What to do when you can't code, don't want to learn and have no money

Shelton Bumgarner Writer, Photographer, and DJ

August 17th, 2015

Ok, very quickly -- I have an elaborate summer daydream for a social media website that  you can find the details about on my Instagram account (Shelton Bumgarner) or at my Website, migugin.com.

Anyway, the question is -- the more I think about it, the more I realize I may have stumbled across a compelling social media concept. But I'm' just a broke writer.  What are my options when it comes to starting a company based on this concept. I know that by calling it a "summer daydream" that doesn't really help my case, but I believe the basics of it are pretty strong. 

Even if I do a business plan, because of my age and background (and lack of money) no one is going to take me seriously.

(And, yes, I am the same person who came to you about being taken seriously for a different concept. This concept is more blue sky in nature because I can't do it without some serious venture capital.)

Please don't jump to too many conclusions. I am just curious if there are any options other than "shut up and learn to code."

Frank Corsi

August 17th, 2015

Find a partner who is great at programming and you do the rest!
I am a programmer and can build just about anything you can sketch out on paper!

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

August 17th, 2015

Correct! "Even if I do a business plan, because of my age and background (and lack of money) no one is going to take me seriously." No investor ever takes an entrepreneur seriously until either: 1) the entrepreneur is making a lot of money and the investor would like some of the future money, or 2) the entrepreneur made the investor money in the past, and the investor thinks they can do it again. Every other entrepreneur is just boasting, until they prove they can do more than dream. Every entrepreneur faces the choice that Wesley and Buttercup in the Princess Bride faced: To go forward, you must enter the fire swamp knowing that no one who has entered before has ever survived. You can say and believe, as Buttercup did, that you are doomed because of all the past failures show success is not possible, Or, you can choose, as Wesley did, to trust in your wits and realize people just say you won't survive because no one ever has before -- but you can choose to discover if you will be lucky or smart enough to be the first. The business plan, your age, and background are nothing. What you accomplish matters. That you lack money means only that you must win people converts using your words instead of your own money. The alternative to "shut up and learn to code" is to "speak up and tell such a beguiling story with words that a programmer volunteers to code for you because they want to go on the exciting ride with you." Tales of glory or fear have led men into battle when pay alone would not. Tales of great beauty launched a fleet of a thousand ships from Greece to Troy. Tales of Adventure led sailors on voyages of discovery to the new world, and men like Amundsen to reach the poles. Scheherazade saved her own life for 1001 nights (and ultimately won the enduring love of the Sultan) with words. If words are your stock in trade, and you are really good with them, do no waste them here complaining about what might have been in a life without obstacles. Shape those words into a vision that will inspire people not to follow you, but to join you as equals in your assault upon the summit Norgay and Hillary did, and then attempt that which no one has done before. If you do, and if you survive, by your accomplishments you will be taken seriously. If you do nothing, and merely survive, you will be forgotten in favor of men who attempted much more. Every moment we face the choice to do something ordinary or extraordinary. A life is a terrible thing to waste. Make your life extraordinary.

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

August 17th, 2015

You don't need a CS degree to code - that degree is more about the study of algorithms, complexity theory, machine learning, file and operating systems, etc. Actually, if you go into a CS degree and rely on it to learn coding, you'll probably come out lousy at it. Coding is hands-on, and that's how most people who know it have probably learned it - by doing. The heavy stuff will let you do fancy things with graph algorithms and computer vision - but so will the right libraries!

I'm not saying you have to be Google-caliber - just know enough to get a basic prototype off the ground, or at least to manage someone to get that prototype off the ground. Stop worrying about how deep the water is on the other end of the pool and start wading in on the shallow end - take a codecademy or other hands-on course, write a simple webpage or app, even do an academic exercise. Laugh at how bad it is - because it's your first attempt and it's OK to start out awful! Everyone does! Keep at it and improve while developing your confidence - there's a huge difference between one day and one month, one month and three, three months and a year... you get the idea.

The system is set up against everyone who wants labor without paying for it, sorry to say :) - not saying your reason isn't valid, or that you don't want to compensate them in some other way, but you're butting into one of the fairer rules of capitalism: if you want other people to do something for you, they need to be compensated for it. That compensation isn't necessarily monetary, but it's always a factor in a business.

You might be able to find and inspire someone with the idea, though that too is harder now than it was - lots of tech co-founders were burned by bad equity deals and market salaries are much higher now, so convincing someone they'll get rich by working with you isn't as effective as it was only a few years ago.

Overall, I still think learning the basics is time and effort well spent for any budding tech entrepreneur. You might find that it opens up your world and your view of problems, too - there's a mental shift and a sort of wonder that many programmers go through when they first start out. You'll develop this sort of "I can hack things" attitude that tends to make a lot of moderately seasoned tech entrepreneurs audacious when they try to apply it to social systems :)

Matt Barnes CTO, Founder, Entrepreneur

August 17th, 2015

It is all about the power of the vision that you have and leading other people to believe in your vision. Once you have that, like Frank suggests all you need to do is to find a talented technical co-founder.

Ankita Tyagi

August 17th, 2015

Hi Shelton, 
I understand your concerns but as someone already mentioned earlier - you got to try first. As in try something - pitch (may be someone will be interested), figure out wordpress, make mockups, seek help, meet people....do something. 
Thinking of all sorts of reasons why it wont work out even before you give it your all, is anti-entrepreneurship 101. 
AND...I say this because I am quite similar to you, in terms of expertise, but I still hustle and yes, you meet few 'bad apples' but on the whole start-up community is fairly welcoming and helpful. At least, that has been my experience.
Go get it...

