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Entrepreneurship

10 Non-Tech Founders Who Started Successful Tech Companies

SimiNovember 22, 2017

If you can honestly tell yourself that you have never day-dreamed about winning a big prize money, receiving an inheritance from a distant relative or landing the next dream big contract for your company, you’re probably lying to yourself. The truth be told, most dreams never really turn into reality unless you focus on them daily, and plan and visualize how you’ll turn the fantasy into reality.

We all want to know how the founders of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook did it. Where do those big ideas come from and how could we put ourselves in the position to uncover the next million-dollar idea? What’s important to remember is that finding breakthrough ideas is really one of the secrets to winning in business even if you lack an appropriate technology background.

Consider too that innovative ideas are not confined to products but could be a process, business model or management invention. Transforming ideas into economic opportunities is the crux of entrepreneurship. Starting a business is never easy. Many give up as soon as they run into unfamiliar problems. But for those with staying power, the business environment gradually opens up and reveals its secrets.

Once you know how the business system works, what is real and what is false, the business can provide you with returns on your investment that rival some of the highest. Be warned though, running a successful technology company is for truly the adventurous entrepreneurs. These 10 founders prove you don’t have to be technical to start a successful tech company.

1. Pandora: Tim Westergren

One of the richest sources of new business opportunity is an unexpected success. This is what happens when, after a period of tinkering you wake up one day and realize that you have created something that will be of huge economic value. This is exactly what happened to Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora Internet Radio.

Although lacking a technical background, Westergren, later on, worked as a feature film composer. He had to watch films complete with dialogue and sound effects without music. He was required to determine the best musical fit for the film and recommend it to the film’s director.

Having listened to many CD’s, he built a “musicological profile” that suited the director’s preferences. He then realized that he understood their preferences and taste.

It was at this point that he soon thought that this could be a good business idea that required to be implemented. He went on to create an entire taxonomy of musical attributes that could be codified into a technological system. He together with Jon Kraft later on secured a funding for the now what they called the Music Genome Project.

A project that was thought up by Pandora’s co-founder Westergren. It identified various characteristics of music in order for the people to create personalized radio stations with only the music that they liked. In March 2004 Westergren raised $9 Million and went on to make Pandora a reality. In November 2005 they launched their full free service to the public and it was a huge success. He stayed on with the company as the CEO. Pandora is now unbelievably worth $900 million in annual revenue with 81 million users.

2. iCracked: AJ Forsythe

AJ Forsythe started iCracked, which is an iPhone repair service, in what can be described as a creative experimentation that is consistently linked with highly successful entrepreneurs. In what was thought to be a misfortune turned out to be an opportunity for AJ Forsythe after his phones used to break down over the years. With little money to repair them, it was an unwelcome experience.

One day, when he was still a student at California Polytechnic State University, the lack of technology background did not stop him from taking his phone apart. He ordered some parts online and fixed it. Talking about luck, it also happened that other students were facing the same experience. He, therefore, ended up fixing the other students’ phones. With only $75 per repair that could be done in his dorm room, many students found it to be a good bargain.

He later ended up making $60,000 to $70,000 annually for doing the repairs. In his senior year, he teamed up with Anthony Martin and started expanding iCracked business. By the time he was graduating he had created a network of 40 technicians to assist him. In 2012, Forsythe and Martin opened an office in Redwood City, California, which became their head office. That year they ended up making $2 million in revenue. Things went even better in 2014 when the revenue increased to $25 million.

Presently, iCracked boasts of having 70 permanent employees and a network of more than 5,000 “iTechs” out of which 1,600 are certified. The business model is based on selling the parts to the techs who then do the fixing for a flat fee of $100 which wholly goes to the techs. The company continues making $25 million in revenue annually.

3. Coffee Meets Bagel: Arum, Dawoon, and Soo Kang

Coffee Meets Bagel is a free dating app that assists people to have a single match every day and you can also buy the available additional features. The idea for the business came from the Kang sisters, Arum, Dawoon and Soo and it was immediately a hit with many customers.

The company was started and launched in 2012 after Arum had graduated from the Harvard Business School. Dawoon just like Arum holds an MBA and Soo is a designer.  Although none of the sisters has a tech background, they learned a lot running a business from their father who had a recycling company in South Korea.

Creating a dating app that would set it apart from the many dating apps that are on the market is not an easy thing to do. However, the Kang sisters managed to create an app targeting women that has a combination of spectacular features that, when added up, gave it a definite perceived advantage over the competition. The app identifies a match once a day and it is presented at noon. They can begin chatting when both parties approve of each other. It’s said that where there are women, men will be there. Therefore, the concept of the business is that men would be pulled in by the presence of women using the app.

