The Age of the Industry Expert Founder is Here


Zach Ferres

Executive Director at Coplex

There are a plethora of successful startups that are created by coders that have fueled a common belief that in order to have a successful tech company, you have to fit the stereotypical “22-year-old” coder-founder mold.

2018 studies from Harvard Business Review and the National Bureau of Economic Research have shown otherwise, with the average successful tech company founder ages of 45 and 47, respectively.

The entrepreneurial world is finding that industry experts are among the most effective founders.

The entrepreneurial world is finding that industry experts are among the most effective founders. This is because those with extensive experience in particular industries possess a competitive edge over just about anyone else hoping to start a business. More specifically, industry experts are able to use their subject matter expertise, networks, and business operating experience to fully flesh out their businesses, while the heralded “Silicon Valley” coders may begin to struggle off-screen when they don’t understand the actual problem.

They Have Subject Matter Expertise

An expert can’t be considered an expert without the necessary years of experience in a specific field to back them up. Industry expert founders possess subject-matter expertise that can’t be learned by technologists with a quick Google search. They’re well-versed in the workings of their respective industries and can quickly, and accurately, locate pain points.

One of my favorite examples is Heidi Jannenga, a Phoenix-based entrepreneur who was previously a sports physical therapist and multi-clinic director. Through her work, Jannenga recognized that dictation and paper documentation management were two major pain points for physical therapists. This pushed her to co-found WebPT, the leading physical therapy SaaS company that tens of thousands of physical therapists benefit from today.

The democratization of building new tech has made it easier than ever for non-technical founders to start tech companies.

Years ago, industry expertise took a back seat to technology chops as it was incredibly difficult to build the actual technology. Today, it’s faster and easier than ever to build technology (both hardware and software) because of new development tools, platforms, and open-source libraries. The democratization of building new tech (with some exceptions for deep-tech) have made it easier than ever for non-technical founders to start tech companies.

They Have Networks & Relationships

Years of experience don’t just translate into subject matter expertise. Only a seasoned professional can enjoy the connections that come with extensive experience: mentors, other experts, bosses, and even members of local governments and nonprofits. Most industry experts even form relationships with competitors, which gives them an edge when it comes to building a game-changing business.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of an expert’s network is the near immediate access to industry leaders, investors, and the first wave of paying clients that would be very challenging for newcomers to gain access to. This gives an edge to the industry expert with an established network.

They Have Business Operating Experience

It’s no surprise that prior business operating experience benefits anyone who chooses to start a business. Industry experts are familiar with the many responsibilities associated with running a business, such as marketing, sales, leadership, and customer service. Some even have experience in M&A, which drastically reduces the risk of building a company that has its targets on an exit. They know exactly how to communicate with a customer within the industry’s demographic, and they have an intimate understanding of how to sell a product or service to that customer.

Even if the expert hasn’t worked at the top of the food chain in their field, they’re well-versed in the leadership styles that work best at a company like the one they plan on starting. The concept of forming a business isn’t quite as intimidating to them as it may be for someone who’s focused their career on cranking code in C#.

The best tech founders are no longer just redbull-sipping, Airpod-wearing coding gurus. Many of them are experts-turned-entrepreneurs who carry immeasurable passion for the fields they’ve entrenched themselves in over time. With the democratization of technology comes a new era for tech companies, and at its forefront are savvy, well-rounded industry experts stepping out from the background.