In the early days of my career, back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, all the founders and CEOs of technology companies were engineers. It was extremely rare to find an entrepreneur without an engineering background starting a software or other tech company.
Nowadays, most companies that I run into actually have founders and CEOs who have industry-specific domain expertise. They are businesspeople and go-to-market (GTM) experts who are using software to solve a problem and disrupt a market. And they often have great founder market fit because they lived in those industries for so long.
This never would have happened before, but a confluence of factors has made it possible:
1. SaaS and Platforms
SaaS has given rise to entire new categories of tools that can help non-technical founders start, manage and optimize their companies.
Low- and no-code tools make it easier than ever to get a minimum viable product up and running. APIs enable startups to tap into powerful third-party systems and data sources. And with web-based content management systems and ecommerce platforms, new companies can begin to build their brands from day one.
Further, companies like Shopify, WordPress, HubSpot and Amazon have found massive success by building platforms on which you can build and scale your company. They provide the infrastructure and related technical services you need, so you can spend more time focusing on running your business — a luxury that the founders of 20 years ago didn’t have.
We’re also seeing more companies embrace low-cost offshore capabilities, the quality of which has improved tremendously over the past decades, to drive massive efficiencies from their research and development spend and customer support expenses. Third-party contracting sites where you can find talent in different areas, especially engineering, help non-technical founders complement their subject matter expertise in a much more cost-effective way.
3. Remote and Hybrid Work
Today’s remote and hybrid work environment makes it significantly easier for companies to be founded with business and industry experts. You’re not limited by the talent pool where you happen to live, and don’t have to move to your specific industry’s hub. (In fact, I think the whole concept of hubs will be greatly diminished as the world becomes flatter and we all become more connected.)
You can build a great company from anywhere today. Again, this was never possible when I started my career, but I’m seeing more and more of it happening now. I’m grateful that early in my career, working for my first startup, I was able to be a remote employee on a different coast. It gave me a great perspective for today’s modern workplace.
Tailwinds for Vertical SaaS
This shift presents a tremendous opportunity for companies building vertical software — the No. 1 hotspot where we’re seeing innovation and technology disrupt markets, change industries and increase margins and growth rates.
What I love about vertical SaaS — and why so many businesspeople are starting companies in this domain — is that it really has a point-and-shoot GTM motion. If you’re building a solution that’s selling to an individual industry, you can build out lists, nail your messaging and value proposition, target a specific cohort in your ideal customer profile (ICP) and understand the buyer personas and their repeatable use cases.
Then you can build technology to solve real-world problems that provide business value to your clients. And you don’t need to know how to code or have an engineering degree to do so.
It’s not rocket science. It’s about using the wealth of technologies and talent that are available today to build a great company with a highly scalable, pragmatic business model.