Michael Barnathan Adaptable, efficient, and motivated

August 21st, 2015

If you want to create technology (and there are plenty of other fields you could start a company in), you need to understand it. Sure, it takes time. But if you've decided to start a company, you've already committed to a significant investment of time well beyond what you'd have to sacrifice in industry. If you want work-life balance, you're more likely to find it working for someone else, shielded from market uncertainties and with a clearly defined scope of responsibility. If you want to start a software company without understanding software, your odds of success are slim to none. Even if you do land that coveted tech cofounder, you'll end up sabotaging that person because you won't understand how developers think or work. "I just promised a bunch of new features. You can have that tomorrow, right?" "Hey, you look busy. Are you in the middle of something?", etc. When you gain hands-on exposure to the field, you understand why these questions are problematic. You don't need to be an expert, but you're going to get hurt pretty badly if you don't understand the first thing about your own product and market.

Dale Starnes Maker, Marketer, Entrepreneur

August 17th, 2015

I haven't read everyone's reply here, so forgive me if i'm an echo of another. However, network and find a partner / co-founder (or plural) with whatever expertise you do not have that is cornerstone to operating the company and making the product. 

Maybe wise to first consider potential partners closer to home, of some degree within your network of friends and fam, with whom you also have some history of trust already established, who either can code, and/or can build the wireframe, and has plenty of experience sourcing and maging coders. 

If the latter (sourcing coders, not partnering with them) you may be able to raise initial cash to pay for these in order build the beta product with a good pitch and your wireframe, but that would not be within the criteria of most intitutional investors. 

You'll also want to be aware that 3rd party coders tend tend to tire of projects if the pay, or the work becomes uninteresting to them. 

Sourcing code labor abroad may be less expensive, but your idea is less secure, and those guys tend to go m.i.a, etc, etc. 

You'll want to protect the project with appropriate interest and reward for yourself and your partners. 

If you have a legal partner that is interested enough to to provide services in exchange for vesting Into shares, that's can be a good thing as well. Otherwise, plug all that legal expense into your P&L / cash uses forecast. 

In all, build a team around it. 

Hope this helps! 

Emmanuel Straschnov

August 17th, 2015

There are some tools out there to build apps without code, and they're being more and more powerful. That's self promotion, but i started bubble which is one of them (bubble.is).

one of our users actually cloned twitter, all without code.

Robert Stoeber Co-founder at Workglue

August 21st, 2015

This is already a lengthy conversation and I wasn't planning to make it longer, but I just had to comment on some of the feedback because I hear the same things far too often and it really bothers me.

All of the advice to Shelton telling him to "shut up and learn to code" is just nonsense. First of all, most people have jobs and families so the time required to learn programming is limited. Besides that, relatively few people actually like programming or have the discipline to sit at a computer for hours and days at a time. This makes for a frustrating experience where the delays mount to the point where most people give up.

Second, what happens after Shelton spends a year or two learning to code and then has a functional prototype? The prototype is probably ugly, unless Shelton is also a great designer and UI/UX person, and major functionality is missing. Now he's just another guy with a prototype. There are thousands of real programmers coming out of hackathons every weekend with prototypes and no better prospects.

Finally, and much more important to a potential founder like Shelton, is the ability to recruit a great team and get that team working together on the vision. The right team with a shared vision can make anything happen. A founder without a team isn't going anywhere (whether he has a prototype or not).

I'm not suggesting that coding skills aren't useful, but a solo founder with limited time and money would be much better off focused on gathering the people and skills to bring the vision to market. The exercise of finding partners, refining the pitch during all those conversations, and evaluating feedback about potential features will be much more useful in the early days of the project.

Think about the next six months of Shelton's life. Would he be better off six months from now with basic PHP and MySQL skills? Or would he be better off with six partners with complementary skills working toward their minimum viable product?

Art Yerkes Computer Software Professional

September 27th, 2015

As with anything where there's a clear deficiency in the market, things like Balsamiq have grown up that serve this need to a great degree.  They are primarily design tools but give designers some of the power that writing programs can offer.  I've seen people do really exceptional things with balsamiq especially and it isn't expensive.  If I seemed a bit dismissive before in this thread, it's likely because I do see people who don't code make beautiful and expressive UI every day that communicates exactly what they're thinking of, and it's clear that a little motivation can overcome a lot of need for coding.

I actually think there are a few big fundamental things that keep people from producing programs.

1) Most people aren't exposed to the idea of what code is early enough, and without tools that make it even a little understandable.  We diagram english in school, but programming environments don't diagram your statements and programs for you and allow you to experiment with what-ifs, nor give particularly readable diagnostics.  Combined with the requirement for very specific syntax, where most people aren't used to the idea of using capitalization and punctuation precisely, lots of people who try programming are scared off.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of tutorials online for those who want to learn to program, thousands of them youtube walkthroughs that painstakingly hold your hand, innumerable ways to try out snippets of code online. It has never been easier to learn to make simple programs, but there's also a perception that writing any code is hard.

2) Programming environments are strict at the behest of programmers, because stricter environments allow us to identify bugs earlier.  As a consequence, it's hard to simply compose code without checking, error handling, and specific adaptation.  A big part of what programmers do on the job is 'wiring together' components, writing the glue and error checking that makes for smooth functionality, but much of this is mechanical work, for purely historical reasons, and to a degree, because of the native, imperative heritage of programming languages and environments.  It's telling that few programming languages have a terse idiom for getting a function that extracts a field from a result by name.  We can counteract strict environments to make them more usable with easier composition, designable and discoverable contracts, and having standard idioms for common operations that would allow us to fold more things into the design process.  Libraries like 'requests' in python make some of this easier, but we need better.