Non-Techie Turned Tech AF
Kristin Slink is the founder and CEO of Tech AF, which empowers non-technical founders to bring their innovations and ideas to market quickly regardless of their level of computer engineering, coding, or high-level technical skills. 

In this conversation, Kristin shares how her journey from psychology student to a burgeoning FinTech innovator was achieved without prodigious technical understanding or coding skills. 

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Host - Monique Mills
Hello everyone and welcome back to the Unpolished MBA podcast. With me today I have Kristin Slink. Hi Kristin!

Guest - Kristin Slink - 01:16
Hi Monique. Thank you so much for having me.

Host - Monique Mills - 01:18
Well thanks for joining us, I'm looking forward to digging in and sharing more about you with the audience but first I have to ask you the same two questions I ask everyone else.
Are you an entrepreneur or an employee?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 01:30
I am an entrepreneur.

Host - Monique Mills - 01:32
MBA or no MBA.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 01:34

Host - Monique Mills - 01:36
Here we go. Here we go again. The whole purpose of this podcast is to let people know you come from diverse backgrounds, educational levels, all of those things, and you can still be a great entrepreneur. You don't need an MBA. So Kristin, they're going to be shocked to know how you first got started in entrepreneurship. Do you mind sharing that?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 02:05
I fell into it. Honestly, I do not have a story like “when I was younger, I used to go around my neighborhood with a RadioFlyer, handing out newspapers.” Entrepreneurship was never a goal of mine. It was never an option that I really saw in my home life. I didn't have any family members who were entrepreneurial. When you don't see anyone around you doing something you automatically think, you know, maybe that's not for me.

So I graduated college, I went to school in New Hampshire, was tired of the cold, moved to San Diego, no plan. I was a psychology major and through an internship my senior year, I realized I did not want to go into psychology and I had always had this interest in business so I took a job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I worked for that company for several years and ended up working for a really entrepreneurial, well, I guess what we would call intrapreneurial division, where I really was doing a lot of creating and it was that experience where I'm like, “wow, I’m really good at just kind of figuring stuff out.” At the same time there was an opportunity and someone who I knew had just left his job to pursue working for himself…I thought it was really cool.

So I kind of just put one foot in, started working alongside him and the opportunity opened itself for me to work with him full-time and that whole experience turned into creating our own startup.

Host - Monique Mills - 03:31
Which was in what industry? Can you share with the audience?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 03:35
Yeah. In a broad sense, FinTech.

Host - Monique Mills - 03:38
FinTech, financial technology.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 03:41
Yes. Online personal lending. What we did is we had a B2B to C model. We would work with businesses that offered a product or service typically costing $1,000 or more
where it would make good business sense for them to offer financing options for their customers to purchase their product or service. So what started as a consulting business, quickly, I realized there was no single financing platform that helped them ease the conversation with their customers and find them a really good source to be able to pay for that product or service. I really just through that consultation experience, you know, realized that there was a big gap and decided that I wanted to be the person to solve it.

Host - Monique Mills - 04:25
Wow. It's so crazy how it sounds like you have a very problem solving type of mind and ways to figure out things, to get things done. It's interesting how people will buy if you provide them a way to pay for it and they don't necessarily have to borrow it from your business.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 04:48

Host - Monique Mills - 04:49
That was extremely clever to even think about that as an option. Now it's common but back when you were doing it, that was not common.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 04:58
This was 2012. There are a lot of, I used to call them the dinosaur platforms, a lot of really outdated, hard to use platforms that were really difficult when you're trying to get someone into a loan, it didn't have to be that confusing and I always had these ideas to make it better. We had leveraged other technologies to try to enhance our consulting business and every time that we brought new ideas that always fell short, it was not our technology. That really was the turning point to say there's not anything in the market, we really know how to attack this, if no one else is going to do it we’re going to do it ourselves and made a lot of mistakes along the way.

Host - Monique Mills - 05:40
Yeah. I would love to get some more insights from you on the mistakes that you've made, but we're going to do that after we wrap up this recording. You guys will have to shoot us an email at unpolishedmba@gmail.com to get that scoop. Right now I want to move into…so you mentioned you were a psychology major and then you founded a technology startup. How did you even make that transition? I also want you to mention how that ties into what you're doing today.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 06:15
I always say my motto was, “I'm going to figure it out.” When I was in college, going through my internship and really didn't feel like I was jiving with the different options available to me as a psychology major. I said, “I'm going to figure it out and try to do something else.”

