Product Marketing · Startups

No Code vs Custom Development, as a startup at MVP stage, what is better choice?

Gina Fitzgerald Founder

July 24th, 2020

Hello,

I have been interviewing a few teams, people, that are proposing coding/building an MVP for my company. Now, recently have been introduced to no-coding, which of course cheaper possibly quicker in building, but is it as good? With market research, and feedback on what I am building - I believe I would have to go out to market as crisp as possible, knowing not perfect, but enough to have market interested and wanting to sign on; with that said - Do you spend a little extra to get your vision out there, not perfect but exciting for you to show/sell - or do you go towards a different way (no code) that may end up in showcasing an idea still and not a product to gain action? Is there a big difference between the two?

Danial Kalbasi Founder at thesupercluster.com - Technical Cofounder

Last updated on July 26th, 2020

I've seen some similar questions to this, if you probably search a bit you'll find more suggestions on the site. To answer your question, I've been working in companies that built successful no-code solutions/features for non-technical users. Here are the differences and when you should go with each solution IMO.


Just started and don't have much time and budget = No code

95% of your idea can fit into generic solutions = No code


The idea gets tested and ready to scale = Custom development

Only part of your idea can be built by no-code = Custom development

Your business is built around your software = Custom development

Your software counts as the valuable asset of your business = Custom development


The reality of no-code, especially full no-code solutions is they are not working in a long run, it only fits certain use-cases or better to say, things the majority of users can use for their day to day operations. Such as simple eCommerce or landing pages. The irony is, people are still looking for someone to do the building for them while they using these platforms. To name a few, I've seen many posts, in freelancing websites for WIX, Squarespace, and WebFlow which supposedly should be usable by non-technical people.

Dario Lillo Software Engineer

July 30th, 2020

It depends.


If your startup is focused on providing services which are indipendent from your website/software, a no-code solution could be your best choice. You can also use a no-code solution to create a fast prototype of your idea and show it around.


If your product IS the software, you should consider to spend part of your budget on it, hiring a developer or finding a tech-cofounder. An MVP is a Minimum product, but it must work in order to attract users' interest. Having a great idea is a very big asset for your startup, but implementation is probably more important.

Will Rocklin Product Manager & Advisor (ex-Google, ex-Square) looking for opportunities

July 28th, 2020

Hi. I wrote this post on LinkedIn which I thought might be of help for you. Link is here and copy/pasted below. Although I don't discuss no code options directly, I am suspicious a new product can be tackled with a no code solution. Ok, commencing article:


Hi there. I'm Will Rocklin, a Product Manager (ex-Google, ex-Square, ex-failed startup) and current startup advisor. I don't know about you, but I love the early days at a startup. You know what I'm talking about: the dust has barely settled on your EC2, you're still evaluating Notion vs. Coda, and wondering if the ghost of Steve Jobs will visit you in the night to tell you that you found product/market fit. Ah, the good young days...


As an advisor, I primarily work with startup founders at the earliest stages: pre-seed, pre-revenue, and even pre-product to help them achieve the company's next milestone - whether they're trying to secure an investment, get their first users, or build a minimum viable product (MVP).


If you're a founder or would-be founder who wants to build a product, but you don't have technical expertise or a technical co-founder, you can still build an MVP to validate it in market. In fact, I'd argue building an MVP is the only way to validate whether or not people care about your idea. The good news is that you have choices to make it happen, even if you are bootstrapping. So, step into my office as I walk you through three main ways to built an MVP, along with of the some pros and cons of each approach.


#1. Hire a CTO/Technical Co-founder In my experience, this is what most non-technical founders assume they need to do. The thinking goes like this: "Since I'm the business gal/guy, I need an engineer to complement my skillset. To reel one in, I'll share my amazing idea, wow 'em with my prototype, and hand them a bushel of equity. Easy, right?" Unfortunately, this isn't quite the reality. Unproven product ideas are about as common as folding chairs. It's difficult to convince a decently talented engineer (who can work at an already up-and-running startup or FAANG) to join your company without some kind of validation like users, revenue, and/or investors. The other catch here is that cash flow for pre-product startups is often mucho tight while engineers generally like food and paying rent.If you go this route:

  • Be patient. Hiring an engineer for even the most white hot startup can take months. They have among the most in-demand skillset on the planet and are likely getting offers on a regular basis.
  • Have designs/a clickable prototype to show your idea and a pitch deck to explain the company's future.
  • Prepare a reasonable offer that combines salary and equity. I wish I could tell you what's definitively competitive, but I've found the floor to be around $5K/mo and 4% in equity - anything less may be a nonstarter.
  • Make sure their work is evaluated by another engineer or a company you can trust, e.g. code-reviews.

