App development · Apps

How do you develop a tech product as a non-technical founder?

Nadia Carmon Social Media & Marketing Specialist. Ideation for Software Apps. Semi-Technical.

Last updated on March 19th, 2019

What's the best way to go about trying to get a product made (or at least the MVP), as a non-technical founder?


To give a little background, I have a few ideas for apps that I seek to develop. In fact I started tried my hand at programming a mobile app the last few months, but as someone with a low to intermediate tech skillset, I've come to realize that I can best serve my own projects on the marketing end.


Among other things, I've developed mockups, wireframes, flowcharts, competitor analyses, a list of MVP and post-MVP features, marketing campaigns, and even a business model for my current idea. I don't have every thing I need by any means, but I understand a great deal of the major questions you'd expect someone to know about their business/product.


But the one thing I need is to understand how I can approach this project from a (an essentially) non-technical background, in order to get it completed.

Matt Lawrence Founder, Shipper Hero

March 19th, 2019

Hi Nadia,


I've been exactly where you are now. I first priced my project with local software dev firms, and when I heard $250k+, I looked to freelancers. I spent over $50k on a project that I eventually had to abandon. I then decided to go to a code bootcamp so I could build it myself, only to realize that I was years away from the technical sophistication that would allow me to do so. I tried recruiting developers at a local conference, and spoke with a few people that seemed interested, but eventually passed.


After a couple of years, someone finally reached out to me through this platform. It was partially luck because we have a common interest, but we're about 90% finished with our Alpha product. I couldn't be happier with him as a partner.


I say this mostly to let you know there is hope if you keep pursuing it. For specific advice, I will say to keep preparing the way you're preparing. Make sure you have your pitch perfected. Your primary job right now is to recruit a technical co-founder. Talk to local devs at Meetups, speak to investors to see if they can recommend anyone, be prepared and passionate every time you speak to someone. That's what most CTOs are looking for in a non-technical co-founder. You need to fill every gap in the company to make up for the immense amount of work you're asking them to do upfront. Don't underestimate how lopsided the labor will be in the beginning. The better prepared you are, the less time of theirs you will waste.


Feel free to reach out if I can be of assistance. I wish you all the best.

Colette Wyatt Entrepreneur, CTO, Co-founder

March 21st, 2019

Hi Nadia,


You are clearly a very intelligent and resourceful woman - nice to meet you!


I really have one important comment to make - if you needed a pacemaker fitted would you go to a surgeon, or ask a vet to fit your pacemaker? People who are advising you to "build your own" have clearly never developed an application that has been launched commercially.


You are asking a very sensible question and it does look like you have done some of the hard work in documenting your requirements.


You need to work with someone who won't just build to spec, but will challenge your thinking, your business idea, your go to market strategy, will think about scalability, usability, data protection, will think of the things you havent thought about yet - you need a partner, not a techie.... if you are lucky you find a good partner who is also technically savvy!


Sadly, someone else said that don't go to a software company as they might "steal your idea", this would be extremely unfortunate where it to happen and I might add extremely unusual, most software companies depend on their references and their customer base for future work. Go to an established company with exactly that - good references, talk to their actual customers and then make an informed decision. (assuming you have some budget)....


If you need any pointers I would be happy for you to reach out to me, I have no agenda - just a desire to help a fellow founder and ensure you don't get burnt or spend time trying to do this on your own.


Kind Regards

Colette

Mohamed Nassar iOS Developer, Mobile PM, Growth Hacker, Team Leader, Amateur Racer, Founder of Porsche Club Egypt

Last updated on March 21st, 2019

That's a very common problem. Like others have said, you basically have 1 of 3 options:

  1. (The one you already tried) Learn to code and do it yourself.
  2. Pay someone to do it.
  3. Find a tech cofounder.

Each comes with its own pros and cons. I can try helping you see them, and you can decide for yourself. Starting in reverse order


3. Finding a -good- cofounder:


+ You get someone who can actually help you plan your product, not just code it.


