“You know what I always say, ‘Anyone can cook.’” – Chef Auguste Gusteau from Ratatouille, Disney-Pixar
In Ratatouille, Chef Gusteau believes that anyone can cook if one has the desire, talent and the right ingredients. In the movie, the rat Remy is a most unlikely cook but chases his dreams anyway. He proves the point of the saying, which is that inspiration can come from anyone.
Similar to Remy, Tom and Karen are unlikely techies, but they discovered that with a strong vision and the right tools, they could start a technology company; they just had to work on developing their special sauce.
Neither have a background in the field of technology (Karen is an English major and Tom is a theology/psychology major), but they had a grand vision. They wanted to create a company that revolutionizes the way people make financial decisions. The question was, how to make it happen?
They were entering the realm of the technological world from a different perspective, almost backwards. “Usually the tech world goes into other fields and builds software. For example, the founders of Amazon, Jeff Bezos and eBay, Pierre Omidyar, both have a background in technology. However, we discovered that the process can work in reverse. People who are not traditionally techies can have great ideas that can be relayed to developers and computer engineers who can build the software to match. Plus, the cost of technology has decreased so there is an opportunity for those in any field to create a technological component of their company if they have the idea and inspiration,” Tom explained. Although the technical side of the equation is essential, they discovered that it was not the “key ingredient” like everyone told them it was.
At first, they encountered various forms of advice, but all of it was along the same line – they had to become a techie, partner with a techie, or recruit a techie. Some colleagues suggested that they move to Silicon Valley where maybe they could find a lab or developer. They could even go door to door at Stanford and convince some bright young computer student to program for them. But they wanted to stay local and believed that resources could be found in Nashville.
Then, they were told to hire a large software engineering firm. However, this option would be a huge monetary investment and would have taken too much time. After researching, they discovered that it would cost at least $150,000-$300,000 to partner with a programming lab, which was way over budget for a startup. Plus, after a short collaborative process, the firm would claim free reign in designing the prototype during each phase – a process that usually lasted about four months. Tom said, “If the design took a wrong turn during the first week, there was a strong possibility that the engineer could spend the remaining time working diligently off-course.” They knew that this option was not feasible.
At this point, Karen even thought about going back to school to become a software engineer. Though, after some reflection, going back to school would not be cost effective, time efficient, or practical. Much like their other business decisions, they decided to follow their instincts and find a small, strong team in order to move forward.
They ended up finding the ideal software connection in the most unlikely place – their daughter’s soccer practice. After chatting with a fellow soccer parent who happened to be an experienced developer, the wheels were put into motion.
As they began the development process, they learned how important their financial expertise was. They realized that to create optimal decision-making software, giving sound financial advice must be coupled with the programming component – almost like engineering the financial lobe of Tom’s brain. Tom said, “It’s important to acknowledge that anyone can start a technology company, but not everyone can be a financial advisor. Without our experience as financial planners matched with the software developer’s expertise, coding the software would not be possible.” In other words, as important as the coding and programming is, this software could not be built by a techie. Someone with specific financial expertise and experience was necessary in the design process.
Thus, after some trial and error, they discovered that the three main components that contributed to their special sauce was believing in their idea enough to cross over fields, resisting the temptation to get a degree in software engineering by hiring the right local individual to design the software, and using their financial planning expertise in the design process, which kept them within budget.
The end result – because non-techies Tom and Karen believed in an ingenious technological idea and found a way to bring it to fruition, a financial technology company was born. If you have the idea and the inspiration, anyone can start a tech company – just put your idea into motion, stir, and taste sweet, delicious success.