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Demystifying the Tech World: You Do Not Have to Be A Technical Founder To Start a Tech Company

Explore the inner workings of tech entrepreneurship as Susan Sly unveils what it truly takes to succeed in the industry without deep coding skills. Learn from her journey as an Award-Winning AI entrepreneur and MIT alumna, where she shares four practical strategies for bringing a Minimum Marketable Product (MMP) to market.

Discover the importance of early market validation, the benefits of a hybrid development approach, and the pitfalls to avoid. Gain insights into the technical landscape of AI solutions, the value of continuous learning, and the role of ethical considerations in entrepreneurial success.

Whether brainstorming ideas or gearing up for your next venture, this episode of Raw and Real Entrepreneurship will ignite your entrepreneurial spirit and equip you for success in the tech world.

Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • Building a tech product without being technical.
  • Entrepreneurship, product development, and outsourcing.
  • Building a strong team, hiring, and continuing education.
  • Computer Vision, Generative AI & Learning AI Development.
  • Entrepreneurship, mindset, and goal-setting with a focus on staying positive and productive.

About Susan:

Susan Sly is the maven behind Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. An award-winning AI entrepreneur and MIT Sloan alumna, Susan has carved out a niche at the forefront of the AI revolution, earning accolades as a top AI innovator in 2023 and a key figure in real-time AI advancements for 2024. With a storied career that blends rigorous academic insight with astute market strategies, Susan has emerged as a formidable founder, a discerning angel investor, sought after speaker, and a venerated voice in the business world. Her insights have graced platforms from CNN to CNBC and been quoted in leading publications like Forbes and MarketWatch. At the helm of the Raw and Real Entrepreneurship podcast, Susan delivers unvarnished wisdom and strategies, empowering aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned business veterans alike to navigate the challenges of the entrepreneurial landscape with confidence. Dive deep into the essence of success with Susan Sly, and redefine your entrepreneurial journey.

Connect With Susan:

X: @susanslylive
Facebook: @susanslylive
Instagram: @susansly

Check out our previous shows


Read Full Transcript

This transcript has been generated using AI technology. There may be minor errors or discrepancies in the text as it follows a natural conversational flow.

Susan Sly 0:00
Hey everyone, Susan here. And I hope you're having an outstanding day. And I want to thank you, thank you for being here. Thank you for being one of the 1000s of people around the world who listen to the show. Why? Because you either want to start a business, you have a business, you're curious, whatever it is about entrepreneurship, you have landed in the right place. And in this episode, I am doing a solo show. I'm going to share with you is something that I researched over the course of several years, and I had a misperception about it. And that is really answering this question. Do you have to be technical to start a tech company? And if so, what are the steps you take? Or maybe you don't have to be technical? That's why we've talked about. How do you build a technical product if you are not technical? Yes, that's the show. Why? Because prior to me actually going to MIT and becoming more of a technical founder, I was not a super technical person. I mean, I understand marketing tech. And that's my background. But I didn't really understand a lot of, you know, engineering and data science and building out AI platforms. So I had to learn. And now as a second time AI founder, I am doing things very, very differently. And I'm going to share with you why that is, how that is. And you hopefully are going to learn a lot in this episode. So with that, we are going to get right into the show. And I hope you enjoy this episode of Raw and Real Entrepreneurship.

Susan Sly 1:36
This is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship, the show that brings the no nonsense truth of what is required to start, grow and scale your business. I am your host, Susan Sly.

Susan Sly 1:48
All right. Well, wherever you are, I hope you're having an amazing day. And you know, here's a question for you. Have you ever thought about building a tech product? And I, oh, my gosh, I've been doing so much networking and the day I am doing the show because it is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship, I have to tell you, I am tired. My husband was flew out on an early flight this morning. So he was up at 3:30 in the morning. And then our rescue cat, Nigel, he got up. And so I have been up for a very long time. And I am committed to getting you a new show every single week. And so I was doing a lot of research and using my different AI tools like, you know, Answer the Public and ChatGPT. And what I want to do, and I came to this conclusion, I wanted to share with you something I've learned as a technical founder that I didn't know, prior to becoming a technical founder and here's the thing, you don't have to be a technical founder to start a tech company. I mean, it's sure it's helpful. But at the end of the day, the goal is to get something out there in the market that people are gonna pay for. Right? Yes, nod your head smile. Absolutely.