The majority of the company’s employees are software engineers. Many people became aware of the company when they turned down an offer of $30 million from the American billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’S “Shark Tank.” This was the biggest offer in the show’s history. Today, Coffee Meets Bagel has managed to raise $11.2 million in venture funding.

4. Getaround: Jessica Scorpio

Jessica Scorpio turned an idea into a successful business venture after attending Singularity University in 2009, a Silicon Valley program designed to inspire young leaders to tackle global problems. Born in Canada, Scorpio started the company named Getaround after that program.

A class consisting of 40 students was challenged by Google co-founder Larry Page to come up with an idea that could affect 1 billion people. Jessica thought she could reach a 1 billion people if she got enough people to share their cars with their neighbors. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Scorpio decided to immediately after that start the Getaround company. She faced some challenges as she had to convince people to start thinking differently.

Her business to be successful required people to reconsider that it was more significant to think of the value access to cars rather than ownership. It means that car owners can rent their vehicles to their friends for short periods. Getaround has a car gadget that is installed in the car so that it can be tracked. It allows the company to find it and in so doing the renter becomes aware where to pick it. It works in two ways, the owner can receive a text message or if they have an app, it sends a message alerting them that someone wants to rent their car for a specified period.

The renter can easily unlock the car. The whole process is easy and even if the owner of the car wants to meet the renter in person, they can do that. This business has attracted $45 million in venture funding and the company says that car owners can make $8,000 a year. The people who don’t own cars can save $8,000 on car rentals and gas.

5. Tilt: James Beshara

James Beshara, founder and CEO of Tilt, had a concept that was based on making the company to be a social network for money. At the age of 26, he was crowned a rising star by the kingmakers at Y Combinator in 2012. The idea was for the users to exchange digital cash for birthday functions and beer functions. Although Beshara had no technical background, he had learned the entrepreneurship skills from his parents. His father is a businessman and self-help author.

Beshara met co-founder Khaled Hussein in 2011. Beshara, a Wake Forest graduate, had moved back to Texas after working on micro-lending projects in South Africa. Hussein, a Rackspace engineer and originally came from Egypt and studied at Virginia Tech. The company’s name was later changed to Crowdtilt.

In May 2012 Tilt managed to get $2.1 in the Y Combinator from backers such as Gmail developer, Paul Buchheit and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. By then, more than 2,000 users were joining Tilt every month. Starting in the early of 2013, Tilt was receiving millions of dollars in venture funding and raised $12 million in funding at a $40 million in valuation. It became popular even on the college campuses, where students were using the company’s mobile app to crowd-fund events.

The same year, 2013, the company launched Crowdhoster which is an open-source version of its crowd-funding technology. It was designed for brands that wanted to use product pre-orders to determine demand or create interest from customers. The company is now funded at $37 million and is used by ESPN that assists Fantasy Football Players pour together their funds for a prize. 

6. Sprig: Gagan Biyani

Gagan Biyani who found Sprig is a holder of a BA degree in Economics from UC Berkeley. He used to work as an adviser to the car sharing company called Lyft. One of his working colleagues once asked him if the Lyft business model could be applied to food. That idea was the likely magnet for Biyani to form Sprig.

The company was started through a successful experimentation. Experimentation refers to the activity of tinkering with different ideas then quickly offering a new service to a small client base just to test it out. This applied to the company which initially involved delivering food to people in 20 minutes when they ordered on the app called Eventbrite. Sprig instantly hired Google’s former executive chef, Nate Keller to ensure there was high-quality control in the food they were cooking.

The first night of experimenting the idea it was successful although there was no technical testing. The tests enabled them to validate if the idea was workable and wanted to get customer feedback. The second night they delivered to 40 people and it was eventually raised to 100 people. They then tested if they could deliver in four days in a row. The idea of experimentation was to quickly learn what works and what does not work. With each test, they added a technology.

Having successfully tested the idea, Sprig was now able to let the drivers load their cars with the pre-selected food for the particular day. The customers would use the app to communicate with the drivers and get their food. After delivery, the driver would go to their next customer. The company has $11.7 million in funding and full-time employees total to 30 of them.

7. NerdWallet: Tim Chen

The former financial analyst Tim Chen and former JPMorgan Chase banker Jacob Gibson founded NerWallet in 2009. Tim Chen’s search for information on the internet for better offers on credit cards left him disappointed but also let to the formation of NerWallet. It happened that over 90% of credit cards were not sponsored. The company started listing credit cards that were not sponsored for over 5 times the number of listings which was more than anyone else.

The simple reality of demography enabled Chen to realize that many people have a credit card. They are used frequently in people’s day-to-day life. All of this is so obvious that you would think that there was no need to be reminded of the importance of the credit cards.

