What It Takes to Build a Tech Company When You Have No Technical Background
By Rahul Varshneya
6 Oct 2015
Did you ever think about building an app or website for your startup idea, even when you completely lacked any coding experience? You’re not alone.
Consider that AirBnB's founders were not programmers; they were design guys. And today theirs is a billion dollar tech company. So, if you have a dream to build the next big app or web startup, you'll need to know what the journey entails. The things that no one will tell you about, that you can learn only through experience.
I’ve been through this journey several times now -- as technical co-founder to three tech-product companies and a (currently in process) tech-services company. All of these experiences entailed building apps and websites, so I've seen it all. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
1. Outsource or build the product in-house? There’s a middle ground, too!
The first question that comes to mind is whether to outsource or hire a developer in-house. My opinion is that you should consider outsourcing the first version of the product, and once you have product/market fit and validation for your idea, hire developers in-house.
Certainly, the benefits of hiring your own developers are considerable, because you can continue to iterate on the product as you keep building and shipping. However, the costs tend to be high.
Here's where a model relatively unexplored by entrepreneurs may come in handy. This model is more of a hybrid: You hire developers on contract from your outsourced partner whom you manage directly. This way, you won't have to worry about the details surrounding those developers' employment and benefits; there's also the advantage that if you’re unsuccessful with your first product, you won’t have to fire anyone.
What's more, with this model, you enjoy all the benefits of having your own developer or team (onsite or offshore) working the same hours for which you'd normally pay a monthly salary. But, instead, you pay the company a retainer for the number of resources, and you still get to build the product your own way!
2. Google search is a bad way to find a tech partner.
So, where do you look for such companies to either outsource the complete project to or hire developers from? Most entrepreneurs will typically do a Google search. But that's often a bad way to find the right tech partner.
The reason is that the companies that come up in the first few pages of Google searches are not necessarily great tech companies; they're just good at search engine optimization, or SEO. Often, the good ones remain hidden on Google searches.
You can find out about such companies through references or through thought leadership articles that someone from the company regularly publishes in leading publications.
3. You'd be wise to know a bit of coding yourself.
It’s really tough when you don’t understand any coding. Although that's not imperative, it definitely helps to understand the concepts yourself when you’re discussing the product with your developers in the initial stages.
If you’re looking to build a mobile app, let’s say an iOS app, you can run through an online course on Udemy that teaches the fundamentals of building an iOS app. Similarly, if you’re looking to build a website, you can learn those fundamentals, based on the programming language of choice.
4. Eventually you have to hire in-house.
When you’ve achieved product/market fit for your product, and yours is a technology-first startup, it always helps if you build a team in-house to continue with the product.
If you’re an existing business that is leveraging technology to reach out to a new customer segment or engage current segments, you should continue to keep the tech outsourced, unless the tech product becomes the core of your business.
If you’re going in for venture funding, however, your investors will require you to keep the product development in-house, to assure security of IP.
5. Bootstrapping is easier than you think.
Too many people make too much about raising initial funds to build their startups. But bootstrapping is easier than you think.
A great way to get started is to build your product as a side project, while you’re in a job and still earning. When you're starting small, you can really focus on the best basic ways to solve the problem for a customer. Again, once you have validation of your idea, you can gradually invest in your product's future iterations.
So, simply set aside a portion of your earnings each month, if you’re building your product using the hybrid model mentioned earlier.
6. Social media just doesn’t work for customer acquisition.
Most people start with the buzzwords, ignoring the fundamentals of marketing. But good marketing starts with identifying your customer segment, then identifying channels where your potential customers hang out.
And while your potential customers may indeed hang out on social media, the reason they visit those networks isn’t to engage with brands or products.
“Don’t think about social media necessarily as the place to get customers, but think about social media as the place to get feedback -- to learn, to listen, to understand what the market wants and needs," says Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local and co-founder and chairman of Likeable Media. He adds: "The only place I’d think about social media for early customer acquisition would be social media advertising,”
The takeaway? Don’t get muddled up in the buzzwords (including "growth hacking"). Instead, go back to the basics once you start to market your product.