#2. Hire a web development shop Good news: there are lots of web development shops ready to take your idea and turn it into a product. They can start quickly, in most cases can build complex ideas, and they can help guide non-technical folks along in the process. If your idea requires great visual designs, there's a good chance they have higher quality talent than you could otherwise hire.


Ready for the bad news? I wouldn't let a lot of these guys walk my grandma across the street - many are sharks who prey on founder inexperience. Worse, a lot of shops charge a premium. Here's how their business economics work: they charge you (let's say) $50-$250K while paying as little as $15K for offshore folks to make it. Finally, and here's my main beef with every web dev shop - they rob you as an entrepreneur out of the experience of teaching yourself how to build a product - all the conversations, decisions, frustration and camaraderie that can go along with it. No matter if your startup succeeds or not, I would prioritize at least walking away from it with knowledge.If you go this route, for the love of Homer Simpson:

  • Make sure they are comfort-inducing folks who don't overwhelm you with technical jargon or use scare tactics to land a sale.
  • Use the websites/apps they've built - don't just look at pretty pictures - and absolutely feel wowed, not "oh that's kinda nice" by their portfolio.
  • Make sure they build you a product (not a prototype) that at least 500-1,000 customers can use. Customers don't care about prototypes because they can't use them. And investors (for some reason) really care about customers.
  • Speak to former customers and ask them how they achieved a good outcome.
  • Demand to be as close as possible to the process - be in every meeting, join their Slack, see every design iteration, validate every feature before you sign-off.
  • Have a plan for what happens after the contract ends, e.g. when you find a critical bug, you want to add a new feature, or you hire that amazing CTO who needs everything transferred over.

#3. Hire a freelancer Thanks to the passion economy there are now lots of ways to hire pretty good to great engineers and designers. There are several benefits here: you personally picked them, and they'll work along side you anyway you see fit. Because you have access to a global marketplace of talent, expect to pay a reasonable rates ($20-$60/hr). It's easy to scale up or down freelance talent as needed. Now that every company has to have remote employees (thanks covid?) VCs hopefully won't be concerned by your distributed workforce. And most importantly, you learn how to build a product, and understand the trade-offs inherent in the process. There are downsides. It can take weeks to hire a freelancer (interviews, code reviews). Worryingly, there are more than a few charlatans who claim to be people they are not and have experience they don't.On AngelList for example, you can write ANYTHING you want. The other day I made myself COO of Slack from 1975 - 1978 which is 38 years before Slack existed. (Don't worry, once I fixed that end date error there, I clicked the sh*t out of Save.) Sigh.If you go this route to hire a designer:

  • Use your eyes. Make sure you love what you see and that their portfolio is relevant to what you're building. Again, try to use the sites and apps they've built vs. just looking at pretty pictures.
  • If you can only look at their work, pretend you're a user on their app/site and ask yourself, do you want to be there? Does it look impressive, straight forward? Is it intuitive about where to go and what to do? If the answers are yes, you're in the right direction.

If you go this route to hire a developer:

  • They'll probably need to be a full stack engineer so they can make something that works end-to-end.
  • Validate their skillset somehow. Yes, I know some sites claim so-and-so is a top 5% React engineer, but who knows what that means. I'd do what big tech does: demand they take a live coding interview with someone qualified to validate their skills.

For all interviews:

  • Validate their profiles across several sites to make sure they are who they say they are. If you see a photo that differs from AngelList to LinkedIn, pass.
  • When you speak with them, make their video camera is turned on and check they look like their profile picture. If they refuse (and the reason ain't lock solid), pass.
  • Thank them for joining the call, introduce yourself, and walk them through the product. Make sure they ask questions. If they don't ask any questions, pass. (Can you imagine a structural engineer not asking any questions about how to build a bridge?! A tattoo artist who doesn't have one follow up question?!)
  • Make sure you get a whole body yes feeling before proceeding with a candidate.
  • Start with a 2 week trial before signing up for a long contract.

Now, get out there and build that MVP! Thanks for reading! Good luck, founders!If you've had any other experiences, tips/tricks, or methods for building an MVP that decent hard-working founders should know about, drop a comment below.

Edward de Jong Software designer and developer, programming language designer

August 2nd, 2020

Firstly, any product claiming to be "no code" is exaggerating, because when you put some popcorn in the microwave and press the button, you are programming. Coding can visual, textual, or a mixture of the two, but at the end of the day your instructions telling what the computer to do are code. People sell templated coding systems, which facilitate a very narrow band of functionality and appearance. Once you want to go past their often very hard boundaries, you hit an abrupt increase in difficulty, and sometimes the modifications you wish to make are impossible.


