your software engineer team.
Outsourcing, by comparison, is much cheaper than an in house option, as you get access to an experienced team at a lower cost. In return, however, you lose a portion of control due to communication difficulties and risk receiving a lower quality product than expected. However, using a nearshore team helps mitigate these risks while still retaining the benefits. iTexico is an excellent source for situating you with a high quality nearshore outsourcing team in Mexico.
Bringing the Product to the Market
There’s no doubt that developing a product idea and design is vital. The thing is, the scope of a CEO is so much broader than just those two aspects of the job, and you shouldn’t limit your responsibilities in light of that. A lot of what we’ve talked about doesn’t have to be a one-man job. It’s also within your interests to look for outside help.
Being a good CEO involves hiring people that know what they’re doing, people that you can trust to take a large part of the burden of development off your shoulders. It is, after all, a lot of work for a single person to bear, and ultimately if you tried handling everything on your own, all you’d be doing is slowing everything down.
With all the research and all the development spent on a product, every minute of work you’ve poured into this project culminates into one thing: marketability. You might have an incredible product that has countless hours of research backing it, but that’ll all go to waste if you can’t sell it to the public. What exactly makes this product valuable? What do people want from it? What niche can it fill?
In essence, don’t spend so much time making the thing that you neglect who you’re making it for.
It’s not easy being a non-technical founder of a tech company, but it’s far from impossible. It takes some effort on your part to bridge an unfamiliar gap, but you’ve accomplished harder things, haven’t you? A little chutzpah and perseverance gets you far in any walk of life. You might not be the most tech savvy guy in the room, but if you know one thing, you know how to make sure that everything works the way it should.
Your job gets broken down into a series of non-tech related responsibilities: product design, research, design process, marketing the result, and an overall grasp of the work process as a whole falls on your shoulders. Of course, you aren’t required to shoulder it all alone, but you’re guaranteed to have your work cut out for you even if it doesn’t seem like you would at first.
The most important thing to take away is that when you’re in doubt, talk to an expert. You will always be able to find someone who knows more than you, whether that person happens to be in real life or on the internet. Human beings are a catalogue of walking knowledge, and you would be remiss to ignore that value for what it is.