The Non-Tech Startup Journey

On our site and others devoted to startup news, tech startups tend to steal the spotlight. The tech industry is growing at an insanely fast rate, which means opportunities abound for enterprising entrepreneurs with tech-related ideas. U.S. venture capitalists pump more than $60 billion into startups every year — and non-tech products and services companies receive just over $1 billion, a relatively paltry sum.

Non-tech entrepreneurs, such as restauranteurs, salon owners, or booksellers, might find it more difficult to attract the attention of VCs, but that doesn’t mean their journey is necessarily harrowing or invaluable. On the contrary, non-tech businesses are arguably the most important in the economy, as they provide consumers the goods and services they use every day. In fact, all entrepreneurs might learn valuable lessons from the successes of non-tech startups.

What Counts as a Non-Tech Startup 

Since most businesses rely heavily on digital devices, it is important first to draw a line between tech and non-tech startups. Experts generally agree that tech startups are those that sell tech in some form, such as coding ability, fully formed software, or hardware devices. Conversely, non-tech startups are those businesses that rely minimally on technology for their product.

Still, that isn’t to say non-tech startups shouldn’t or can’t use technology to leverage their business. Most require some kind of software to manage inventory, schedule appointments, and track finances. For example, restaurants need POS systems, salons rely on hairstylist appointment books, and book shops should have a digital catalogue of available titles. There are millions of non-tech businesses that take advantage of the internet to market and sell their brand and products. Further, non-tech businesses can develop tech assets, like brand apps, as well. Target, CVS, Shake Shack, and Lululemon are all examples of tech-saturated non-tech companies. However, it is important to note that these businesses do not need technology; they risk little by adopting or choosing not to adopt tech innovations.

Another important distinction of non-tech startups is an emphasis on the customer. While there are some tech businesses that are B2C, they originally sink resources into developing their tech products rather than building a community. Non-tech businesses must devote their crucial beginning months generating visibility and amassing a loyal following. Only when they are ready to scale can non-tech businesses begin investing in high-tech solutions.

The Non-Tech Startup Route to Success 

Tech is booming, and VCs, angel investors, and even government agencies seem to be falling head over heels to give tech startups money. Meanwhile, non-tech entrepreneurs must be creative and diligent to find success — but success is certainly possible. The key is building traction with a target audience quickly and efficiently, and to achieve that, non-tech startup owners should do the following:

Have Clearly Defined Goals

A goal like “success” means close to nothing, especially in a business setting. Goals must be quantifiable — i.e., they must use numbers — so business leaders can determine how far or close they are to their objectives by crunching data. Additionally, there should be a clear path to achieving business goals.

For example, one non-tech startup owner might initially want nothing more than to earn enough to support her family. In that case, she should research her family’s costs every month, convert that into the number of sales she will need to make every month, and then translate that into a realistic number of customers she needs to attract. Using those numbers, she can develop a marketing campaign to earn those customers and sales.

Start Selling

Even before a non-tech startup has essential resources, like a website or office space, entrepreneurs should be selling their products. Even before launch, owners should be approaching viable customers and discussing the benefits of their brand and business. Pre-sale customers can earn sought-after perks, like discounts or gift rewards; since they will form the foundation of the startup’s consumer community, these early adopters should be made to feel special and especially enthusiastic about the business.

Think Long Term

Non-tech businesses rarely grow right out of the gate. In fact, it can take as many as five years for startups to finally reach the black in their finance books. Still, from the get-go, non-tech startups should be working toward scaling. Initially, that means acquiring tools that will be able to grow with the business, but it also means thinking of ways to expand the startup’s reach.

Networking is one of the most powerful strategies for long-term business growth. Writing guest posts on blogs with an overlapping target audience, speaking and conferences and seminars filled with the right demographics, and attracting social media influencers to your brand with free products and services are all good tactics for growing visibility and therefore growing a brand.

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