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Starting An Early-Stage Startup Without A Technical Partner

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By Arum Kang (Co-Founder & CEO, Coffee Meets Bagel)

Last August, as a freshly minted MBA from Harvard Business School, I decided to strike on my own. I’ve always dreamt of building my own company, but it wasn’t anything more than an idea. Even though I have never worked for a startup or knew many people in the startup world, I decided to take the plunge.

Thankfully I had my sister Soo, a talented designer, as a co-founder to bounce off product ideas for our future company. The only missing minor detail was that we didn’t have anyone to actually build the product. Sleepless nights reading up on startup advice, stories and how-to-guides followed.

Attending meet-ups, posting flyers, and meeting people through my network resulted in a great conversations with highly qualified people, but no one ready to jump on board with us. I became depressed and felt alone, repeating roller coaster ride between high hopes and rejections.

Seven months later, here I am as the co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, a social dating application that introduces users to quality singles close to their network – one per day at noon, privately. We just launched our private beta on Valentine’s Day and I am so thrilled to see our member base grow.

It wasn’t easy. But it is possible. For those aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to strike on your own without a ready tech partner, here’s my advice.

Tip #1 – Start small.

When we first came up with the idea for Coffee Meets Bagel and shared with advisors and potential tech partners, we often heard back that our idea was too simple. They would invariably suggest ideas or additional features to add and other things we could try. Some were definitely great additions but we tabled most of them for later because we wanted to focus on simplicity and something we could take to the market faster. It turns out our customers agree. They love the simplicity of our product. More things can always be added later.

Tip #2 – Having a technical co-founder is not a requirement to start something.

We first built our minimum viable product through a developer we tested and vetted on Odesk. I wish I had read this excellent post by Derek Sivers before I started but we learned along the way.

My advice when hiring people abroad is always test them first with a simple project and trust your gut instinct. We were able to build a successful minimum viable product we tested out among a small sample of people and the results gave us the confidence to move forward.

Tip #3 – Know your product.

I have seen many cases where “business” people don’t spend the time to really understand how the product is built—they want it to just happen so they can focus on what they are good at, be it marketing or finance etc. This is very dangerous.

You must understand, even at a high level, how your product is built, especially if the person building the product is not a co-founder. I had occasions where I did not ask the right questions to clarify and make sure I understood what the developer was doing (doesn’t matter if the developer is local or abroad), only to later find out that there was a misunderstanding. Also, understand that there are multiple solutions to the same problem and asking the right questions and discussing will help your developer come up with a better solution.

Tip #4 – Have a technical advisor.

I was extremely fortunate that even though I did not have a technical co-founder earlier, I had a very talented advisor who helped me vet out the candidates, oversee the process and even help out with emergency situations. I really don’t think we would be here if we did not have an advisor whom I could call for help any time with regards to tech matters.

An advisor doesn’t have to be someone with a tremendous experience in the field. It can be your friend with great programming experience who understands your product. Don’t think advisors have to be a VP of engineering at Google.

Tip #5 – Be open-minded and put yourself out there!

I would have never done this before but now I often find myself having coffee with people I barely know or randomly met in the startup scene. It still feels weird to me, but it’s amazing where you can meet people who may be able to help you or you can offer help.

Attend meet-ups, meetings, networking events etc., not necessarily to recruit developers but to meet people with similar interests and experience. You never know where the new connection might take you.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Not having a tech co-founder from the beginning is definitely a disadvantage. However, it’s not a requirement to get something started. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that you might not have the right team yet or the right connections. If you spend enough time, commitment, and energy into your dream, you will find a way to make it happen for sure.

I love hearing from fellow entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs so please feel free to reach out to me to discuss anything! @arumkang or arum at coffeemeetsbagel dot com

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Magnus D. on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Arum Kang is the Co-Founder and CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel, a social dating app that introduces one quality single per day at noon, privately. She is passionate about leveraging technology to make meaningful connections for people. Previously she worked as a product manager at Amazon and Avon Products. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from University of Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @arumkang.