However, when it comes to finding out the best credit card to use, he realized that you hardly find the information you are searching for on the internet. The company also uses their blog to inform their customers on how to use their credit cards. This enables the customers to make better informed decisions on how to use their money.

Chen was appalled to find out the number of people who have been financially ruined due to the bad decisions they make on credit cards. The company is able to comfortably compete in the market because other companies cannot manage to run the credit cards which are not sponsored. This can reduce their shareholder’s return on their investments. CNN Money recently nominated Tim and his company as one of the top 20 money sites. NedWallet has now over 150 employees and modern offices in San Francisco. All this has been achieved without seeking outside funding.

8. Teespring: Walker Williams

The two friends from Brown University, Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton founded Teespring which is a crowdfunding site. It is used for custom clothes that allow people to express themselves and promote their campaigns. When Williams and Stites-Clayton were seniors at the university, they decided to design and sell t-shirts to remember the closing of their favorite Providence bar. To their surprise, they soon realized that the selling of the t-shirts required thousands of dollars in upfront fees and had some logistical problems. Because they did not have enough funds, they immediately decided to find a solution to these challenges.

They only had 12 hours to come up with a site that eventually sold hundreds of t-shirts. This attracted the attention of their fellow students and non-profit organizations. They, very soon, started requesting the two founders to replicate their model for them. That’s when Teesspring sprung out as a crowdfunding site for the clothing used by artists.

When Williams attended a YC incubator program, he had already been running the company for only six months. In fact, by then, the company was already making some profits. The program was still beneficial because it taught him other facets of business which he did not know. Importantly, he was able to learn and form networks with the thousands of entrepreneurs and mentors.

Teespring is now one of the biggest sites where artists are able to crowdfund their own apparel designs.The site is now shipping over 100,000 orders a month and has a $56.9 million in funding. The company has over 200 permanent employees and Williams is the CEO responsible for maintaining user experience while Stites-Clayton is the CTO.

9. Workday: Aneel Bhusri

Workday was co-founded by Aneel Bhusri together with David Duffield. The company sells subscriptions to its software services as opposed to selling the software. Bhusri worked for a tech company called PeopleSoft after he graduated from Stanford University Business School in 1993. It had been his long-term ambition to work for a tech company.

The CEO of PeopleSoft was David Duffield. After going out for a beer, Bhusri was impressed with how Duffield mixed with people. This cemented their friendship even further. Although Bhusri started working from a low entry-level position he rose the promotion ladders until he became the second most senior executive at PeopleSoft in 1999. Later on, PeopleSoft rose to become the second largest software company before it was eventually acquired in 2005.

In 2005, Bhusri and Duffield decided to form their own company and co-founded Workday. It was a similar story with both of these co-founders of Workday when it came to working hard for the company. It very soon became a successful company after a few years of operation. The company specializes in human resource software that is based on cloud technology. In 2013 it was a big milestone for the company when it developed and sold its HR products in the United States.

Bhusri’s idea has always been to have fun while working hard to build a strong company. Along with such thinking, when Workday’s employees hit their targets they are given a week off and a regular payment. The two co-founders established Workday Foundation in 2012 that has a 500,000 share donation. The employees are also assisted in a number of ways to help various communities. The company is now getting over $1 billion dollars in revenues.

10. LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company: Brian Lee

Brian Lee is a serial entrepreneur of three companies LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company. Lee’s entrepreneurship skills were developed from his family. His father who also graduated from the university and migrated to California from South Korea with only $500 in his pocket. He started working in a furniture company before eventually starting his own stainless steel import company.

Lee graduated from a UCLA and became a tax attorney. He very soon realized that he was not getting enough satisfaction with his practice. He, therefore, left the law career but it gave him an idea of starting LegalZoom company. He and fellow co-founder Robert Shapiro injected in $25,000 as start-up capital for the company. The company which is an online service provides people with an opportunity to draft law documents such as wills, leases and trademark registrations. The cost of drafting the documents is cheaper than hiring an attorney. Presently, the company has over 3 million customers.

Shapiro later connected Lee with Kim Kardashian. They went on to co-found ShoeDazzle company in 2009 which is an online shoe subscription service. It has a personalized shoe portfolio for its members who are now over 18 million people. The service ensures that each member is sent a pair of shoes for $39.95 with free shipping. The company was later acquired by JustFab in 2013.

The Honest Company is run by co-founder Jessica Alba and specializes in eco-friendly products. The company was launched in 2012. The company offers a subscription service that sells non-toxic children’s products. In its first year, the company had a revenue of $10 million. In 2014 it had a revenue of $150 million and now the company is now worth $1 billion

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