Susan Sly 2:25
So I'm going to talk about how to build out your MMP. And what is an MMP, it is a minimum marketable product. So we used to refer to this as a beta or a MVP, a minimum viable product. In my studies at MIT, because money is not cheap anymore. Interest rates are higher. VCs are holding their funds a little closer to their chest. The one of my professors said, let's talk about MMP. So what is it that you can build that as a minimum marketable product, that even this very basic stripped down version of what you're going to get out, people will pay for. And I've interviewed hundreds of founders, and the ones that have been the most successful that I have found, are able to put out an MMP and get that early proof of value POV that says, Hey, someone is going to pay for this.

Susan Sly 3:01
So it doesn't matter what your product is, even if you're not thinking of building a technical product, you are going to find substance in this episode, because I'm going to be sharing with you different four different ways that you can get your product spun up and out to market. And at the end of the day, if you are using OPM other people's money, you have a responsibility to get your product out there to the market and have people begin to pay for it in a very cost effective way.

Susan Sly 4:23
So we're going to talk about some of the ways that are more cost effective than others. And we're going to talk about what steps you can take if this is something you really want to pursue.

Susan Sly 4:33
So let's get right into this. So the first way that you can get your MMP spun up is to do it yourself. So if you are a technical person and you want to build a tech product, then that might be easier for you. So you might have a job and you know, maybe you have kids and you're like oh this is something that I could create the architecture for and I could probably begin to do some coding on it. And I can use some off the shelf tools and begin to put this together. So I have a friend and I won't say what his name is, but he is an engineer. And he is very, very bright. He's one of my MIT colleagues, he works full time. And he's thinking of doing a startup. And in his mind, he already has the architecture for it, he's done a tremendous amount of research, and he can begin to build out a lot of the parts of his MMP. And so if you're that kind of person, then that's great. And if you're not building a tech product, it might be another kind of product, like how many people have started some kind of food based product, and they made those gluten free cookies in their own kitchen, or they made that pie in their own kitchen, or they made that that crafting thing, you know, in their workshop, or whatever it is.

Susan Sly 5:48
So if you have the ability to build out your own prototype, or your own minimum marketable product that someone's going to buy, kudos to you, because that is the lowest cost thing to do. And then guess what? If no one wants to buy it, you didn't spend a lot of money getting it spun up. And that is fantastic.

Susan Sly 6:06
One of the biggest reasons entrepreneurs fail, is because of cash flow. That's number one. Why did they run out of cash, they weren't responsible enough, or was it they really didn't do their research to see if there was a market fit for what it is they had?

Susan Sly 6:23
As an aside, females, women based founders are actually more profitable in the early years than their male colleagues. And one of the reasons is because women tend to look at all of the different obstacles in terms of where there could be costs associated. And we're also really good at being resourceful. And so the you know, one of the big things and if you've ever heard me speak live or seen some of my videos of me speaking and talking about women entrepreneurs, is that even I love male entrepreneurs, too. My dad raised me as a single dad, he's amazing, he's still going strong at 84 years old, his name is Joe, he was an engineer, he was an entrepreneur. The one things I'm going to say is, you really need to bring some women into your leadership team, maybe there's a space for a co founder, maybe there's a space for a female advisor. But studies show that companies with at least one female, co founder or founder advisor, they do tend to do better. So just something to think about, as I went off on that little rift about really, you know, saving on your costs.

Susan Sly 7:32
The second way that you can get a technical product out the door, is the to hire a external dev shop. And so there are lots of great ones out there that you can, you know, just Google and look for and look for their ratings, hopefully interview some of their past customers, and you can pay them to build out whatever it is that you're thinking. And in terms of that, and this was the research, I looked, yeah, I was looking and looking, you know, how do you do this, I was asking friends, I was, you know, I've had people on the show, and you can go overseas, or you can go domestically. Now I know the show goes all over the world. So that can mean a lot of things for a lot of different folks. So for those of you listening, United States in Canada, let's say you're going to use a domestic dev shop, then that getting that MMP out the door could be 75,000 150,000, could be 250, it could be 400, 500, it depends on what it is you're putting in. I would suggest strongly that you keep that MMP south of 250,000 if you can do it. Because that way, as you're getting your product out the door, if it is a b2b product business to business, you might only need one sale to actually pay for it. If it's business to consumer, you need a lot of folks using whatever it is your building. But the 250,000 mark, if you can keep it in around there or less, that's a great thing to get that initial MMP out the door. Now, there are some cons to using an external dev shop and I was interviewing someone. And I said, Okay, where's your data being stored? And they were like, well, oh, the dev shop takes care of that. And I said, Well, what data are you gathering? Well, the dev shop takes care of that. What tools are they using? Well, the dev shop takes care of that. The the the worrisome part about this, if something goes sideways, you can lose all of your intellectual property, you don't have control, you actually don't know where those data vulnerabilities are if you have a cyber attack. So there's a lot of trust associated if you are using an external dev shop and you don't really have control over what's happening. And let's say you don't have the technological background, to be able to ask the right questions and to oversee thing so that's just a word of caution there.

