How to Make Your Startup Tech-Savvy
Skip to content
Entrepreneurship Innovation Jul 7, 2016

How to Make Your Startup Tech-Savvy

No matter the industry, it is important for entrepreneurs to be able to talk tech.

Even a construction startup needs tech knowledge.

Michael Meier

Based on insights from

Jeffrey Cohen

Brian Eng

Today’s entrepreneurial landscape is irrevocably tied to technology. Every new venture is beholden to it, even those whose deliverables seem thoroughly analog.

“If you’re starting a construction company, you might think it’s just lumber and nails,” says Brian Eng, cofounder and managing partner of Bluebuzzard, a Chicago-based software firm, and an adjunct lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School. “But technology always ends up being a more critical component of the operation than you might think. Incorporating the right technology is critical for any company that wants to scale.”

When we think of technology, many of us immediately think about reaching customers. “You need to have a web presence,” says Jeffrey Cohen, an independent software engineer, entrepreneur, and adjunct lecturer at the Kellogg School. “Any customer-service function requires a social-media presence, like a Twitter account or Facebook page.”

But just as important, of course, is the back-end technology that is essential to day-to-day operations. Cohen and Eng provide tech strategies to give non-tech startups a competitive advantage—without allowing the technology to consume or distract them.

Be Conversant Enough in Techspeak

“You would never start a construction company without knowing how to hammer a nail, and you would never start an accounting firm without ever having balanced a checkbook,” Eng says. “But companies are being started by people who graduated business school who don’t know how to write code, nor do they understand how a website is served or how the apps get onto your phone.”

Add Insight
to your inbox.

While repairing a server may never be your calling, familiarizing yourself with tech jargon, the industry, and potential issues can help you avoid expensive mistakes. Even something as simple as hiring consultants to oversee web development requires a bit of technological know-how.

“Even if you never intend to write a single line of code,” Cohen says, “when you are outsourcing, you will have a better idea of whether the price a vendor quotes is realistic, or if they are just trying to fleece you.”

Find the Right Products and Services

Now more than ever before, the simple answer to many tech problems lies in the off-the-shelf products and services available to today’s entrepreneur. Although common sense dictates that an emerging business needs to distinguish itself in order to thrive, don’t let reinventing the wheel—that is, developing your own custom tools—distract you.

“Knowing when to build something in-house versus buying is a complicated decision that requires expertise.” —Cohen

“The tools don’t matter,” Cohen says. “What matters if you are trying to compete is to make sure that you are using them in such a way that you are becoming so much more compelling than the competition.”

While you are focused on being compelling, services like Square can take care of retail-credit-card transactions; Stripe can handle all facets of online payment; Atlas, still in beta, shepherds startups through the process of opening a bank account, obtaining a state business license, and incorporating as a business. There are even products to handle your handles—Buffer, for example, automates digital marketing functions for small companies by batch-processing tweets for release.

Finding products to automate functions frees up resources for companies to dedicate to their core competencies.

“A lot of these services are being commoditized,” Cohen says. “This is an indicator of how the barriers to launching a startup are lower. But just because something is off-the-shelf does not mean it is actually a good idea, and knowing when to build something in-house versus buying is a complicated decision that requires expertise.”

Which brings us to Cohen and Eng’s final recommendation.

Find the Right Experts

When your startup reaches the scaling stage in its development, you will need to hire someone—or a team—dedicated to the company’s tech needs. The person to make these complex decisions might take the form of a technical cofounder, a Chief Technical Officer, or an outside consultant with a firm grip on the company’s priorities.

The simplest way to hook up with the right expert is to mingle; at business incubators, tech-focused entrepreneurs scramble to find technical cofounders with whom they can realize their products. This search, Eng and Cohen emphasize, is as vital to non-tech startups as it is to tech companies.

“Getting paired with the right tech expertise from the outset gives you a chance to succeed; otherwise you’ll waste at least a year and a lot of money if you get the hire wrong,” Cohen says.

Making astute technology choices will keep you free to focus on the core of your business—even if that business is nuts and bolts.

Featured Faculty

Member of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship faculty until 2018

Adjunct Lecturer of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

About the Writer
Eugenia Williamson is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
Most Popular This Week
  1. How Much Do Boycotts Affect a Company’s Bottom Line?
    There’s often an opposing camp pushing for a “buycott” to support the company. New research shows which group has more sway.
    grocery store aisle where two groups of people protest. One group is boycotting, while the other is buycotting
  2. 5 Takeaways on the State of ESG Investing
    ESG investing is hot. But what does it actually deliver for society and for shareholders?
    watering can pouring over windmills
  3. Could Bringing Your "Whole Self" to Work Curb Unethical Behavior?
    Organizations would be wise to help employees avoid compartmentalizing their personal and professional identities.
    A star employee brings her whole self to work.
  4. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  5. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  6. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  7. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  8. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  9. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  10. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  11. Podcast: Does Your Life Reflect What You Value?
    On this episode of The Insightful Leader, a former CEO explains how to organize your life around what really matters—instead of trying to do it all.
  12. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  13. Your Team Doesn’t Need You to Be the Hero
    Too many leaders instinctively try to fix a crisis themselves. A U.S. Army colonel explains how to curb this tendency in yourself and allow your teams to flourish.
    person with red cape trying to put out fire while firefighters stand by.
  14. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  15. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  16. In a World of Widespread Video Sharing, What’s Real and What’s Not?
    A discussion with a video-authentication expert on what it takes to unearth “deepfakes.”
    A detective pulls back his computer screen to reveal code behind the video image.
More in Entrepreneurship