LearnTo Build or Not to Build


Josh Long
writes on June 19, 2013

There are varying opinions on whether or not entrepreneurs should code. I have heroes and individuals in the business world that I look up to that are both coders and non-coders, yet I still go back and forth in my opinions of whether or not it’s necessary for entrepreneurs to code.

This is not a post to state my opinion either way. I would like to pose my thoughts here, as a way of opening the conversation and to think out loud about this sensitive subject.

Seth Godin or Gary Vaynerchuk have no idea how to code, but they understand it, and they surely understand the value of it. Seth Godin is a bestselling author and owns Squidoo, which is one of the most trafficked sites on the web. Gary Vaynerchuk built his own brand and a million dollar wine business online, and now owns Vaynermedia which does the same for the likes of the NHL, Oprah, Campbell’s, and more.

But most entrepreneurs today have no idea how to code or even understand the technology behind the web that generates between 50-100% of their business. In a world that is becoming more and more web-centric every day, this seems like a dangerous trend and one that raises some red flags for me. Maybe not now, but certainly in the near future.

Not Every Business is a Web Business

Right out of the gate I think it is important not to limit ourselves to only our industry. There are many businesses out there that are brick-and-mortar, and don’t necessarily require an entrepreneur to code.

That being said, can you think of a business that doesn’t have some way to benefit from having an online presence? Even an entrepreneur with an offline business will be vulnerable by having an in-house web developer leave, or worse, pay thousands of dollars for a website that they themselves cannot update.

It is my opinion that a website or app is never done. They’re constantly evolving to fit the changes, content, and new products/services that companies provide. If the owner doesn’t at least understand the basics of code, they could end up paying more money, getting a site that doesn’t fit their needs, or not having the skill set to get the most out of the web.

An entrepreneur is usually a leader, and a good leader should know every aspect of their business so they can step in with educated value at a moment’s notice.

Can Entrepreneurs Just Be Designers?

Is it possible that design could be enough for an entrepreneur? The job of a graphic designer is usually to communicate, and the same applies for an entrepreneur. Designers are good at getting to the essence of what value needs to be communicated, so an entrepreneur benefits greatly from learning design as well. But design has its limits and needs to be executed on to provide any value. Design has to be executed to be valuable. Hence the need for code.

When is Enough Knowledge of Code Enough?

Graphic designers become web designers. Web designers become front end developers, and front end developers become backend developers. Backend developers become database architects. It never ends really.

If technology is ever-changing, is it worth it for an entrepreneur to learn to code if they’re never going to know everything as proficiently as they need to?

An entrepreneur also needs to run a business, drive the strategy, reinforce the vision, and oversee the day-to-day operations. Many would argue that these things can be delegated, and so can code, but will this type of entrepreneur have value in the future?

Entrepreneurs Need Coders as Cogs

Many times entrepreneurs need programmers and developers to carry out their vision. Most of the programmers I know, now hold jobs that carry out what the owner wants. Developers and designers are treated like secretaries or the cleaning crew. They’re just part of the plan. A piece of the assembly line.

They can’t live without those that code, yet they tend to treat coders like just another brick in the wall. They would never have the discipline to learn how to code, yet they’ll bark orders at their developers without understanding the work that goes behind their demands. They’re too busy trying to figure out new ways to sell something or finding ways to get an influential magazine to write about their genius.

The New Reality

I hope by now you understand my twist. I started out trying to bait a discussion of getting entrepreneurs to learn to code, but soon turned to burning it down with sarcasm. The real truth is that coders are the new entrepreneurs. It is much easier to learn to build a business than it is to learn to code.

Developers and designers have the ability to build out products themselves, but also to build products that need little-to-no selling.

There will always be entrepreneurs that don’t know how to code, but the future is brightest for those that do. In the web world nothing can happen without some sort of code. It is possible to be an entrepreneur without knowing how to code but it is a lot easier to be one when you do.


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12 Responses to “To Build or Not to Build”

  1. Dimitris Papageorgiou on August 11, 2013 at 9:16 am said:

    I agree completely…

  2. Nicholas Johnson on July 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm said:

    I like Noah Kagan’s philosophy on this. Validate your business idea first, then when you’ve actually made some sales you get to code. Coding goes both ways, it can be an enabler, or a security blanket.

  3. Steven Feeney on June 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm said:

    As an entrepreneur with my own business – the web is crucial to leveraging my skillset.

    Rather than outsource the design and coding of my online presence (Website, Kickstarter, MailChimp, ecommerce) I decided to do it myself. It means I can control each aspect but more importantly it gives me peripheral skills in addition to my core business and gives me credibility in meetings with technical staff. Those peripheral skills helped me gain a position with Palantir which I later left to start out on my own.

    TreeHouse has been invaluable in this regard. It’s a great product.

  4. This article is perfect for the ones that walk around with the attitude of creating the next best app. Most don’t know how to code or where to start. What I have learned in being a small business owner, designer, and front-end website developer is that you can’t just learn one subject and then expect the world to be handed to you, you must know each subject to fully understand what you want to build.

    Josh, as always, thanks for the article. Unlike every other web development blog, posting code snippets and new frameworks, you always seem to write-up something I can relate to and may also apply.

    • Josh Long on June 20, 2013 at 9:55 am said:

      Thank you Aaron! That means a lot to me man. Thanks for always providing your input and contributing to the conversation here. It’s invaluable.

  5. CAYdenberg on June 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm said:

    “It is much easier to learn to build a business than it is to learn to code.”

    That is a really interesting perspective … I am far from an experienced programmer, but I feel as though given time I know enough to crack any nut. I could never contemplate running a business – I don’t feel like my brain identifies problems that could be profitable. I’d love to work with people who have that creative genius, but how to tell the good ones from the bad? I guess that’s a similar problem as entrepreneurs might have when trying to hire a programmer.

    • Josh Long on June 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm said:

      That kind of insight comes with time, just like learning to programme. Your “eye” becomes trained to spot opportunities like that. Great points. Thanks for reading!

  6. Great article, you got a small typo in the last sentence. Missing “not” in there.

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