At ALPHA Camp, we empower people from all walks of life to develop rewarding careers with technology skills. We frequently work with startups and aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore, and many have asked us whether or not they should learn how to code. “Couldn’t we just hire someone else to build our products?”
Having spent the first 5 years of my career as a software engineer and the next 5 years as a business/product manager, I understand the importance and benefits of knowing technology as a business leader (and vice versa). But to help answer this question, we consulted several distinguished entrepreneurs in Singapore (some of them alumni of ALPHA Camp’s programme) to share their perspectives. Here’s what they think are the biggest benefits of learning to code for startup founders.
1. You can build a more innovative business with sophisticated technology
Poon Da Qian is the founder and CEO of Butler in Suits, a platform that serves as a one stop shop for household chores: mail, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. Growing up in a family business of food and beverages, he was exposed to entrepreneurship at the young age of 14. However, since the industry is highly manual, there was very little room for technology, and a result, it was hard for the business to scale. “I wanted to build a business similar to the likes of Uber and Grab, where you can actually really redefine a traditional service gap.”
Early team of Butler in Suits (2017)
“Technology is not going to disappear. As a businessman or an entrepreneur, applications with more sophisticated technology really stand out. With artificial intelligence ramping up, a lot of manual jobs will be made redundant. Be it entrepreneurs, C level executives, students, junior roles – you need to be prepared or at least exposed to these technical know-how’s so you can stay relevant to the economies of the future.”
2. You’re empowered to turn your own idea into reality
Karl Mak is the CEO and Co-founder of Hepmil Media Group, the company behind Singapore’s premiere humour outlet, SGAG. The idea for the business started from just a meme page that he and his friends would post to when they were bored. “Memes were expressions of our frustration but also a way to laugh at ourselves and at society,” he said.
The Hepmil Media Group team, creator of SGAG, MGAG and PGAG
When he realized they were hitting more than one million people a day, he found himself at a crossroads – accept a comfortable job at Google or keep trying his hand at entrepreneurship. “I thought back to the 13 weeks I had spent in (a coding) bootcamp – building my own MVP (Minimum Viable Products), hanging out with developers, building my own products for the first time, and meeting so many investors. I didn’t want to let that go to waste,” he said.
So he created a content app which quickly peaked to number one in store. He calls the experience life-changing because he would not have felt empowered to “take the leap of faith and just say, what the heck let’s go for it,” without the technical skills to build out his own product.
3. You’ll sharpen your day to day problem solving skills
Anna Haotanto is the Founder and CEO of The New Savvy, Asia’s leading financial, investments and career platform for women. Growing up, a few experiences led her to want to build her wealth and protect herself financially – the first was her family’s financial situation, and the second was the volunteer work she did while at Hwa Chong Junior College: “I noticed how many women were stuck in unhappy situations or marriages with no earning capabilities,” she said, “If proper financial knowledge and planning worked for me, it would work for many women too.”
Anna and The New Savvy team – helping women make smarter financial decisions together
After her company’s website we hacked in 2017, she realized the importance of knowing how to code and enrolled in ALPHA Camp’s programe. Anna knew that she wouldn’t be the primary engineer in her company, but found that the skills she learned allowed her to be a better leader: “The biggest shift was the mindset – you learn how to search for answers. When programming, you learn how to break down a big problem into smaller pieces and get used to fixing things yourself when they don’t work. When you don’t know a term or a certain way to code something, you know that you can be resourceful – look through documentation or online resources – and just figure out how to do it efficiently.” She found this mindset especially helpful for a startup environment, where you constantly have to be scrappy and innovate as you go.
4. You can better hire and manage developers when you speak their language
Jacinta Lim is the co founder of Seek Sophie, a platform to connect adventurous travellers to off-the-beaten-track experiences in Asia. After a career as an M&A Corporate Lawyer in London – entrepreneurship drew her in because she wanted “the challenge of building something out of completely nothing and making it successful.” While traveling, she saw that everything you find recommendations for (typically on TripAdvisor) is very touristy. “I wanted to get people to understand a country a bit more, and saw that there were always so many locals trying to get in touch with international tourists.”
Lina (left) and Jacinta (right), founders of Seek Sophie – a travel platform built by travellers
“When you don’t have people within the business who can perform the key functions of the business (such as coding), this puts a lot of pressure on finding someone who can perform that function, and that pressure may lead to having to make sub-optimal hiring choices. Knowing how to code takes some of the pressure off in hiring so that you’re able to wait to hire someone who is a good fit.” Referring to non-technical co-founders trying to manage technical talent, she added, “Unless the level of trust is very high at the outset, miscommunication and resentment are inevitable. I hope that by learning the language of developers, I can bridge that communication gap somewhat.”
This is part 1 of 2 of our chat with these founders. Stay tuned for part 2 where they’ll talk more about their experiences in a coding bootcamp.
Inspired by our entrepreneurs? There’s still time to enroll for ALPHA Camp’s September 3 online web development programme batch.
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