+ As far as I know, many investors would rather have 2-3 cofounders instead of just 1.


+ (S)he can help you will all future tech decisions. Its not a one off collaboration.


- It's really hard to find someone good and trustworthy, AND sell them on the idea.


- You'll have to do some legal stuff, to make sure your rights are preserved.


- You'll especially need to account for the risk if the person you chose, is either not good, or not trustworthy. Hence, the legal stuff.


2. Pay someone to do it


+ You alone own your idea. Although you need to protect it with NDA's and what not.


- You still have to find someone good and trustworthy. Although the relationship is shorter term. You could get scammed.


- Once you're past the MVP stage, unless you hired someone and did not give the project to a freelancer, maintainability would be hard.


- You'll still need to coordinate everything with them and make sure they understand ur vision, otherwise the implementation and ur vision could go in different directions


1. Learn to DIY:


+ You're in complete control!


- Time. You will lose a lot of time learning that.


- It might not be as good since u don't come from a tech background.


- Eventually you'll need to hire someone to do it anyway.


Having said all that. Let me give you my recommendation, which is by no means an expert advice, but rather an advice from my experience (guess that does make it expert advice, even though I wouldn't call myself an expert)

  1. I will assume that you have already validated your idea, and hence want to validate it further by building an MVP. Mostly I advise to not waste resources trying to build something you still couldnt sell.
  2. IF you already know someone who would be good and trustworthy as a cofounder, then try pitching it to them. But only after reading on the legal stuff and the cofounders agreements et al.
  3. If not, then once you decide on an MVP, then hire a freelancer or a student to do a prototype for you, so that you can use it in your pitches.
  4. Once you start selling, then either hire someone, or look again for a cofounder, now you already have more leverage.

Please feel free to ask if you have more questions. Good luck.



Andrew Chalk Co-Founder of a startup. CEO of a startup. CTO of a Hedge Fund. Quantitative Researcher. Superb COO.

March 19th, 2019

" But the one thing I need is to understand how I can approach this project from a (an essentially) non-technical background, in order to get it completed. "


This is tough because you are essentially trying to form a partnership of complementary skills, shotgun fashion. Most such partnerships end badly. E.g at the first sign of tough going.


I would try to get investor (FF&F) funding or use savings to pay for the MVP without having to give up any equity, thereby taking the issue off the table. Your developer(s) will probably be offshore, and an individual(s) rather than a medium/large development house (the latter might effectively steal your idea).


With the MVP you can go to local seed funders. I see you are in New York and that is a market with lots of seed funding choices.


If you haven't already done so, find the online calendar of startup 'events' and start going to every pitch and social you can. I found it took me about six months of this to get a full picture of what my options were when I got back into the startup community.


Not a complete recipe but some ingredients.


Arni Lochner Co-Founder and CEO of Swift Social

Last updated on March 19th, 2019

Hi Nadia,


One option you could use is to work with a UX/UI designer to develop a visual prototype of your product, which you could then present to investors, who could then fund the development of it. This is often enough to demonstrate to customers and potential investors your idea in order to get funding and/or validation of your product.


This is a much lower cost and lower risk option than throwing a huge budget at development from the off. And you really do get what you pay for when it comes to development. Also look at it this way...this phase needs to happen before development anyway.


Let me know if you want to chat further about this option.

Johanna Miller Independant Marketing Consultant

March 26th, 2019

Hi Nadia, I’m exactly where you are. Or have been. I’m about to change your life-Bubble.io I’ve been cycling through trying to get my idea developed for the better part of two years and I still had nothing to show for it. I networked, I joined CFL, I went to agencies (locally and overseas), I tried Udemy to learn code (ain’t nobody got time for that). Bubble.io is for non technical people with great ideas. It’s a series of plug-ins and features that you’re stringing together to work for your app. I’ve compared it to building a menu for a new restaurant. You’re choosing your menu items, not cooking it all. I found it through Udemy and then I smartened up and posted on the Bubble forum to find a freelancer to speed up the process. Best move of my life. I’m paying 1/25th of my first quoted price to get this MVP out. That said, if you don’t have the extra cash to spend on getting a solid MVP out, you can ABSOLUTELY do this yourself. I just want to get it done faster. Good luck Nadia, I hope you get ‘er done! Johanna

Sina Experienced CTO - Hire us as your virtual CTO @NuBinary

March 28th, 2019

Hi Nadia,


I think other answers have perfectly laid out most of your options. I would like to mention another option for hiring a firm to help you build your product.


