Meet the startup founders creating more startup founders - DC


Feb. 28, 2018 12:37 pm

Meet the startup founders creating more startup founders

Non-technical founders can enter dupontstudios’ jumpstart program with a business idea and walk away with tech skills and a minimum viable product in six weeks.

dupontstudios founders Alex Yang (left) and Zak Kidd sit with graphic designer Joshua Andrews.

(Courtesy photo)

Entrepreneurs without technical skills typically pursue one of three avenues when starting a technology-based business: Partner with a cofounder who can build their minimum viable product, learn to code themselves or hire a web development agency.

According to Zak Kidd, partner at Dupont Circle–based agency dupontstudios, most startups that pursue this first approach fail due to poor relationships between cofounders.

“Cofounders should know each other for many years before going into business together,” said Kidd. “It’s hard to find that person if they aren’t already there.”

As for the other two options, “learning to code yourself takes a really long time,” he added. “And you could hire an agency, but if your perspective is that they will handle what is technical and you will handle ‘everything else’, it will be a very, very strained relationship, because you fundamentally do not understand the code behind your product. The goal is that you get to a point where you are conversant, not a master, but know 20 to 30 percent of the technology.”

Kidd and dupontstudios partner Alex Yang believe they can offer up a fourth option. That’s why the agency recently launched a six-week program called jumpstart that aims to give founders the skills and resources they need to build their technology-enabled businesses and walk away with an MVP.

Kidd and Yang met each other four years ago, when Kidd used Yang’s tutorial service to teach himself how to develop Ruby on Rails applications and consequently hired Yang to become a mentor. Yang eventually left to work at Google, but stayed in contact with Kidd.

Last year, Yang left Google and joined dupontstudios as a partner. Kidd and Yang have built the technical foundation for several startups that have since launched, including SwingSpace, Reciprocare and RentStatus.

Kidd and Yang both strongly believe that their program, which is supported by the entire dupontstudios team, ensures that non-technical founders not only launch their project on-time but are taught in the process to become technically competent and therefore increase their chances of successfully navigating the ups and downs of building a startup.

The program provides hands-on educational experience that lends founders full access to web development, video production and data analytics teams for $60-70,000. And, importantly, the flat rate structure and fixed timeline ensures that the product is launched on time and on budget.


With jumpstart, founders learn to communicate with and manage their own development teams through “code-literacy” — in other words, founders won’t become full-stack developers themselves, but they’ll be able to comprehend the technology behind their own business and better manage their tech teams.

Founders must be available the entire six weeks to work one-on-one with Yang and Kidd during the development of their MVP. Applicants don’t necessarily need to be based in D.C., but they do need to be able to work with the agency in-person.

“I’ve always believed in a practical approach,” said Yang. “Everything you learn you can apply in practice, and that has so many long term benefits.”

One benefit of jumpstart’s practice-based approach and six-week time frame is that MVP development is streamlined by incentivizing product testing.

“You almost never get it right the first time. You need to create value,” Yang explained. “We want to get founders across that threshold, where they’re in front of their customers.”

Dr. Charlene Brown, a Harvard MD whose startup ReciproCare is reinventing how home care agencies and other senior care providers find caregivers for their clients, was finding that threshold difficult to cross.

Then, she decided to enroll in dupontstudios’ jumpstart program.

Meet ReciproCare: A case study

Learning to code was not at the forefront of Dr. Brown’s mind when she launched ReciproCare. She was in the process of interviewing development shops to help build her MVP when she encountered Kidd, a panelist for a Black Female Founders Labs’ event. That’s how she first heard about dupontstudios’ jumpstart program.

“[Former ReciproCare Chief Product Officer] Alex Cohen and I were very impressed during the early vetting process,” Dr. Brown said. “They had great ideas about the build that I had not considered. I realized that I could learn from these guys.”

Yang and Kidd’s expertise stems from their own personal experiences with failed startups: Kidd said contracted agencies stranded him for months in product development, leading him to abandon several launches. Yang said an early dearth of technical skills had prevented him from testing startup ideas quickly and became the reason he learned to code himself, and to eventually teach tens of thousands of others through educational videos he publishes online.

Giving jumpstart a shot could yield high reward with minimum risk: Dr. Brown could obtain new skills and walk away with an MVP without having to sell off equity or pay twice as much for a firm to build her product without also building her technical capacity.

Dr. Brown began to see the value in her decision shortly after signing on. The hands-on technical experience jumpstart provided and the business insights that Yang and Kidd had to offer helped to inform Dr. Brown and her team’s strategy and transform her abilities as the CEO of a tech startup.

“I do believe it made me a better CEO of a technology company,” said Dr. Brown. “I’m better able to manage my own development team and process.”

As for Dr. Brown? The founder continued to work with dupontstudios for a brief period after completing the program. She now has a functioning business, complete with an in-house technical team and a growing client base.

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