As technology continues to play a broader and more pervasive role in our lives, the line between tech companies and non-tech companies becomes increasingly permeable. Everyone uses technology, whether they’re writing code or writing copy, designing software or designing jewelry. The challenge for entrepreneurs is how best to position themselves in this new landscape.
Even when technology is central to a company’s value proposition, it isn’t all they do. No company is solely a tech company. Ultimately, every product or service is intended for people’s use: to save us time or money, to make our lives better or easier.
At the same time, businesses whose core value propositions aren’t inherently technical still rely on technology for sales, marketing, operations, finance, and more. At my company, for instance, we’re revolutionizing the property management business by using technology to optimize rates and improve operational efficiency. Thinking like a tech company — regardless of your value proposition — can set you up for success with customers and investors.
Here are three pieces of advice for building a strong business, whether you’re focused on tech or not:
Assess Your Cofounder(s)
We recommend making sure that at least one of your co-founders has a strong background in software development. This early investment in technical expertise establishes you as a tech company, regardless of your product or service, and ensures that decision-makers are well-versed in technical challenges and solutions. Also, you’re going to start vetting outside vendors sooner than you think, and you’ll need someone at the executive level who can make a realistic assessment of the costs and advantages of those offerings.
What if you are the technical co-founder? Be honest about your ability (and your bandwidth) to handle the other responsibilities of leadership. Can you build relationships, reach out to investors, identify customers, map your buyer’s journey, create a marketing strategy, support sales efforts, and establish operational processes? If not, find someone who can — even if they’ve never written a line of code in their life.
The key is to write a strong story for both sides: the technical and the operational. It’s tempting to emphasize one side over the other when appealing to different audiences, but the truth is that no business is entirely technical or purely operational. Your company will intertwine the two, using technology to support operations and vice versa. Co-founders who reflect this intertwined approach will make a powerful team.
Invest in Technology Early
Just as it’s important to find a co-founder with some technical prowess, it pays to invest in a strong technical team at every level. Whenever you can, hire employees rather than contractors as your engineers, developers, and analysts. A substantial and early investment in technology (in human capital as well as tools) will help you scale effectively.
Because we don’t sell software, we buck the traditional definition of a tech company. However, we’ve always employed many talented software developers and invested heavily in both out-of-the-box and purpose-built software solutions to meet our evolving needs. And even though we’re vacation rental property managers, technology is at the core of our value proposition. It only makes sense that we would make such consistent and significant investments in it.
Consider Building Instead of Buying
Our company went from using no external software services to using many external solutions. This evolution happened naturally, as a consequence of our rapid growth. As our business model became more advanced — and as our needs became more complex and more narrowly defined — we realized we needed a more diverse toolset.
Eventually, however, we became a “build” company, using our own purpose-built property management system. We simply couldn’t find an out-of-the-box solution that could keep pace with our unprecedented growth and swiftly evolving business needs. Which brings us back to the importance of investing in technology, from the technical co-founder to the development team: If you have these experts in place, you can properly assess your company’s technical needs at every stage.
Every company is a tech company. The more you think about technology and its essential role in your business, the more successful you’ll be.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.