Susan Sly 9:51
And the third thing you can do is you can use a hybrid model. Ao the hybrid model is slightly more costly. You you're using an external dev shop. But you've also hired people that can work with that dev team, you are controlling the licenses. So it's your AWS license, or it's your GitHub license, it's not something the dev shop is using. So you have no control, no access, you are controlling the documentation, you're making sure that every single step of the way that your team is highly, highly aware of what's going on. That allows you to be more protective of your intellectual property, of course, and if something does go wrong, that you have those basic components of that MNP under your control. The nice thing about this is, if you are still working full time somewhere else, and you're spinning this up, you're raising money for your startup, and you're able to hire some people to be able to oversee that dev shop, then things can go on without you until you are ready to come full time into that business. And that that is a great way to go.

Susan Sly 10:57
The fourth way is the costliest way. And that is where you hire people, and you build it yourself. Now, this can be wonderful, because you control your IP, you have ultimate control over everything. Think about Steve Jobs, you know, working with his team and building out the Mac. The great thing about it is that you are the visionary, you know what you want, and if someone isn't in alignment with it, then you can let them go, you get to choose your team. And that is absolutely fantastic. The challenge is that it can ultimately become way more expensive. If you are using internal resources and you're pulling them off other projects, then those projects can suffer. And that that can be a big problem, too. And I've seen startups where they will do that, they'll say I'm not going to use any off the shelf tools, I'm going to build everything internally, I'm not going to use an external dev team. And you know, doing, of course, with the right heart, the right intentions, and so forth. But spending millions of dollars, sort of in a research capacity, not even knowing if there is a true market for what it is they have. And there are a lot of inventions that are in people's garages that never made it to the market for that very reason. And so depending on the way you want to go, you can get something out the door.

Susan Sly 12:17
And I want to just share with you just from my own experience, especially being a non technical founder than being more of a technical founder. And the the piece around this is really around education. And so if there is something I don't know, I don't want to say I don't know. I surround myself with people who know. But at the end of the day, I do want to know so I use tools like LinkedIn learning. I absolutely love it to go on and learn. Right now, candidly, I am doing a JSON basics course on there. I have done all kinds of courses on there. One time, I wanted to learn about the different clouds and what they have in terms of AI capability, whether it's GCP, Google Cloud, Amazon, web services, Microsoft, and so forth. So I like to learn and you should be investing time every single week, at least an hour or two hours really immersing yourself in learning. And even though I have already graduated from MIT, I'm an alumni, I'm taking another year long course at MIT. Because I want to keep learning. The way I am going to stay on the top of my game as an entrepreneur is this willingness to learn. And so I have a friend, her name is Kathy and she is an investor in our new company, thePause Technology. She's also an advisor. And she said to me, I want to learn AI. And I said, You know what? Absolutely, she's 71 years old. I said, Go on LinkedIn, get the LinkedIn pro version. And it's so fun to see your LinkedIn because she's posting certificate after certificate because guess what, you get certificates when you do these little courses. And that's a great way to go. YouTube is another great way to go. But this education piece, my friend is so imperative, don't just be that person is like, Oh, I'm gonna hire people. And they know but I don't know because that's the the one of the fastest ways to lose money. As an entrepreneur saying, someone else will handle it. You need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, who are ambitious, who are bright, and that's all well and good. But you need to speak the language and you need to know what it is they're talking about.

