Why Every Entrepreneur Should Code

Summary:  Whether you’re 15 or 75 – every entrepreneur should take advantage of the amazing tools and platforms available to us and start building her product. You’ll execute faster, recruit better talent, learn new skills and how to deal with constraints. And no matter what happens – you can keep going.

author’s note: This post I’m trying something new. I embedded my accompanying soundcloud “micropodcast” and discussed (see bottom) why I selected this photo.  Please let me know if you enjoy – thanks, Kevin

I Can’t…Don’t Have Time…Am Too Old

Enough of the excuses. You CAN start building your product

Entrepreneurs ask me constantly for help finding tech-cofounders who can “build” the product. I usually ask them why they don’t start by building the product themselves. They give me a lot of reasons, most of them not very good1 One time I even had somebody 20 years younger than me tell me she was too old to learn!

I don’t care if you’re 15 or 75 – if you want to be an entrepreneur you should start building your own products.

My Story – Falling Back in Love with Code

How I went from developer … to manager … back to developer

“You’re the founder and have better things to do than sitting at computer coding”
–Someone who gave bad advice 5 years ago

My education (Electrical Engineering) was highly technical and at age 22 I assumed I would be doing technical work for my entire career. I soon found that most employers – particularly the US military where my career started – wanted me to spend more time “managing” and less time doing hands-on work.

By age 28 all of my work was management and I assumed my tech years were behind me. In 1999 I started Soapbox.com with Venture Capital and hired people to build the product – my days were management, meetings, and money.

10 years later I wanted to start my second web company and just assumed I would hire people again. Then the 2008 financial crises hit and there was almost no VC available. The people I wanted on the team all had their own startups. I knew that outsourcing development didn’t work for startups and didn’t have the money anyway.

So I decided to give this “Ruby on Rails” thing a try and start building my own product. In retrospect, it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.

Here’s why.

Coding Makes You Unstoppable

If you can code you can keep…going…even through tough times

“You are a warrior”
–Ira Glass

If you can code, your startup will never fail as long as you keep working at it. Never.

If you can’t raise money, can’t find a developer, or lose key team members, you can keep going. You may have to take a break from your startup to do some consulting, but you can keep going.

You Will Execute Faster

Quickly take customer conversations and turn them into product

Smaller teams are more efficient (up to a point), and there is no smaller team than 1. If you can hack together a mockup or a product you can start testing, getting it in the hands of people and getting feedback.

No meetings, no paper, no contracts, no phone calls, no specs. Customer input directly to code.

Building products is getting easier every day. What I can do today in 4 hours would have taken me 4 months and $100K 15 years ago. Take advantage of these amazing new tools and platforms.

You Will Attract Talent

The best developers will respect you more for coding

Developers hate working in environments where people don’t understand and appreciate their work. They also know that startups are 10x more efficient if the founding team can use technical terms when making business decisions.

Coding proves you “get it” and are building the foundation for great culture.

Even if Your Startup Fails – You Win

Learn to code and you’ll be in a better position for your next startup

Is this your last startup? Probably not. Even if you’re “successful” you’ll have the itch and probably never be able to get a day job again.

If “new skills” are a goal of being an entrepreneur then you can’t fail.

Put the Minimum in MVP

Coding yourself means making choices – and building less

If you start building your own product you will be forced to make choices. To build less. Serve a smaller niche. Focus.

This problem never goes away, there’s never enough money and time. You’ll be building the foundation of a great product by learning to deal with constraints from the beginning.

Try Not – Do or Do Not

How to Get Started

Programming isn’t something you LEARN – it is something you DO. There is always more to know, more to learn. It never ends and the only way to get started is to get started.

Today. Do.

Related Posts

How to Learn how to Build Your MVP
The Best Programming Language for Lean Startups

About the Photo

Photo credit: subblue

I picked this photo because it is fractal art.  Fractals have always been a powerful visual metaphor for me, symbolic of the beauty and elegance of great software, the power of the simplicity.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  1. The one exception to this rule is sales. If you are a sales guy AND you’re already selling the product before built it you’re probably an exception to this rule. But usually these type of people don’t need my help – they’re also great at “selling” to developers as well and can get people to rally around them.


