If you’ve ever had a smart tech idea and the only thing holding you back was a failure to find someone who shared your vision and build the product, then you are not alone. Similarly, if you have the technical skills to build such products, you have probably been approached more than once from an eager individual who wants you to work for free.
Unfortunately, for those with little experience of starting a business (which is most of us to be fair), it is easy to underestimate the amount of effort and skill needed to create a successful business beyond launching a website or app. That said, for those with enough passion, determination and common sense it can be done, and a lack of a technical solution should not necessarily be a blocker to starting up.
So what’s the solution? It could be, that you launch your technical business without having anyone write any code. Believe me, it can be done, and is a sound principle of lean startup theory – do things that don’t scale. You may be envisioning your dream product, capable of servicing millions of customers per day, but at the moment you probably have none. The next thing you need to achieve is to go from none to one, and you don’t need a highly scalable platform to do that, you just need determination and effort.
If you are familiar with lean principles you’ll understand that you need to launch a minimum viable product to test out your assumptions to determine exactly what your customers want. But it’s important to remember that writing code is hard and time-consuming – the whole point of ‘minimum’ is to try and avoid this difficult stuff. If you can deploy some really creative thinking, you may be able to find a way to test your assumptions without writing a single line of code. With all the tools available to any budding entrepreneur, it’s never been easier to launch a product without knowing the first thing about building software.
Example 1: Online vouchers
It is generally accepted that a popular online vouchers startup managed to prove the market for their business without writing any code. They had two key assumptions that needed testing:
Would consumers purchase products and services from retailers that they may not have considered, if offered a discount of 50% or greater?
Would retailers offer huge discounting if they could be guaranteed a given number of new customers?
With these points in mind (the second possibly considered the more dubious assumption), this company set about testing their premises with a spreadsheet, telephone calls and Google searches. Through simple cold calling, the company was able to broker deals between retailers and consumers and secure an increasing number of transactions. This is a great example of doing things that don’t scale. This was far from a scalable, or even a sustainable business, but knowing that they would be able to replicate much of what was being done through online automation meant that they could see a way of scaling post-funding. Their no-code MVP did enough to prove the business model and secure the needed finance.
Example 2: Discount holidays
During the dotcom bubble boom of the late nineties funding was relatively easy to come by providing you could show that your business had consumer interest, and that it was capable of scaling rapidly. An unnamed startup with an idea of selling discount holidays online set out to capitalise on the market and allegedly secured seed funding on the back of a good idea and a good business plan. Now, rumour has it that instead of using this seed funding to build a minimum viable product, they instead spent the lot on advertising in the square mile – exactly the sort of areas where venture capitalists will see their brand and subconsciously become aware of it. With the plan carefully executed, they presented to VCs and subsequently secured the much larger funding required to build the product they needed. Allegedly!
I’d never recommend the morally dubious approach in example 2, ignoring that it would be highly unlikely to work in today’s markets. But both examples show how some creative thinking can be used to generate and test interest in your product without so much as a line of code being written.
If your product is likely to depend upon external investment to generate growth, then one of the surest ways to secure investment is in demonstrating that what you have works, people are using it, and it’s generating cash. Not only will you have avoided the need to secure a CTO to reach this stage, you’ll have also gone some way towards validating your idea and making yourself look far more attractive to potential investors.
Code image supplied under a creative commons license by Rulwen Chau. Vouchers image supplied under a creative commons license by Howard Lake. Deckchair image supplied under a creative commons license by David Martyn Hunt.
A lifetime Brummie & Startup Mentor with several ventures under his belt. Phil has a infectious enthusiasm for fledgling businesses that easily hides an ability to cut to the chase in identifying what works, what doesn't, and translating ideas into viable businesses.