Welcome to the Tech for Non-Techies podcast

How to solve the right problem

95% of new products fail, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. But, usually this isn't because they are badly made, but because they don't solve the right problem.

Before you delve into product development, define the problem you are solving. In this episode, you'll learn from Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, author of What's Your Problem and Innovation As Usual, about how to reframe problem solving in business and in life.

Learning notes:

  • Non-techies can play an important role on product teams by being focussed on the problem they are solving, because they are less likely to get stuck in the weeds of building.
  • Not all problem solving needs fancy technology. Often, small changes in design can have a big impact, at a much lower cost. 
  • Being focussed on the problem is vital at the start of product development, and as your product matures. Keep analysing how people use it to see if you're still solving the right problem.

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What do Heads of Innovation do?

Working in innovation at a large company can be a great way to join the tech boom for non-techies. But what do you do when you get there? 

Innovation leaders have a wide range of backgrounds. Some have deep tech expertise, and others are marketing pros. The innovation path a company has chosen determines the background of the person who'll lead it.

Learning notes: 

  • There are 6 paths to innovation: private, public, incremental, breakthrough, product and process.
  • Breakthrough innovation is when a company asks itself: we need to do something completely different. What is that thing? How do we do it?
  • Public innovation is tied to marketing and how customers see the brand.
  • Private innovation doesn't leave the company's walls until it is ready to be commercialised and often comes with patent protection (think biotech businesses).

If you want to learn more about the paths to innovation and how to apply them to business and life, get Sophia's e-book:

Innovate, But...

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How smart start-ups and corporates hire product teams

What’s technology for? Tech products can make our lives better and make businesses a lot of money. But, without a focus on the user and on the business, technology is an academic project at best, or just an expensive hobby.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Elisabeth Bohlmann, VP of strategy at December Labs, a product and development studio that works with corporates like Google, and start-ups to validate ideas and build products.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • If you don't have a technical background, learning from other people who are succeeding in tech but aren't techies, is often the best way to learn. They can anticipate your questions and mistakes much better than someone who has been coding since they were 8.
  • Before hiring developers, always validate your ideas and create a prototype with designers. Design thinking is central to tech.
  • Whether you're working in a start-up or a corporate, think about business needs first and then find out...
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What Product Managers do and how to become one

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, and Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of VC fund A16Z, both started their careers as Product Managers (PMs).

PMs rise to leadership positions in the tech sector, because the job combines user perspectives, business needs and technological capabilities.  Whatever you want to do in the tech sector, learning how product managers think will help you succeed.

Learning notes:

  • A product is a solution to a problem somebody is experiencing. Good product managers always focus on the user and the problem.
  • Product Managers lead developers, marketers and designers, but rarely know how to do all those jobs themselves. 
  • To lead the team successfully, product managers set product goals. This means telling the team where to go, not how to get there.
  • To get into product management, learn a bit, do a bit. Taking courses is useful, but make sure to also participate in making a product.
  • You can get involved in product management by...
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Why cloud computing isn't just for techies

You’ve probably heard the term cloud computing, but like most non-techies, you’re not sure what it means. In this episode, you’ll learn what it is and how businesses use it to solve problems.

You’ll learn from DJ Johnson, who works at Microsoft Azure. DJ started his career as an NBA player and transitioned into a career in tech.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • Cloud computing allows businesses to rent space to store data. Previously, companies had to store data on their own servers, which was much more expensive.
  • The two biggest players in cloud computing are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
  • As a non-techie, first identify business problems and then see if technology can fix them.
  • For example, during Covid when suddenly many people ended up working from home, one of DJ’s clients suffered from major time lags in their communications. Their internal messenger service was taking 3 days to deliver a message! This was making customers...
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Fundraising For Non-Technical Founders

Many investors view non-technical founders as more risky. Sometimes this is plain silly, but there are legitimate investor concerns that non-techie founders will make costly mistakes that technical founders will not.

The answer is not to learn to build the product with your bare hands, but to know enough about tech to have a product strategy and relate it to business goals. 

Learning notes from this episode:

  • “You can be the ripest juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches,” - Dita von Teese. Some investors don't invest in non-technical founders and they never will. There are plenty of those who do. Spend your time on them.
  • Learn how to connect product metrics to business metrics, for example how does user engagement relate to revenue or fundraising goals?
  • Understand key tech concepts to make the right hires and set the right goals, but you do not have to retrain to become a...
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Product Management at Apple vs Amazon

Product managers combine user perspectives, business needs and technology capabilities in one job. But, what they do day to day varies widely. In this episode, you’ll hear how what PMs do differs between Apple and Amazon from Souvik Bhattacharya, who has worked at both.

This episode is for product managers, founders, investors and those who want to understand tech companies from the inside.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • Founders play the product management role in their start-ups, and venture capital funds often employ former PMs as investors.
  • What Product Managers do day to day depends on the life cycle of the product. For example, in the launch phase the PM role also includes product marketing.
  • Software vs. Hardware Product Management is incredibly different.  Hardware products, like those at Apple, take years to develop and incremental updates are typically not an easy option Software Product Management is much faster as changes can be made virtually and...
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There are no lone wolves in tech: all products are interconnected

Every app and site is made up of lots of different tech tools and languages. Like a house, one part is built on top of another and they need each other to function. If one part of the structure breaks, the rest can fall down too. 

These are called dependencies. To keep a product working, all the dependencies need to work together. This is part of the invisible work that software engineers do.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • A tech stack describes all the tools and programming languages used to build an app or a site. Some of those tools are custom made, some are rented as licences and others plug you into a bigger ecosystem.
  • Examples of bigger eco-systems that many products depend on are the Apple App Store, Google Play and Amazon Web Services. If one of these ecosystems has a problem, the apps and sites they support will have issues too. An app on the Apple App Store depends on Apple, hence the term dependency.
  • Product teams have to update...
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How I used accelerators to build a tech business

Andi Govindia has gone through three accelerators on her start-up journey. This helped her build a business model, find co-founders and get her first major clients.

Andi leads Riviter, a visual search company that uses AI to predict fashion and beauty trends, and counts L'Oreal amongst its clients.  

If you’re interested in entrepreneurship and how non-technical founders can succeed in tech, this one is for you.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • Use Effectual Logic: ask yourself what the simplest and laziest way is for you to solve a problem. The simplest way is often imperfect, but results matter more than perfection.
  • If you are applying for accelerators, link their speciality to your current needs. Andi participated in Chicago Booth's New Venture Challenge, Plug & Play and Founders Factory. Each accelerator has different strengths, and Andi used them for different purposes.
  • Andi collaborated with her co-founders for a year before they...
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How To Hire Product Teams: Outsourcing vs In-House

Hiring developers and designers to build your tech product is always risky, because as a non-techie, you're hiring people to do things you don't know how to do.

Is outsourcing more risky because you're far away from the team? Or is in-house more risky, simply because it usually costs more? Listen to this episode to find out.

Learning notes from this episode:

  • Always get employees and contractors working on your products to sign over the Intellectual Property to the company. If a person or a firm is refusing to sign an IP Agreement, this is a bright red flag.
  • In the early stages of product development, your job is to test ideas, get an MVP out there and get initial traction. The focus should be on doing this as quickly and cheaply as possible, which often means working with an outsourced product studio in a cheaper geography.
  • After you've proven market need, you can hire in-house to scale the product.
  • Right at the start of product development, you don't know what tech...
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