Susan Sly 14:32
I came out of computer vision and I'm so grateful for five years in that field. And we were using security cameras. We were using edge compute. I memorized the whole Nvidia GPU line that was related to our requirements that we used and whether it was like super heavy GPUs or lighter GPUs. I started to learn about the different CPUs required and to be able to do that configuration and to be able to know, okay, if we had to spin up an environment that would be conducive to computer vision at the edge for retail, I knew the components that were required. And I had to learn that. And now I'm in a different kind of AI not only is the same and that's for another show or a talk, it's that now I'm, I'm using generative AI. And so that is new to me. And there's still GPUs over there. But we're not using edge servers, and we're not using some of the compute and the IOT, we're using different Internet of Things devices to be able to pull off what it is we're building. My point being is, just because I've been voted one of the top women in artificial intelligence in real time AI to watch in 2024, does it mean that I have that same capability yet, for other forms of AI. And that's where, for me, it's like, okay, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, and be that person who has this vibrant understanding, not just of how the AI works, but what is the technical environment that is required in order to deploy that AI. And so that's why I'm, we're not just building this MMP this product. But we're also like, I'm learning and I'm encouraging, our team to learn. And even with one of our data scientists who I've worked with, for many years, who's now at TPT. It we, we were training our large language model, and it was we're just having the best time, like just having so much fun doing it. And he was like, Oh, I didn't know it could use reinforcement learning, which is a type of learning to train an AI and AI. And I'm like, oh, yeah, it did. And we, you know, we spent an hour just doing it, and going back and forth and throwing questions at it. And I don't have to do that, as a CEO and founder. I don't. I could just have one of my team do it. But I do it. Because I want to know, I want to learn because I know at the end of the day, whether I'm being interviewed on mainstream media show or on a YouTube show, or a podcast or whatever, when I'm getting asked about AI, I want to be able to come from that place of authority, and say, No, not only is this how it works, but this is what I'm using it for, and this, how I'm using it, how I'm doing it, and so forth.

Susan Sly 17:28
So I the the message that I have for you is you do not have to be a technical person to create a technical product, you do not have to be the person who builds a prototype, in order to get your idea out to the market. But you do have to be curious, you have to be ethical, you have to be responsible. And you have to understand the language and the landscape, especially if you're going to hire someone else to build it. And there's, we're in this amazing time for people who are starting businesses, and you, you know, a lot of the people who listen to the show are not necessarily technical people. But they stop me they're like, oh, my gosh, I listened to your show. And I'm really inspired to start a business and I don't know how and I don't know where, and that's who this show today is for because that was me. I was like I, how would I even go about building a prototype of something or building an MMP of something? If I am not currently coding, right. So how does that work? And that's, those are just some of the things that I learned. So with that, I want to say, you rock and thank you for listening to show, please share the show. There have been some updates in Apple and I want to ask you please, please, please give a five star review. Write a physical writing review, share the show on social please tag me on social. If you have a question on entrepreneurship and you want me to answer it, go to Submit a Question and I'd be happy to take a look at that question and answer it in a coming episode. So with that, don't forget to stay tuned because I'm gonna get give you this week startup diaries. So without God bless, go rock your day, and I will see you in the next episode.