Business was always something interesting to me, so moving to a brand new city with no job, just kind of made it work. I went to an entry-level where they taught me the basis of business, how businesses worked. I always call it an MBA of the school of hard-knocks, it's not official training, but there's so many ways to join businesses, to get an understanding about how that business works. That teaches you what you really need to know. It's taking that knowledge and having that mentality of, “I always want to learn, I always want to learn from others and try new experiences. If I'm going to learn it on my own, I'm going to figure that out too.” So the whole notion of figuring it out and just kind of making it work has always just been ingrained in me and the transition from really trying to just make ends meet, having a career, going up the corporate ladder to finally saying “I want my own future.”, it was kind of that same mentality, I'm going to make it work.

I didn't have a lot of friends, I didn't have any friends who had their own businesses. I didn't have any family members who had their own businesses. So it really was just jumping in blindly but with that knowledge of, “Hey, I really want this. So I'm going to learn from others around me and I'm going to be, you know, kind of like a sponge to see what I can absorb.” I do credit myself for having super powers that are great in entrepreneurship, but I think a lot of people possess those they just don't realize how powerful they could really be.

Host - Monique Mills - 09:38
When you didn't have the technology background, did that provide you some kind of apprehension?  Should we move forward? How do we move forward? There's this gap, a lot of people have great ideas, but then they don't know, how do I actually do this? I don't know how to code…I don't know any developers. You know?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 09:59
Exactly, so that's a good bridge to talk about what I'm doing today. When we raised money and built that company I was a non-technical founder. My co-founder was also non-technical, meaning that we don't have engineering backgrounds, we can't code the product ourselves.

When we got our initial investment, I really had worked with all of our clients with the different software programs that we use so I understood from a product perspective, what we needed. I didn't know how to translate that into technical speak, but I knew from the business side, what that product needed to have, what it needed to do, how it needed to make the process more efficient. So, I really took and navigated, how do I translate these business needs into a way where the technical teams really understand what I need from a business standpoint. This really took four or five years to work through. I had the benefit of having an interim CTO come in, right when we raised our investment, who taught me the power of wireframing.

Breaking that down; wireframing is just a very simple representation. It could even just be squares with placeholders for text, but what it does is it visualizes what you want. From a business perspective, and me kind of having an eye a little bit for design, I would start visualizing, well I would want a text box there. So I'd create a text box. I started, instead of verbally or writing down what the requirements were, I started to really design them with these clickable prototypes, to articulate what the business needs were, bring that to the tech team, and worked very closely with them. Then that would start the conversation where they would clarify what the business needs would be, help me reiterate on that wireframe, and I always ended up getting something more like what I had in my mind when I used the wireframes and I used that visualization process rather than just saying “this is something that I need” and then having that get produced for you.

It's really through that experience that I learned how to navigate, how to articulate, visualize, and talk about the business needs of a product, and really rely on the technical teams to deliver that. That is what I'm doing now, my new venture is called Tech AF, and I'm really empowering those founders out there, entrepreneurs that have this idea for a technology product and are like “I’m not technical”, “who am I to do this”, but honestly Monique, and I know that you and I go back and forth on LinkedIn often, and you probably have a very similar feeling to it. Some of my favorite entrepreneurs are those that are not technical because they are approaching it from a business perspective. They're not too inundated with the tech and the “how” it's more about the “why” and the “what”.

Host - Monique Mills - 12:38
Yes! You said it with an explanation point, that's so true because you get so caught up in creating a product. “It would be cool if it had this feature and that feature, and this would be nice.” It’s like…“No, what is the problem you're solving?”

Guest - Kristin Slink - 12:54
Yes. How are you going to make money? Is it a big enough problem that they're going to give you money? Validation early on before you build anything is key because I have been, and you and I worked together and worked with some of the same companies, there's a lot of entrepreneurs out there that spin their wheels, trying to create a product or spending too much time on features and not just getting something out there that's going to generate some revenue that they can learn from and iterate because no product that you put out there first, it's going to be perfect. We know that.

Host - Monique Mills - 13:27
Oh, absolutely. I laugh at my first.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 13:32
Oh gosh, me too. Ugly. Ugly. (Laughing).

Host - Monique Mills - 13:37
Well, what is your website? Is it IamtechAF?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 13:43
The brand's Tech AF,  my website is IamtechAF.com. My thought behind that is every time someone's putting that into the browser, you are affirming that you are Tech AF too, but kind of our motto is “we are, you are, I am tech AF”, it's really all inclusive. Anyone can be a founder and especially those who understand their business needs. You can be a founder, if you've got an idea, you can make it happen. There's so many resources out there to get it done. It's just more about what is the business case? Are you solving a real problem? Has it been validated?

