Minimum Viable Product · Finding cofounders

We have the Product mapped out. How do we find (inexpensive) help in building the MVP?

Nathan Terrazas

July 21st, 2015

We're in the midst of the ultimate startup dilemma- we don't know how to code! 

What advice or resources would you suggest we go to for help with building an MVP? We have a good foundation as far as a product roadmap, user personas, etc. Now, we just need one planned component in our product to actually function so we can get feedback.

  1. If you're a non-tech founder, how did you find help with building your initial product? 
  2. If you're an engineer, how would you suggest someone like myself go about finding someone to help? 

To be clear, we have little capital and simply need help building the MVP. Not looking for co-founders necessarily. 

Thanks!

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

July 21st, 2015

You want someone to work for free, with no equity and no long-term commitment? Good luck!

There seems to be a lot of disagreement in terms of the most efficient process to follow here.

Personally, I believe you first need to build a prototype. Then go find some investment capital to help build your MVP. Contrary to what others say, the MVP does not need to be scalable. It simply needs to allow you to bring on your first batch of paying customers while you fund development of the next phase.

People get too attached to the code they have built. It's like building an airplane or car and refusing to let go of the wood and plaster models you built early-on, and insist they be used in the final products.

Whether you want to admit it or not, your first design or two WILL BE PROTOTYPES!!! It's guaranteed!

That's simply because there are too many unknowns right now. I don't care how much time you've spent modeling and tweaking ... until you've got PAYING CUSTOMERS (or at least ACTIVE customers), you have no real sense of what they're going to want.

People are wont to say they'd use or pay for something, then when faced with the choice, go the other way. Expect that. Heading straight to your MVP is often foolish. And believing that your MVP is going to scale into your final product is also foolish.

Focus on "quick and dirty" -- get something done fast so you can get feedback and determine whether you need to "pivot or persevere". Skipping a prototype, then pouring your time, effort, and money (or equity) into a prototype you're calling your MVP where you're also spending a lot of effort tuning it to scale when you don't even know what direction to scale it in is just wasteful.

I'm one of many tech resources here who can do this kind of work ... but I'm not independently wealthy and I've got rent to pay and other bills. I cannot spend my time working for free on project after project hoping that in a few years I'll make something back. I need to be paid NOW.

Unfortunately, unless you can find someone who's either living with their parents, was recently fired and has a bunch of money in the bank, someone who has no life and wants to spend time on your project after 10 hours at work, or just doesn't need to worry about income for a year or two, you're going to have to come up with a way to pay someone for their contribution to YOUR FUTURE WEALTH.

Diane Castro-Eschenbach

July 21st, 2015

Hi Nathan, It's not really necessary to know how to code in order to build an app. You will want to do a few things yourself, though, in order to keep the cost down, and make it easy for everyone involved to be on the same page. 1. Use a service that lets you make a prototype online like https://proto.io/, or invisionapp.com, they have free trials you can use. 2. Make up your screens so you will have something to show a developer, they don't have to be perfect, just basic. You can even hand draw the art and take a picture and save as a jpg, or cut and paste images from other apps to make it look like what you will be wanting. 3. Use Fiverr.com to get someone to draw out your databases from these images and a detailed flow chart of the activities. This may not be perfect but it will give you an idea of what you have to set up and work from. 4. Use your screen images to show a flow chart of all actions from beginning to end. For example sign in, upload image to profile, save to profile. You should show a chart with what each screen looks like and what each screen allows the user to do (all the possible actions). If you don't do this, then you will have to pay the developer who doesn't know what you have in mind, to take the time to figure it all out and they may not do it right the first time. If you supply this, their job is easier, they will know what to do from the outset, and the estimate will be far less. 5. Once you have these files (the screen images, database drawing and detail flow chart of activities) you can provide to developer to give you an estimate and follow along as they design the app. You can bid the project out on Elance.com You can even pay a graphic desiger to design the screens from your drawings, just request PSD files (source files), that will save even more money. You can ask someone to "slice" the PSD files (cut into parts). This is called assets and can save a few more dollars as well. The developer can test the app to get it to work to perfection, but there are also companies that you can do a Google search and hire just to test your app. You can also hire a consultant for an hour or two, once you have this, to help you with finding the best way to create your app,which platform, technology, and any other questions you may have, etc., or watch some tutorials on Udemy about building apps. This is how I have worked without knowing how to code. Hope this helps, If you have any other questions, please let me know, good luck and Cheers!, Dee Founder, Meet Me Next Where Speakers and Fans Connect and author How to Quickly Start A Business Online

Andrew Lockley

July 21st, 2015

Don't agree on the scale point at all. Build a throwaway prototype that doesn't scale, and probably one that leaves you doing much work manually in the background. Way faster, cheaper and easier to iterate. A

Andrew Lockley

July 21st, 2015

Get a jobbing CTO to consult, and try bodging something together with free or cheap tools before you commit to a big build that may not withstand the scrutiny if the market. Contact me andrewlockley.com to discuss further if you want.