Susan Sly 19:19
All right, so this week's startup diary. Oh my gosh, I have been out every single night. It's been bananas. Not every night, but it started on Wednesday night. And I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm actually even though I can do like a speaking event with 20,000 people. I'm actually somewhat introverted. So I'm a selective extrovert. It just takes a lot of extra effort for me I'd much rather be at home with a textbook then necessarily out it doesn't mean I don't love people that it just Yeah, some people they it energizes them and for me it's kind of like oh, so three nights in a row for you might not Sounds like a lot for me it was a lot. And so the first night, I went to the movie premiere of show her the money and that was produced by my friend, Catherine Gray. I've had Catherine on the show. I've been on Catherine show, she angels and and the show really focuses on the disparity with the funding for female lead female led companies and less than 2% of women led pitches to VCs in the United States get funded less than two freaking percent, and yet our companies are more profitable. And it is crazy. So the message really is around women funding women. And there are a lot of ways to do that. I'm an angel investor. And after seeing the movie, I made the decision that I will only now fund female companies. And I will, you know, take a look at if there is a female co founder, but if an a male founder, but I'm female led companies. That's where my ethos is gonna be right now, this year, I'm investing in my own startup. So I'm not deploying capital as an angel investor, but I have. And I've invested in companies like Jen Pelka, as company Une Femme Wines. Jen has been on the show, Lori Harders company gloci, I'm an investor in that company. And I'm an invester in other companies too. So I right now, I have a small startup portfolio and I'm an advisor to companies that have equity and but that was a big thing. So the premiere is fun. The next night, I had dinner with our friend, Greg Barr and his fiancee Megan. Greg is the editor of The Phoenix Business Journal here in Phoenix and Greg, he is such an incredible stand for entrepreneurs. And we have the you know, Fire Awards coming out here in Phoenix. And that is, it's the of all of the business journals, the United States, Phoenix Business Journal's the only one that has an event just for female entrepreneurs. And I'm speaking there this year on AI. I was a nominee last year. My company's too new to be nominated, you have to be at least two years old, so not this year. So anyway, we had a great night. And then the third thing that happened, it's a Friday night. And Friday was my son's graduation. And I just want to share about my son. So my son AJ, is neurodivergent. And he or you know, you might say, on the autism spectrum. And when he was a young boy, he was told he would never qualify to even go to community college. He never played team store sports, he used to have anxiety attacks, he ended up in the emergency room. And we just couldn't find the resources for him. We ended up moving to the United States and putting him in an amazing school shout out to New Way Academy and Phoenix. And there he learned to advocate for himself. He learned how to shake someone's hand, he learned math, he learned all of these amazing things. He graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He went on to go to Grand Canyon University here in Phoenix. And he just graduated with a degree in advertising and design with full honors. And I cried, and that was Friday night. And so it's a you know, it's it was three nights out. But one night, it was really about the family. And while we're building out the product for thePause, it's it's going so quickly, there are a lot of decisions to be made. We publicly announced our partnership with Microsoft for Startups. So thank you, Microsoft, for giving us so many technical resources and 1000s and 1000s of dollars in technical credits. It's incredible. And if anyone's listening from Amazon, love you guys, now I'm spinning up our Amazon account, I would love you to match what Microsoft gave us. That'd be amazing. And so we're getting that going, we're building out our community, we're looking at the demand, we're looking at what women are talking about, especially when it comes to menopause. And so there are a lot of things going on. And I've really, as a founder, been, as I said, in this episode, I'm learning a lot. I'm growing a lot, I have a lot, you know, a lot of technical things that I'm putting together that I have heard about before, but I've never been on the ground in the front row and getting my hands dirty with so, you know, I have a GitHub account, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily contributing to the GitHub repository. Right. So lots of things going on. And and I just, you know, again, I think that managing your energy, staying positive, keeping your self focused on your goals is huge. Having your I have little post it's up of my you know what my objectives are to really build this community of a million happy users who are using the platform daily. That means so much to me to be able to help women positively navigate menopause. It's incredible. So my goals are up in front every morning and I'm reading I'm rereading The Magic of Believing by Claude Bristol. I'm making sure that at night, I am recording all of my wins. But I'm also focused on the wins that I want to have the next day. When I go into the gap like a wall kicking moment, it's WKM. I'm either going to getting on the treadmill, going for a walk, or I'm just writing what I call a love list and writing down all the things I love just to reset my mind. Listening to a ton of audiobooks as well, I just am finishing Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan's book The Who Not How. I've read The Gap in the Game, this year. I've also read 10 X Is Better Than 2x. So so many things that I'm doing to stay in the right mindset, because I know that when I am in that mindset, things flow easily. I just meet the right people, I have the right conversations, but I can't afford one minute of negativity or pessimism because that costs me a tremendous amount of opportunity. So that's been the the last week and I am looking forward to going away for a few days. At the end of next week, I'll be with one of our advisors, and investors and we'll be focused on what the community is going to look like and start to invite people into the community. So that's this week's startup diary. And we are making some changes with the show with the diaries. And really, I do this for all of you. It's not for me, believe me, it's a labor of love. But I know that at least one of you needs to hear these messages, because you're sitting on the fence and looking for the courage to start a business and you really needs to just get started. So with that, that's this week's diary. And I will see you in the next episode.

Susan Sly 26:57
Hey, this is Susan and thanks so much for listening to this episode on Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. If this episode or any episode has been helpful to you, you've gotten at least one solid tip from myself or my guests. I would love it if you would leave a five star review wherever you listen to podcasts. After you leave your review. Go ahead and email Let us know where you left a review. And if I read your review on air, you could get a $50 amazon gift card and we would so appreciate it because reviews do help boost the show and get this message all over the world. If you're interested in any of the resources we discussed on the show, go to That's where all the show notes live. And with that, go out there rock your day. God bless and I will see you in the next episode.

Susan Sly

Author Susan Sly

Susan Sly is considered a thought leader in AI, award winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker, best-selling author, and tech investor. Susan has been featured on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime, ABC Family, and quoted in Forbes Online, Marketwatch, Yahoo Finance, and more. She is the mother of four and has been working in human potential for over two decades.

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