Very few products generated by these seductive tools have much value. But they can get you started, and the cost is certainly much lower. The problem i have with them, is that most of the products generated by these tools look and feel the same, and being the same as everyone else for a startup is not really recommended, since your job as a new kid on the block is to stand out.


It is very difficult to find good programmers. As the number of people learning programming has skyrocketed, the average experience level of programmers is dropping fast, and since the training is haphazard for these programmers, they are going to learn at your expense.


Software is technical skill that requires a great deal of patience, and the range of productivity between people exists in a range that is estimate to be 20:1, so one person can be 20 times more productive than another. Sports and Music have the same kind of wide range (even wider), but hiring someone in this category is a rare thing for an ordinary businessman, who is more familiar with factory workers, which have a narrower range of productivity.

Clay Nichols Helping other startups grow after launching 2 successful startups.

July 24th, 2020

How are you planning to contact your first 10 users?

(That greatly affects the answer to your question)

Clay Nichols Helping other startups grow after launching 2 successful startups.

July 24th, 2020

Code is going to be more flexible.

NoCode will likely be easier to turn over to a new team.


Think of code as having a set of custom-made kitchen cabinets.

NoCode is building out a kitchen from standard cabinets.



The custom option gives you more flexibility and looks more unique. But it can be harder to maintain: if you need to replace, say, a door, later on, you'll need a carpenter.






Will the current team continue to work for you as you need changes made?

Gary MacDougall Technology Entrepreneur in software / e-commerce

Last updated on July 24th, 2020

My suggestion is to find a technical co-founder you can trust and who has the technical chops and experience to make these decisions. Since you're the product person, the person with the vision, knows the market and knows the customer -- you need someone who can you can rely on to make the technical decisions you're trying to make. I wouldn't go down the path of "no code" or a code out of the MVP without having a trusted advisor on what you're trying to do. I should also point out that it's really helpful to have someone who understands the domain well so you can convey what you're trying to do and not have to educate them on domain. One of the things that I worry about with non-technical founders is their iteration through the development process. This is by far the most risky and hardest part of the startup process -- finding a valuable resource who can help you make these decisions for you.


the ... TL;DR


I'd try and find someone who can do that before I'd make any of these decisions yourself, otherwise, you could be doing this three and four times and wasting a lot of money and time.

Troels Frimodt Rønnow Serial entrepreneur, blockchain expert and many other things

July 24th, 2020

Hey Gina.


With the caveat that I do not what you are trying to build, it is possible to build a full product with no code. If this is possible for your product I would strongly suggest that you try this as a first step to validate your idea. In the past, I've spent well above ten grand on a product that I then had to discard. It is very painful and for that reason alone, would do this entirely different if I had to do it today. Being curious, what are you planning to build?


You should check out some of the interviews on https://www.makerpad.co/. There definitely exists products which you can do a no-code project for well below £1000 / year. Then once you've proven that there is business to be had, you can do a more refined product.

Merit Kuusniemi Founder & CEO of MyTownDoesGood.com

July 24th, 2020

Hi, a really good book to read is Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling. He also has a podcast Startups for the Rest of Us. Of course, the best path for you depends on the complexity of your concept that you want to test. You could also investigate doing a mock-up wireframe that you can showcase long before the first bit of code gets written. Custom development is slow and expensive if you want it done well. You also need to know how to write specifications for the coders. Start with use cases, build user journeys. Planning and writing writing, not code but scenarios is the path to then potentially down the line, develop the product itself. I've learned all this the hard way. And I highly recommend the same as Gary, find a technical co-founder. That should be your first priority after you write some slides about your concept, the market, the potential, and perhaps learn how to do a wireframe. I also did not do that until years down the line. It was silly of me. Good luck!

Jeff Lillibridge Digital jack of all trades and idea guy

July 24th, 2020

Definitely no-code. Bubble is the most feature-rich no code platform out there right now and you can do some amazing things with it. If you are considering a native mobile app, you might also want to look at Adalo. For a MVP you are simply trying to test your hypothesis and I am confident you can get what you need from one of these platforms without spending tons of money or giving away a chunk of your business to a co-founder at this stage. Once you are able to prove your hypothesis and need to scale, then I would consider a cofounder and potentially custom coding it once you outgrow your no-code solution. Previously no code was better suited for just a MVP, but honestly it has come a long way and you can even launch your product and scale it to some degree. If your product starts taking off and getting hundreds of thousands of users, then you have a good problem on your hands. At that point a custom coded solution may be best. I'm happy to answer any questions you have about Bubble if you want to reach out.