Alex Eckelberry CEO at Meros.io

July 21st, 2015

I couldn't have said it better than Diane Castro-Eschenbach. I am working with one company that had the whole product built by a very competent developer in Croatia at $35/hour. If you manage the process carefully, you can get good results for an MVP level release. 


Ataollah Etemadi Founder and CEO at DivisionX Inc. Consultant, Fractional CTO, SaaS Specialist

July 22nd, 2015

There are tons of free resources out there for a non-technical person to build an MVP. For example you could get a form builder such as Gravity Forms and do the "processing" by hand. If that's too simple, there are 20K opensource code commits a week at sourceforge.net that you can look into. If it is an app (cross-platform even) I have honestly lost count of the number of online app development platforms. If you are doing games then look at something like Unity. Keep an eye out for licensing issues. Basically Google is your friend!

That is what you can do if you have no cash, but that is not what I would suggest you do if you have your product mapped out and you are not technical and have some cash. That's because you won't understand what to look for or what to do with it after you found it. I would also definitely not recommend looking for a developer off the bat. Coders usually just know how to code. I am only speaking from 20+ years working for big and small companies including Enron (I know) until I started my own in 98. A coder who can understand business problems and knows more than just how to code is a rare beast indeed. A non-technical person managing a technical project is the perfect recipe for disaster. You'll burn through your cash and at best get something that just maybe even works and does something other than taking your money. Cheap, will cost you dearly.

I suggest you find an adviser or mentor or consultant who is technical and can tell you not just how you can create your MVP but also open your eyes to new possibilities. Then if you hire a developer, you can have them do oversight and make sure the code is not some piece of junk written by an amateur that will crash under load or can be hacked by a script kiddie. The true hackers are just better than you so get over it and make lots of backups :-)

Gary Herman

July 22nd, 2015

In regards to Travis's response, I don't disagree that having someone who can manage a project is important, but I do disagree that 10,000+ "competent developer"'s on UpWork that can convert a technical requirement into compliant code.  I've been doing this for a long time and I've never come across this in any form - rather I find mostly the opposite.  Yes, there are many programmers out there looking for work; unfortunately, in my experience the majority of these are inexperienced and there's most likely a reason why they're looking for work.

Coding is an art form like anything else and there are many degrees of proficiency out there, but don't make the mistake of thinking that any coder will provide you with compliant code.  We review client code all the time and the majority of what we review is little more than popsicle sticks and glue.  

Coding is hard, plain and simple.  The abundance of open source tools and frameworks out there sometimes hide this fact, which is unfortunate and confusing for clients.  I can't begin to tell you how many clients come to us with a WordPress solution that someone created for them full of holes and security flaws.  WordPress might be easy to stand up and create a simple blog with, but there are huge differences between amateurs and professionals and they make the difference between success and failure.  The WordPress world is plagued with these.

My 2 cents...


Steve Everhard All Things Startup

July 21st, 2015

Nathan a "something for nothing" proposition isn't going to work. If you are building an MVP you need to ensure that the product functionality is delivered well and scales, and that means quality code development. You give money, a combination of money and equity or co-founder status to an engineer who will move you to MVP and beyond. If this is a private beta you might be able to hash something together to prove principles and functionality, but not for an MVP. If MVP doesn't function or doesn't scale or is slow and unavailable you will not move beyond MVP and you will have damaged your reputation with your target market.

Where to find them? There are online startup resources that match skills to needs, and face to face meet-ups will ensure you have a personality match. Determining skills is more difficult if you don't have a tech background so if you have a technical friend or contact who can help with the interviews so much the better.

Travis Russi

July 22nd, 2015

My business partner at Dabble Lab just wrote a blog post dealing with this very issue!


The answer is a bit counter-intuitive, but surprisingly simple: you need a technical project manager, not a developer.

Contrary to popular believe, finding a developer is not hard. There are 10,000s of them on UpWork. Managing a developer is the hard part.

Any competent developer can convert a technical requirement into compliant code. It's the translation from the idea in your head to a low level technical task that causes the pain of software development; the communication overhead.

The short answer is that you need a good technical project manager to help find and manage a technical resource to build your MVP. Although not as easy to find as a developer, they are out there.

Good luck with your venture, and keep us posted on your progress!

Peter Liepmann Family Physician, Policy Wonk, Systems Analyst, Healthcare MBA

July 24th, 2015

Remember how Zappos started out? They advertised shoes online they didn't have, then ran out to buy them in a store and shipped to the customer when they bought.  'Proof of concept', MVP- it got them the info they needed.

Contrast with Webvan building a $2bn distribution network before they discovered nobody wanted what they were selling.....