Rise of no-code AI 'removing the need for the technical founder', says Fishburners CEO

Rise of no-code AI 'removing the need for the technical founder', says Fishburners CEO

Fishburners CEO Martin Karafilis.

Soft skills will be more important than ever for founders according to the new CEO of Sydney startup hub Fishburners, who believes the emphasis on technical expertise will be less pronounced given the rise of no-code artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Fishburners CEO Martin Karafilis, the co-founder and former COO of product recognition technology Tiliter which is used by supermarkets from Netto in Europe to Woolworths in Australia, says the availability of no-code AI programs like ChatGPT will change the necessary skillset compositions of founders.

"I think what that inevitably is doing, and we already see this, is it's removing the need for the technical founder," Karafilis tells Business News Australia.

"That's going to be something that shapes the next 12 to 18 months. There's so much emerging that non-technical founders can leverage these technologies to build amazing products and amazing technology that actually do something for the world."

This does not mean that technical expertise will become redundant. There are numerous founders in Australia whose technical abilities would have been indispensable to the development of their companies, such as Advanced Navigation, Vaulta, EVOLT orGoterra to name just a few.

But the technology certainly brings new tools to the table, and the Fishburners CEO believes this has resulted in a "real push towards the soft skills".

"With soft skills, leaders can create a holistic view of the decisions that they’re making," explains Karafilis, who was appointed to the role in December 2022.

"Particularly as startups start out, the technical side is important and building is important, but then you get to this point of selling. You need to know how to sell, you need to know how to lead your team and be a part of that.

"The main things are human interaction when it comes to your sales processes, and the ability to work with your team and hire the right people."

Learning and refining these skills is a constant process, even for the most outgoing and empathetic of non-technical founders. This is especially true following the disruption caused by COVID to society's social dynamics.

"There’s this spotlight on the idea that technical founders are the ones that need to focus on improving these skills, but actually I face this even on a personal level. Everybody is facing this – we’re learning how to interact again," Karafilis says.

When asked about other issues that will define the startup scene in the year ahead, Karafilis points to "a lot of capital" being deployed in emerging markets - a category that includes Australia - as well as mergers and acquisitions, and a prioritisation of environment, social and governance (ESG) policies with substance.

"This environment is ever-changing. It doesn’t stop, and I think that the earlier that companies are thinking about how they implement their [ESG] policies the better," he says.

"In the end it’s going to be a more investable company, it’s going to be a company that people want to work for and it's going to be a company that customers want to purchase from."

Karafilis adds that one of the biggest lessons learned through his own entrepreneurial journey was that "prevention is better than a cure".

"It's about making sure that you're understanding your financials and your expenses and understanding simple metrics of your business; straightforward things you should know," he says.

"Prevention is better than a cure, because it's very hard sometimes to go and fix things once you're a lot further down the track.

"Execution risk is probably the biggest risk of all, and you need to have the right strategy to do that. What is your capital? What capital do you need? What are your skillsets that you're piecing together? You have to be consistently coming back to those questions."

Diversity is also very important to the startup hub, and Karafilis says Fishburners is trying to move a couple of statistics such as the amount of women founders.

"We’ve seen an increase in our membership at Fishburners to 31 per cent women founders, and we have a focus that we want to see that grow as well," he says.

"We also see that companies that have diverse boards and diverse workforces are making better, more informed decisions.

"One of the most amazing things we're seeing in this community is even just diversity of thought. It's absolutely amazing to be able to have ideas that are thrown around that people have never thought of before."

Fishburners provides more than 1,000 entrepreneurs annually with access to investment and economic development opportunities, mentoring, facilities and educational resources. Since its inception in 2011, the hub estimates it has helped create 8,200-plus jobs, helped startups raise more than $600 million, and partnered with 2,000-plus enterprises, universities, and other organisations.

Based in Sydney, there is also now a push to have more members who are outside of the CBD or even in rural areas, via the Fishburners Founders' Hub platform.

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