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!
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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

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

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.....

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.

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.

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!

Gary Herman

July 22nd, 2015

Nathan,

Not an uncommon position to be and some great responses above.  

Building an MVP, as we all know, is an important step in the right direction.  While MVP's should be limited in scope, generally, they should be created well enough to truly gauge product-market fit.  Expecting to iterate on an MVP should be the default approach - however, finding a passionate, experienced team or individual can be an elusive endeavor.  The combination of product development and execution of development within one person or team that truly understands not just code and best practices, but user experience and the various tools that could be applied to get an MVP as far down the road as possible without breaking the bank is somewhat of a rarity.

This is an area that I find myself in often as we're constantly solicited to help at this stage and beyond.  We employ a very specialized product development team in Santa Cruz, CA (web, mobile, etc..) - right outside of Silicon Valley and have an exceptional network of well vetted partners that we use for things outside of the scope of what we do in-house.  

Our team has been passionately helping startups get off the ground since 2002 - to say it's a passion of ours is an understatement.  We really thrive off of the ability to bring the best tools to the table to help our clients take advantage of the amazing technology all around us.  Jumping in with new ideas and helping you ideate through potential options is definitely part of our model and we often find ourselves helping clients find the tweaks needed to pivot correctly.

It's important to note that NOT working with the right partner to get things done correctly the first time is something that is, unfortunately, a common occurrence.  Many of the folks that get referred to us have already spent 1 or more rounds with other developers that we're not a good fit at which time they're usually crunched on time and finances.  To this end, no matter how rushed you are, take the time to find the right folks before moving forward. 

Look for developers like us that are passionate, driven, excited about technology but know when to use what tools and have enough experience to avoid the "everything looks like a nail" approach.  Understand what technical debt means (even at the MVP stage) - http://martinfowler.com/bliki/TechnicalDebt.html.  This doesn't mean that every element needs to be built with absolute perfection - it is an MVP after all, but applying forethought and having good insight during the build process will avoid dead ends.  There are plenty of well vetted and strategic models that can be applied to know when and how to make the right sacrifices - a strong team or individual will bring this to the table for you.  

Finding an experienced team with a background in startups will make a huge difference and while it doesn't have to be an unreasonable expense to leverage such a team, focusing only on cost upfront has a very high possibility of putting you into a fairly costly technical debt situation (and in the worst case a potential failure).

Benjamin Olding Co-founder, Board Member at Jana

July 24th, 2015

+1 @Diane.  Part of the reason developers are expensive is they do so much more than code - they turn your product specification into technical decisions.  If you're looking to find a way to build a basic prototype inexpensively, you have to be willing to do a lot more work ahead of time than you normally would if working with a high quality (expensive) developer.  You can't simply tell them what you want and expect anything good to happen.

The two areas to over-invest in (in my experience) are specifying a simple UI/UX in a clearly visual way and exactly specifying the back-end data structures and (if you need them) APIs.  However good you are at using your own time towards these two things, find someone who is better to review and make suggestions.  If you're not good at either, find someone to do it, then someone else to review.  Reviewing shouldn't take much time, so you should be able to pay very well per hour.

Basically, a high quality UX/UI person and a high quality CTO can help you both make choices and create clear specifications (after you or someone you hire takes a shot at it).  You need this outside feedback however before you go to the developer.  What's in your head might be perfect, but you need a dry-run at explaining it to an expert before you try to explain it to a less-expensive developer.  Visual communication is so much better than written.  In addition to avoiding language problems, visual communication often contains a lot more information.

Finally, after you specify everything, take another pass at cutting scope.  I know you think it's an MVP, but (no offense) it never is.  You can cut scope.  A good UX person can often help with this - you need to cut features without losing what the thing "is."  The cheapest feature to build is the one you don't have to.

Create a project roadmap and start with a basic feature.  See how your first developer that you choose does.  Have your CTO consultant review the code.  Don't be afraid to walk away.  Think of it like folding a bad hand at poker - if it's not going to work, get out cheap.

There's nowhere to hide in terms of the cost of a project done right.  What you can do is shift around who does what - if your time is "free," the more you do the less cash you'll use.  If you perceive the actual programming is the most expensive part, doing a lot of what a developer often does ahead of time can reduce your cash flow (but someone is going to have to put in the time - there's no free lunch, but there are different ways to get to the finish line).  Finding people who are excellent at what they do and using them just for their narrow expertise can be a great return too.

As projects become very complicated, this approach loses merit - you need an invested team who communicate well with each other.  For simple projects however this is very do-able, and often satisfying - you'll feel more in control by breaking things down into discrete steps you can participate in by using different people with different abilities.

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.