Lead the Way: Why Coding is Critical for Early-Stage CEOs

February 15, 2023

Despite the misconception that CEOs of early-stage companies do not need to understand development as long as they have a technical co-founder, the truth is that they need to have a basic understanding of technology in order to make sound decisions.

Having a foundational knowledge of development is an essential key skill for entrepreneurs that is often neglected. Many business leaders wrongly assume that having a technical co-founder is enough to cover all development needs in a startup. Being able to recognize, prioritize, and set the product roadmap with the right architecture is a major component of the CEO’s job and an imperative skill in the early stages of a business. Without a basic proficiency in development, one doesn't possess the resources required to make these decisions confidently. With basic technical know-how, you can converse intelligently about product decisions and take action confidently, helping you move to success faster. Gaining an understanding of development will best equip you with the knowledge you need to lead your startup to success.

How coding skills can help CEOs stay ahead of the pack?

Here are 5 ways knowing development can increase your chances of success as an early-stage founder:

  1. You can use development to build a level of control that allows you to understand the development process and can help in taking ownership of your product. This can empower you during the process of making key decisions for your business.
  2. You can save time and money by identifying the right tools and technologies that will help power your product and give you the best bang for your buck. Similarly, you can vet developers and development firms before you make any major partnerships. When building your MVP, the biggest question people ask is "What tech stack should I use?". This is another essay in itself but you are in a better position to answer this question with the required coding knowledge. Another example which comes to mind is a scene from Pitchers Season 2, where Pragati.ai was looking for a technical co-founder and the CEO, Naveen, had no idea what an API was. You can make much better hiring decisions as a leader with a working knowledge of technology.
  3. You can use the development knowledge to develop cost-cutting solutions, such as understanding the different technology and open-source solutions across the spectrum. This can help you to work smarter rather than investing in costly external solutions. Open-source software is a major part of the tech ecosystem and it is essential to make use of this goldmine. Implementing something as simple as Ghost for your blogs instead of paying for expensive Content Management Systems or using an open-source tool like Listmonk for your email marketing needs instead of MailChimp could go a long way in the early days. Saving money on these major monthly expenses in the early days makes your business much more resilient to financial troubles.
  4. You can automate processes to help reduce redundant work, generate reports & analytics daily, and implement messaging systems to greatly improve your quality of life and reduce the amount of grunt work done. I have 4 bots running which email me daily reports at different points in the day, along with a few processes to automate my content generation pipeline. I get an email every morning with the number of new sign-ups, traffic on Writee's website and the number of active users on Writee's web app for the previous day. A bot updates Writee's sitemap every time a new page/ blog is added to Writee and also informs Google about the update. These are very simple things but it reduces the amount of grunt work to be done significantly.
  5. You can use technology to get ahead of your competition. Did you know that through legal web-scraping you can get all the blogs your competitors have written? You can use some plug-and-play ML models to get the keywords used by your competitors. I went through 1000+ blogs in a matter of minutes to prepare my SEO strategy. This is just one example where you can use technology to get ahead of the competition. It is very uncommon to find a manager with tech skills and hence, while others are busy spending hours on manual labour, you can automate processes and focus on doing the things important to your business. Freeing up time from the grunt work is the most challenging task for any early-stage business owner.

What coding skills should I learn as a CEO?

I'll divide the answer into 2 sections. The first is to empower you to take product decisions and the second is to help automate your life.

How to make better product decisions?

This is the tricky part of the learning process. It is important to first set our goals straight. We do not want to replace our developers. We just want to learn enough development to be able to understand tech conversations. There are 4 parts to any tech product:

  1. Front-end: This is the easiest portion and you should try and excel at this. With a firm knowledge of front-end and some UI/ UX, you can make beautiful-looking products that are easy for any user to use. You need to learn 3 things for this - Figma, HTML and CSS. Figma is an easy-to-use designing tool which helps you design the User Interface of your product before you start development. It should ideally take you anywhere between 1-1.5 weeks to get a working knowledge of Figma with an hour's work every day. HTML is the skeleton of your product. A week is enough to learn the ins and outs of HTML. After learning HTML and Figma, we move on to CSS. This is comparatively more complicated and should take about 2-3 weeks to master. Within a month, you'll be proficient in basic front-end development and that should suffice you initially. You can eventually move on to front-end frameworks like React or Angular, but only if your CTO decides to use them in your product. To learn frameworks like React, you'll have to learn JavaScript first. It generally takes about a month to master JavaScript, and another 2 weeks to get a working knowledge of React.
  2. Back-end Development: I generally do not suggest spending a lot of time worrying about back-end development. It is important to know the logic being used, but you do not need to know the exact code written. The way I navigate the whole process is by learning about the terms used in the back-end architecture and understanding their implications. So, I know what MVC architecture is in back-end development but I do not know how to build it. The aim is to understand enough coding to understand the meanings of these terms. I am fairly proficient in JavaScript and Python, so I can understand the meanings of these terms when someone explains them to me.
  3. Cloud Architecture: Again, follow the back-end development rule. Know enough to understand what your CTO is saying and what its implications will be.
  4. Database: Ideally, you should know the basics of going through databases. In the early days, it helps to do your basic user analysis, usage trends etc yourself.

In summary, I suggest learning front-end development well and knowing the basics of databases in terms of product development decisions. For the back-end and cloud part, focus on learning the automation portion well, that will pay off everywhere.

How to automate your life as a founder?


Python is a very powerful, multi-purpose language that can help you automate your life. I'll remind you of our goal again: To know enough development to pass through life, we don't want to excel at it. There is a lot to consider when choosing your go-to language as a developer, but as a manager, Python without a doubt is the only choice.

There are 3 things to focus on when learning Python:

  1. Core coding principles - variables, conditional statements, looping; it is essential to understand logic building from the ground-up
  2. APIs, Web Scraping & Bots - learn the fundamentals of API - how to call and build them, Web Scraping using BeautifulSoup and Bot building using Selenium. These alone, are enough to take you miles ahead of your competition.
  3. Data Analysis - basics of Pandas and matplotlib, to do complex computations and automate excel work

With these 3 things in your toolkit, you'll know enough development to go through any form of tech and automation tasks to take you ahead of all your competitors.

You can learn all of these skills for free using FreeCodeCamp and YouTube. If you prefer a more structured approach, you can go through a course from Udemy. I went through 100 Days of Code from Udemy to learn Python and that is the only development course I've bought to date.

Concluding Note

With the arsenal of development tools and platforms at your disposal, you can disrupt the status quo, launch a new venture, gain an edge over the competition, and stay ahead of the curve.

The power of technology cannot be overstated. In these modern times, entrepreneurs can use technology to their advantage to stay ahead of the competition without having to spend a penny. Being resourceful and having a knowledge of the development tools and platforms available is paramount. This is especially useful when you are faced with a market where the competition is already established and is therefore dominant. Technology allows you to stop playing catch up and, instead, allows you to create something new altogether, which may then attract customers and become successful. All of this can be done economically, swiftly, and with a much smaller team than ever before. Ultimately, technology is a powerful enabler, allowing us to get ahead and disrupt the status quo, allowing you to fulfil your ambitions and purpose.

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