Since I exited my last startup as the CTO, I have been asked many times the exact same question: how do I build a product without technical background? That's why I started a consulting firm called NuBinary, to help entrepreneurs build their MVP with the help of experienced ex-CTOs with minimum cost, risk and time to market while maximizing their chance of raising capital with the MVP in hand.


Starting a startup is a tough job and there is much more than building a product. Avoiding the same mistakes that others have made is a big factor in a startup success and it requires a lot of experience and knowledge, that's what we bring into the table, what a free lancer or a dev shop might not be able to fulfill.


There are increasing number of firms providing these services and we were one of the firsts who took this approach. I think seeking help from a team of people who have already built startups and their products is one of the least risky approaches.

Damian Coleman Experienced Sales & Account Manager with Background in Helping People Start Businesses

April 4th, 2019

Much like Johanna, I whole heartedly agree with bubble.io.

I was looking for a tech co-founder to help build my idea (i still am but more from the long term view rather than to just build the mvp)


I was getting quotes for 5k+ for a basic model to work with. Now, I have someone from upwork who can do the work for less than 20% of that price. Do you due diligence like myself. Ask for examples on this platform and login details so you can see he really has built it

Richard Gaas Hacker & product manager working on the literal game changer

Last updated on March 25th, 2019

Tough question. Even with my technical background and ability it's been hard for me at times to try to conceptualize everything from a planning perspective that leads to development.


Think of it as if you were constructing a building. You don't have to be an expert to build it. Most software engineers rarely are. You just have to plan it out and for that I would consult with a systems architect of some sort depending on what your app does.


The best advice I would be able to give you from my experience is to do exactly what you have already done - talk to people. Try to document your idea as thoroughly as you can with wireframes, feature sets and flow charts and rarely stray from them. Find good, honest people to build off of them and that won't try to game their hours by offering broken features with literal interpretations that skirt reasonable levels of design and responsibility.


For instance, if you say "I need a text box here that people can put their emails into to log in", and a developer creates one that doesn't sanitize a user's input and comes back at you with "you said _____ ", end your relationship with them. Look for people who take pride in what they do


John Zhu Can help MVP development in exchange of sales expertise

March 25th, 2019

Nadia,

A few suggestions mainly from my personal experience in last a few years.

1. Don't build app before you have a few customers;

2. Start with a website, not a mobile app;

3. Offer your service to developers who might give your app a head start.


Let me go through each in some detail:


1. Work hard to find and serve a few customers without having an app (I wrote this subject a few times on CFL, so if you have not seen them and couldn't find them, just email me, I'll send a copy). If your idea requires an app before serving a handful customers, you should rethink your idea. The fact is, not many services (you talked about app so I assume it's a service) require app to serve the first customer.

More importantly, you can focus on the values and delivery of these values to your customers, rather than spending times on apps, at least initially, especially you are a non-technical person.

2. If you are in a position to start development, I suggest you start with a website rather than a mobile app. Nowadays, properly programmed websites render really well on mobile devices. By starting with a website, you will have larger developer pool, shorter development cycle, and most importantly, significantly easier job in terms of marketing the service to customers.

3. Although I don't have advices on how to find a co-found (as I have failed terribly), I do have a suggestion to CFL members: Last year, I tried to find people here to "exchange/share talents". I am developer by training, but had had hard time in marketing/selling my services: if you are good in selling things and are willing to take a look at what I have to sell, I'll be more than willing to take a look at what you want to build. At least, you can give me some advice, I can send you a viable (high level) design. Any takers?


Good luck to you