When we think about the tech industry, the first thing that comes to mind is often “coding.”
So is it possible for someone with no technical background to build a successful tech startup?
To get a look at how non-technical founders can get into DEEP TECH, we spoke to CA Prajwal Ajay.
He is building Gordian, its IoT-enabled lockers make the delivery of valuable items, safe. They have delivered up to INR 14 crores (Approx 2 Million USD) worth of parcels in Bangalore, India.
Excerpts from the interview…
As a non-tech person, how did you understand deep tech?
Even though I am a Chartered Accountant, I’ve always loved tech; learned Java back in school and was a science kid till 12th grade.
But when I started out to build Gordian, I didn’t know which branch of engineers I’d require for building the product.
One of the most crucial things that helped me was that I was always willing to learn.
Coming from a CA background, most of my friends were from non-technical fields.
I had to reach out and luckily found a couple of friends who were into telematics and similar technologies. It gave me a jump start in terms of understanding what are the basics.
Over a period of researching, conversations with multiple engineers, and reading up, I understood different available technologies and that there’ll be electronic, mechanical, and computer science engineers involved in my venture.
I never bothered writing code myself, (How many things would I look after?). What I did was understand what goes into the product so that I could give the right inputs to my team.
I visited a ton of exhibitions. When they said some words that I didn’t understand, I Googled them and tried to figure out what it was. When they say schematics, you Google it and understand it, things like that.
After having these conversations with people over some time, Gerber, PCB fabrication, and components procurement started making sense.
Eventually, I understood the market.
How was it building Gordian without a tech cofounder?
Once I got a basic sense of my product I joined the incubation wing of NASSCOM and joined NASSCOM’s deep tech club. We got incubated at NASSCOM 10000 Startups.
In all these places you meet a lot of interesting engineers and people who talk about deep tech.
No, I didn’t have a tech co-founder and handled most of the technical parts by interacting with multiple engineers across the spectrum. Figuring things out on my own was way more exciting.
In due course, I realized that I played the typical role of a product manager while building this out. I was just trying to get the initial prototype out rather.
Once that was done, I found some professionals and really good engineers. I explained what I had in mind and they got sold on the idea to drop their rates and join us.
What kind of challenges did you face in your journey and what were the learnings that you acquired over time?
A lot of decisions that I took early on, especially on the software architectural level, backfired significantly over the next one or two years. We had to rewrite a lot of code to make it scalable, lightweight, and make it work properly. It took some time.
That’s why I don’t take any architectural-level decisions anymore. I realized that it’s one of the stupidest things a non-tech founder can do.
Even if you are someone who has one, two, or a couple of years of experience, I think you should go to industry experts who can work on the architecture of the product, to understand what databases work at scale, what programming languages work at scale, what frameworks work at scale, which deployment platforms work at scale, etc.
If I were to start all over, I would never do this without a tech co-founder.
Also, I would spend more time speaking to the engineers before hiring them and try to understand their competency before trusting their words.
What advice would you give to a non-tech finance professional trying to build a tech startup?
Is coding required if one wants to launch a tech company? Usually no, but coding is the most basic part.
Maybe I can write code in node or Java but building scalable software requires many different things. You have to think about the backend, frontend, and DevOps, and also handle scalability, and product security among others.
If you are a non-tech person it becomes extremely difficult for you to ensure all these aspects are dealt with, hence the ideal way to go on about it will be to get a tech co-founder. Someone who can build the tech product.
Millions of finance guys want to play a role in tech startups. Where do you think they can fit in beyond the finance role?
I think there shouldn’t be any boundaries in terms of what someone can do because any skill can be picked up.
From what I’ve seen, product strategy, and business development roles would be an ideal fit for CAs and finance professionals. These are things that you would’ve seen as part of your CA curriculum.
In my opinion, a lot of CAs would be well suited for the role of a product manager. A product person is someone who understands the need of the customers. They need to understand surface-level tech such as what are the technical capabilities of a certain product and what is capable of being built by tech etc.
As CAs we understand things from an outward perspective or have a Bird’s Eye view, and that is the major skill required for strategy-based roles. Planning when your unit economics are tight and all these things are very crucial in price planning. These are part of strategy roles and something that CAs can definitely look at.
Apart from these, it depends on the individual whether they’re interested in sales, business development, or other roles. However, more and more finance professionals are getting into diverse roles and it’s only going to get exciting from here on out.
When we look at successful founders it automatically creates a misconception that if you want to build great deep tech startups, being a coding expert is pivotal.
However, you do need some basic understanding of the type of product you are going to build. So if you are not a coding guru don’t think that your opportunity to build a tech company is nonexistent.
Here are several Non-tech entrepreneurs who built great tech startups.