‘Founder’s Tech – Tech trends, tips and advice for founders, entrepreneurs and bootstrappers’ is a recurring column by Jake Hare, founder of Nashville-based Launchpeer, a web & mobile application development agency focused on startups, entrepreneurs and bootstrappers.
There is so much documentation out on the Internet regarding this. Most articles talk about how code is at the core of tech startups, especially SaaS (software as a service), which has become an increasingly popular area for bootstrappers and entrepreneurs to get into because of the promise of monthly recurring revenue. Who wouldn’t want to build such a business?
The problem with the idea that founders should learn to code is time. How realistic is it for hopeful founders to spend the time needed to learn to code, and I’m not talking about WordPress or simple HTML and CSS, but an actual application framework such as Ionic, Ruby or countless others that will yield a usable web or mobile application. Even if it’s just building a minimum viable product, it’s difficult to spend hours of your day, oftentimes after already working eight hours at a full-time job that pays the bills, to learn to code. There are a lucky few who have the time and money to attend schools like Nashville Software School or The Iron Yard for months on end, but that’s simply not realistic for most. For most, it’s spending time on sites like Codecademy or Code.org trying to pick up some knowledge, which could take months if not years to master enough to fully build what you need, if you were electing to build on your own.
At the end of the day founders should ask themselves why they should learn to code. If the answer is to build your MVP inexpensively and quickly, that’s likely not a correct assumption. The reason a founder should learn to code is actually something quite different. It’s really to know enough that you don’t get screwed by the freelancers or developers you hire to build your product. At Launchpeer at least half of our clients come to us with an existing, often horrible, code base, with the founder or team having worked with freelancers in the past, writing code in a silo with little checks on the work they were performing. Best-case scenario is the code actually works, but is buggy; worst-case scenario the team gets something that doesn’t work at all, all while they were billed some hourly rate that ended up being for nothing. The reasons for this are often the same: the founder or team didn’t know enough about code to provide meaningful assistance in terms of application requirements, didn’t know enough about code to know what items should be worked on first and for how many hours, and didn’t know the best framework for their situation to begin with. This leaves the founder at the whim of the freelancer, who doesn’t have near as much invested in the business venture as the founder.
The reason a founder should learn to code is actually something quite different. It’s really to know enough that you don’t get screwed by the freelancers or developers you hire to build your product.
In short, a founder should definitely learn how to code. Not necessarily enough to build a full application, but enough to know how long some features will take to build over others. Enough to know that their application should be a native app instead of a hybrid app because of the features being built. Enough that when their freelancer or development team is running into problems, the founder understands, at least at a high level, what the issue is and can provide assistance or prioritize certain items over others.
If you’re a founder trying to learn how to code, and you have the time to attend a code school, then definitely do it. Our agency has hired developers out of The Iron Yard and other schools, and the training they provide is definitely enough to build an MVP. But, if you’re like most entrepreneurs and you’re busy working a full-time gig, hustling part-time to build your startup, then elect for something like Udemy, Pluralsight or Codecademy if you’re OK with self-guided modules that can teach you the basics. If you’re looking for something a little more intense with the help of a mentor try the online programs at Bloc or Thinkful, both fairly costly but come with a mentor who you can meet with regularly.