Host - Monique Mills - 14:15
Amen. Wow. I love it. Secondly, for those of you, I knew one founder who thought that, I'm just going to learn to code because I have this idea, so they were looking up coding schools. I’m like…”no, first of all, coding is not that simple”, and that's coming from someone who knows how to code, but I hate it. Your whole code base won't work because you left out a semicolon. Are you listening to me? How frustrating is that?! You're focused on trying to find out where the semicolon is missing and what word is missing versus solving the business problem. So I love your idea and also it brings to the forefront…focus on solving the business case, the business problem, and the tech part, pretty much anybody can code, you know what you need. You get an idea of how you want it to operate then you're off to the races, it's so many things nowadays that you actually don't even need to code.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 15:24
I was just going to say that. Let's talk about the growing industry of no-code. I'm kind of a big believer that no-code is not far enough along to be the end all be all, but to get an MVP out a proof of concept, or even if it's a simple business model, that can be a great solution for you. And it's so much cheaper, faster, and there's agencies now that have no code developers. So very similar to taking your prototype and your idea to a software agency. You can also take it to a no-code agency and then, you know what? You can figure out which path works best for what your vision is, or at least that first iteration. Get as much traction as you can, and then go from there.

Host - Monique Mills - 16:04
That's it! No code is saving a lot of lives.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 16:10
Again, not an end all be all. I don't think it's the most scalable way to do it, but for that proof of concept and getting things in front of your target customers and just say “Look what I accomplished!” It means so much and it shows so much.

Host - Monique Mills - 16:24 Yeah, I know so many people are miserable in their jobs and they have this idea that they want to execute on. Then they get bogged down trying to find a developer, I don't know what code to use and what language to use and those kinds of things. I know people who have actually been able to leave their jobs sooner and get started on the business sooner because of no code solutions.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 16:47
Yes, absolutely. The thing is too, what happens is sometimes when you have an idea and you go to those developers and you're kind of not validating that business, you're going to get a call back. A lot of agencies will want to work with you, but you know, it might be a little too premature. I think it's also just important to say, if you have an idea, focus on the business. Don't worry about the tech, the tech will come later, focus on the business because that is the most important thing. Tech agencies will build you something, if it's a horrible idea or not. You've got to just own that yourself, especially if you're a non-technical founder to own that piece of the puzzle, come to them prepared and confident that you've already validated, you know, what you need. You're going to save so much time and so much money.

Host - Monique Mills - 17:37
Oh, man, the money for sure,and  the time. Absolutely. Well, Kristen, I know that the way you work with clients is based upon a five-part system that's unique to Tech AF. Many of our listeners may be interested in working with you and learning a little bit more about that, but I know you have some of the basics on your website, is that right?

Guest - Kristin Slink - 17:59
I do. Yes,  iamtechaf.com. I'm working on re-shaping the way that I'm presenting the program, because it is very overwhelming when you have a tech idea to be thinking about, “okay, I'm going to build a clickable prototype and get this built.” You’ve got to take it one piece at a time. So, the first part of my program is called clear and strategic, where we're really focused on what we've been talking about; the business. Focusing on, what problem am I solving? What the market is, who I'm selling it to, and then coming up with a strategic plan and understanding the different options of who am I going to need on my team? How am I going to get it built? How am I going to get it funded? And how am I going to get customers?

So it really is a dip your toe in test out your idea, see if it has some legs, get that confidence, know a little bit of tech to understand those needs and what you're going to need to build going forward, and then kind of dive into the program so you can learn more at, iamtechaf.com. I'm also on Instagram at iamtechAF, and of course LinkedIn, where I'm a big supporter of you, because everything you say, Monique, I'm like “YES!” There's so much truth to it all the time. I’m a big fan!

Host - Monique Mills - 19:08
You too, Kristin. I want to thank you. We're not going to give you all the details of the special five-part system, but believe me, it's something that will be helpful, especially to non-technical founders, but also technical founders, because a lot of technical founders don't understand the business case as much as they understand the technology.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 19:29
It's a holistic experience, it all ties in.

Host - Monique Mills - 19:33
Kristin, I'm going to let you go, but before we go, I want people to again, know that if you'd like more information about some of the mistakes that Kristin made, go ahead and email us at unpolishedMBA@gmail.com and we'll also share tidbits of her five-part system in that email response back to you. Kristin, I want to thank you for spending time with us today and sharing information about how to found a startup without being a tech founder with our audience.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 20:07
Yes. Anyone can do it. If you've got the drive, you can get it done. Monique, it’s been a pleasure. I always enjoy speaking with you. Thanks so much for having me.

Host - Monique Mills - 20:16
You too. Thank you.

Guest - Kristin Slink - 20:18
Thank you.

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