Entrepreneurs should learn to code in order to better understand their own platform, and save costs in the early stages of launching a startup, according to industry experts.
Speaking to Disrupt Africa, Elizabeth Gould, co-founder of Cape Town based coding school Project codeX said entrepreneurs could minimise startup launch costs by learning to code themselves.
“Because of the acute shortage of developers in Africa – and South Africa -, they command very high salaries and/or rates for freelance dev work. Why invest so much money before you even know if you have a product people will pay for, whether that’s an app or shoes or tyres or anything else you sell online? So learning to code enough to at least build a minimum viable product will save you real money,” Gould said.
Learning to code also gives entrepreneurs the added benefit of being able to better communicate with any developers they do go on to hire, and as such will ultimately be able to produce a better product, Gould says.
“You will get better results from any developers you do hire if you can at least speak a bit of their language(s), they will have more confidence in you to direct them if you understand at least some what they’re doing,” she said.
Overall, Gould believes learning to code is key to launching a lean business, and says coding is now a necessary skill.
“What looks simple to a user is often not that simple on the back end, and vice versa. Understanding what you’re paying for and what is feasible in time allotted will help you build a more efficient and lean business,” Gould said.
“Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.”
Manager of Zimbabwe’s Muzinda Hub Tendai Mashingaidze agrees that knowing how to code can be a vital cost-cutting mechanism for entrepreneurs in the early days of founding a startup, and says coding skills can also improve efficiencies across the business and hence cut costs further.
“I personally think that it would be quite helpful for founders of startups to have a knowledge of coding. Given that the startup failure rate is quite high, it is very important that founders start thinking of saving costs up-front, whilst finding less costly means to win the market. Marketing is one of these costs and basic coding skills can help you have a pretty useful website when you launch your startup, without having to unnecessarily pay a developer. Furthermore it could help you automate a whole lot of manual work that you would have otherwise employed a full time person to do – further cutting costs,” Mashingaidze told Disrupt Africa.
He also points to how important effective communication with developers is to achieving a high-quality product, and says entrepreneurs must understand the details of their own project.
“I think knowing basic coding helps the founder to engage developers more informatively particularly when scoping the project […] Misunderstandings between the project sponsor and the developer can result in unnecessary wastage of investor money and also result in a product completely different from the one intended,” Mashingaidze said.
“Basic coding knowledge also helps with team dynamics. Having developer on your team – whom no one understands the language that they are speaking half the time – can cause team friction as you do not always see eye to eye.”
On the other hand, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Andela, Jeremy Johnson, disagrees. While he says being tech-savvy is a requirement of being an entrepreneur, Johnson believes learning to code is an added bonus but not necessary.
“All entrepreneurs don’t need to learn to code, but they absolutely need to understand technology and why it’s important,” Johnson said.
“The best way to do that is to learn to code and therefore be part of the tech ideation process, but it’s a strategic advantage, not a requirement. Being tech savvy, however, is not optional.”