10 ‘table stakes’ tech skills for non-technical startup employees

The cries of “Learn to Code” are drowning out the reality of the situation at most early stage startups – that not everyone has software development skills and that it’s not practical to just pick up these skills while working 60+ hours a week at a startup.

Certain tech skills are table stakes for non-technical startup employees

Certain tech skills are table stakes for non-technical startup employees (Photo credit: V1LL14N)

That being said, there are a bunch of technical things that non-technical startup employees (e.g. sales, marketing, business development, finance) can and should be able to run with on their own without having to bug a developer on their team for help.

If you can handle most or all of these “table stakes” items you’ll be lifting a big weight off of your technical team’s shoulders.

1.  Setting up and maintaining a CRM system

Most companies use SaaS packages like Highrise or Salesforce to track leads and sales opportunities. If you’re working at a startup that’s actively selling a product, and they don’t have one, speak up and volunteer to get one up and running.

2. Setting up and maintaining a blog

There’s lots of SaaS based blogs out there like Squarespace that don’t require much setup. You can just sign up and start creating content. Some blogs, like WordPress, require installation of various plugins to access upgraded functionality.

Once the blog is set up, start generating content so your company’s development team can focus on building instead of blogging.

3. Email marketing software

This includes setting it up, putting up list registration forms to capture new subscribers, and configuring drip marketing. Starting to build an email list is so important in the early days of a startup. That list will likely form the basis of your first leads and customers once you have a salable product. I like MadMimi (affiliate link) personally. A great product built by great people!

4. Installing and configuring website analytics

Again, there are lots of SaaS tools available to help you track who’s visiting your site and where they’re spending their time.  Google Analytics is free and a great starting point if you don’t have analytics in place yet at your startup.

5. Registering relevant domains and configuring the appropriate DNS records

This one doesn’t require any special training especially given how self-service domain registrars are these days. Give your development team a few minutes back by being someone who they can trust to configure domains and make simple DNS record changes.

6. Configuring your company’s email, calendaring, and knowledge sharing system.

There are lots of low cost, easy to implement solutions out there like Google Apps that don’t require a lot of technical expertise to maintain. Don’t let your top technical folks (I’ve seen this happen) get roped into running these systems – it’s a horrible use of their time. Jump in and offer to run these systems. Your offer will be appreciated even if the tech team doesn’t take you up on it.

7. Basic editing of HTML and CSS files.

You definitely don’t want to be known by your development team as the person who asks them to do what they will view as really basic website and blog editing (“Hey, can you change ‘a’ to ‘the’ ?”).

But don’t just take this from me. Forbes contributor and author Alex Taub (who runs business development at payments startup Dwolla) thinks front end development is one of the best skills non-technical startup employees can pick up. If you’re convinced this is something you should learn, you’re in luck because there is a Skillshare class available to help you pick up these HTML/CSS skillz (yeah, I just did that).

8. Configuring and managing your helpdesk / tech support solution.

Zendesk is pretty popular these days but there are plenty of other solutions out there to choose from if that doesn’t meet your company’s needs.

9. Creating basic marketing landing pages designed to capture leads.

…and bonus points if you are able to set up split testing of the page with tools like Google Content Experiments or Optimize.ly. Or you could keep things simple and just use an all-in-one landing page solution like Launchrock.

10. Integrating the various technical tools together.

Once you dive into some of the technologies above, you’ll see that you can often tie them together to make them even more powerful.

For example, wouldn’t it be cool if you could connect your email marketing solution and your CRM system? Or push the results of your email campaigns into Google Analytics so you have a one stop shop where you can view your whole marketing funnel? With tools like IFTTT and Zapier it makes it easy for you to chain different services together to make them do something awesome together.

Being able to take care of these basic but important technical tasks as a non-technical startup employee will show your tech team that you’re more than just “the non-technical person” - that you’re someone who can get  sh*t done.

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John Gannon
I have over 15 years of experience working in the trenches at successful startups, high growth companies, and VC firms. During that time, I've managed, interviewed, and coached hundreds of people -- and I've worked in almost every business functional role, including marketing, product management, and business development.
John Gannon
John Gannon
John Gannon

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