Why business co-founders ought to learn code

Learning to code will make you a better entrepreneur, even if you don't become an expert.

In the new Internet economy, code is king. Taking the time to learn the basics of programming will help you succeed in business and entrepreneurship.

A few days ago, an aspiring entrepreneur e-mailed me with a simple question:

"Do you need to be an expert in coding to build a successful startup, or can you employ experts to do the technical work for you?"

This person has demonstrated success as a businessman and a salesman, but he caught the entrepreneurship bug and couldn't shake it. He wanted to start his own company.

I knew what he wanted to hear: You don't need to know how to code to start an Internet business! It can and has been done! Instead, this is what I told him:

"You have to code, not because you need to be good at it, but because technical employees are far more likely to follow a founder with technical experience."

The era of coming up with an idea and hiring a technical person to build it is over, and it has been for a long time. It's easier than ever to learn code, thanks to services like Codecademy. This is especially true for entrepreneurs that want to build Internet startups.

"I'm surprised at how helpful, even now as an investor, being able to code things is to my job," Harjeet Taggar, a partner at the incubator/seed venture firm Y Combinator, says. He qualified his response by noting that certain industries, such as enterprise sales, require more noncoding tasks than consumer-facing applications.

"I think a big takeaway is that if you're a business co-founder, you should 1) at least spend some time being able to understand the vocabulary of code, and 2) pick an idea that leverages your skills."

This topic is personal for me. I've been spending the past two months working on a startup, in addition to this column. The majority of that time has been spent coding and learning to code. I'm no expert though--what takes me an hour to build, my co-founder can create in five minutes.

But that's OK--I don't need to be an expert. My job is to focus on research, user acquisition, partnerships, and the business side of the startup. My programming responsibilities basically boil down to a few key tasks:

  • Find and fix bugs
  • Implement small features
  • Manage the site design
  • Understand how our product works on a technical level

The last point is the most important one. Understanding how difficult a requested feature will be to implement has made me better at prioritizing our company's time appropriately. The only way to truly know how a feature or a product works is to understand code.

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is simple: if you don't know how to code, learn. Don't worry about becoming an expert--just put in the effort and learn the basics. The knowledge and understanding of code will make you a far stronger entrepreneur.

 

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