  1. Shlomo Freund (@StartUpNoodle) March 3, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Hey Kevin, Great post!

    On the recent years although I learned how to code I discovered I don’t’ particularly like it. So although I think people have really DUMB excuses for not learning how to code, “I don’t like to code” might be a different issue here.

    Still, after doing more management and leading stuff for the last couple of years just like you, I wonder if I should start my own Ruby on Rails project. what’s your recommendation for material to start out?

    • kevindewalt March 3, 2013 at 5:36 am #

      I’d suggest asking someone who started recently, from what I understand there are better tools. My suggestion is to first pick the project and do it:

      But if you don’t like to code…why do a software startup? Why not start a different type of business?

      Personally I’d start with what you like to do. I really, really enjoy writing software; I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it.

      • Shlomo Freund (@StartUpNoodle) March 3, 2013 at 6:04 am #

        Tech and software startups are still my thing. Fortunately I have a co founder who is a great software developer.
        I admit I like the business parts of a startup more than the coding it self, but by not being able to do it, I feel I’m less valuable and it’s a skill I should know and ability I should have in case I need it.

  2. Shardul March 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Great post, Kevin, as always. One suggestion I’d make is to modify the title to Why Every TECH Entrepreneur Should Code. If I’m an entrepreneur building a non-tech startup, coding has no direct relevance. I get several of these types of folks in my “lean product” classes. 🙂

    • kevindewalt March 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      I’m trying to get better at writing less like an engineer (which I am) – in other words, not lace everything with caveats because it makes it harder to read.

      I had thought to add elements like “web/mobile software” entrepreneur but that got a bit tedious….

  3. Stephen Guise March 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Thanks Kevin. This is the nudge I needed to get back into programming. I was learning C++ a while back, but I stopped because [valid reason not found].

    With my limited understanding, I could only guess what you meant when you said what used to cost 100k and take 4 months now takes 4 hours. Is that because you can now use freely available preprogrammed, optimized code? Something like “modules” or “functions” that have already been developed and are open source? And before that would take a team of programmers or something? If you could elaborate on that, it would be very helpful!

    Great article. I like what you said about how coders can keep going even after the funds dry up. That’s a significant advantage in a competitive world.

    • kevindewalt March 5, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Hey Stephen,

      The “what used to cost 100k and take 4 months now takes 4 hours” was just metaphorical, but I’m talking about deploying web applications. (not sure if writing code in C++ is any easier).

      So Web app frameworks (Ruby on Rails..), app hosting (Heroku…), collaboration (Github…) are what has made me much more productive.

  4. abhilash October 26, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Hey Kevin,

    Good post. I am a tech entrepreneur and am trying to develop embedded products(no domain focus as of now)
    I would consider myself as a decent enough programmer(C/C++/Assembly) and quite ok with the hardware too. Even though i cannot design my own hardware( i am learning that now..) i can easily assemble the hardware required for my products. This way i keep my cost very low(1 man team and a few people who support for free.). The startup is already 14 months old and i could get only one product out in the market(which was a flop) and other one is out for testing. I want to develop many more systems and also want to market them aggressively. Now here are the challenges that i am facing as of now –

    1. It is taking a lot of time to develop a product and introduce in the market (minimum 6 months or so). Assuming only 3 out of 10 products become successful it would take a minimum of 60 months for me to develop each of them. How do i develop them faster.?

    2. I do not know which customer segment to focus on. Embedded systems are used in many customer segments(retail, consumer electronics, industrial automation, automotive, power, military etc). How do i focus on one domain and find what i can develop something of value to the customer in that domain.?

    • kevindewalt October 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

      These are pretty complex questions, I suggest you grab some time with me so we can talk through them. I’m afraid we won’t get very far in blog comments. http://sohelpful.me/kevindewalt

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