I remember the day very clearly. It was a cold winter day in late ’12; my co-founder and I were having coffee with John Wark, proprietor of the Nashville Software School. John was graciously listening to our plea (begging actually) for my-founder Zach to attend the upcoming 6 month software development training program. The upcoming cohort was already full, actually over booked to be more accurate, and there simply were no available slots.
At that time, our startup GreenPal was building the first version of our product with a local development shop. None of us knew how to code, but we didn’t let that get in the way of attempting to bring our idea to life. Very quickly in the journey of attempting to develop a “shop built” product, we realized that we were naive to think we could build a technology company while relying heavily on outsourced tech talent.
Ultimately, there was a huge gap between what they ended up building and our product vision. Begrudgingly, we launched the shop-built product, which had taken 13 months to build, had come in over budget, and quickly became an embarrassment to show to friends and family. The thing was barely useable. Talking with early adopters of our product, we heard the same major problems over and over again. Although we had a visually pretty product, it was difficult to use, confusing, and bounced users like a basketball.
Our collective backs were against the wall. We had to build an entirely new product, from scratch. No one on our team had ever written a line of code, and the cold, hard reality set in that if we were to pursue our vision, we would have develop ourselves to become a dynamic self-reliant team. Shortly thereafter, Zach stepped up to make the pilgrimage to learn software development. This brings us to where this story began—at Starbucks asking John Wark to create a seat in the training program for Zach.
John was kind enough to hear us out, listen to our story, our vision, and the tight spot we were in. After a two hour discussion, he agreed to grant us the slot if another student dropped out. Luckily, three days later, one did, and Zach was in. Six months later and after going through Hell and back—as well as countless headaches I’m sure—Zach graduated from software school with a junior level understanding of front end and back end development languages. He pushed himself firmly outside of his comfort zone, and the reward was the acquiring of skillsets we desperately needed. His impressive and expedient grasp of the programing languages inspired our fellow co-founder, Ross, to begin learning Java Script for front end development, all self-taught with online courses and trial and error, as we soon realized that we would need specialists in both front end and back end languages.
Up until that point we had been delusional to think that we had a shot at building a successful company with solely outsourced tech talent. For the first time, now our team is actually in the startup game.
Without the in-house skills to quickly make iterations and execute on our product roadmap, our startup had been dead before it ever got started. The ability to move rapidly with agility all while controlling costs are all that matters in a startup. Our newest investment in training ourselves will prove to be invaluable.
So, if your startup needs a tech co-founder, consider becoming one. Does your team want success badly enough to consider life changing decisions like dedicating the hours needed to learn programming? I am lucky my co-founders did; we are now well on our way building version two of our product all in house.
It feels good to have a self-sufficient dynamic team, as we can chart our destiny with our own skill sets.
Bryan Clayton is a serial entrepreneur and cofounder of GreenPal. Follow him on Twitter @bryanmclayton