How Much Experience Do You Need to Build a Tech Startup?

Vikas Joshi
October 12, 2016

A few months ago, I defended my doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania on the topic of Entrepreneurship. Specifically, my research focused on how tech entrepreneurs with seemingly limited experience go on to launch some of the most iconic tech companies of our time.

My friend Megan who attended the defense came up to me after the session. She said one phrase from my dissertation struck her as a slogan that ought to be printed on every entrepreneur’s T-shirt.  The phrase was: spectacular firm success despite an inexperienced founder at the helm.
The line struck a chord with her because as an ‘inexperienced’ founder herself, Megan has encountered more than her share of naysayers; especially during her early days as an entrepreneur.


I understand the sentiment. When it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly tech entrepreneurship, the founder’s prior experience seems to carry a lot of weight for investors, employees, and customers. Although this may seem intuitive, history presents many counterexamples. Although a vast majority of entrepreneurs do have relevant prior experience, what about the small number of founders that succeed wildly despite inexperience? These can by no means be written off. Think Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell. They jumped headlong into entrepreneurship early in their careers and their success is there for everyone to see.

So, if you’re betting on the fact that an inexperienced founder will most likely fail, I would urge you to hold on to your money for a bit. Let me put it this way - inexperience does not guarantee failure any more than experience guarantees success.

If you are a first time entrepreneur with no prior experience or even if you’ve switched tracks to explore a completely different sector, don’t let your lack of experience define what you’re capable of achieving. Now, how you can convince a prospective employee or an investor when you don’t have relevant experience to back you up is a different question altogether. But that’s a topic for another blog post.