How to start with your MVP if you can’t code?
A guide for non-technical startup founders.
You have the idea for an online business, but you’re not a developer and you don’t have a co-founder who can code. According to Eric Ries, pioneer of the lean startup movement, you should test if your idea makes sense on the market — build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and see whether users like it. Wait, but you can’t code. So, how can you do that? Probably, most of the people will start looking for a development team that could build their MVP. But is it the only way to go? Not always.
Focus on the problem you’re solving, not the product.
“Customers don’t care how you get things done — just that you get it done and solve their pain.” — Ben Yoskovitz.
The goal of building an MVP is to see if your customers are interested in using your product or service. You need to know if they are willing to pay for it, and how much. To do that you don’t necessarily need to build custom software — this will probably be quite costly and will take at least a few weeks or months to do. You will probably change the vision of your product many times, especially while working on the first prototype.
Ryan Hoover built an MVP of Product Hunt in 20 minutes sitting at Philz Coffee in San Francisco. The first version of it was based on Linky dink, a simple link-sharing tool where group contributors receive daily updates with links submitted by other group members.
“I logged into Linkydink, created a group, and invited a few of my startup friends to contribute. I wrote a quick blog post, announced the project on Quibb and tweeted. Within 20 minutes, I had an MVP. I sat back, sipping my coffee, anxious to see how people would respond.”
After 2 weeks he had 170 people subscribed. Now Product Hunt has hundred thousands of active users and is backed by investors like Andreessen Horowitz. You can read the full story by Ryan Hoover over here.
Linkydink is just an example. There is a number of web tools that you might use to build a very simple prototype of your idea. If you need a website you can purchase a theme on Themeforest for around $40, install WordPress with some plugins and your MVP is set!
Some other tools you might use:
- Wufoo for simple form building,
- Squarespace where you can build up your website,
- Launchrock to create a landing page,
- Zapier will help you to connect all your tools to put you MVP together. You find some more information and a free ebook about how to build a prototype app with Zapier here.
If you can’t do it by yourself there are companies which specialise in prototyping like Startup Baker and can help you make the first step.
Get out from the building and share your idea with other people.
Obviously, starting a business alone might be easier said than done. There are initiatives which connect people and help them to get started like Startup Weekend, organised by Techstars. This is a workshop where you can pitch your idea, find team members and build a working prototype. Everything in 3 days, so you can present it during Saturday evening demo.
You don’t need to have technical background or be able to code in order to attend. Startup Weekend attendee backgrounds are roughly 50% technical (developers, coders, designers) and 50% business (marketing, finance, law). It might be a very good place to make new connections. You can even meet your future co-founder. During 8 years Startup Weekend was organised almost 3,000 times and formed over 23,000 startup teams all over the world. Do you remember the tools useful for prototyping, I’ve mentioned earlier? Zapier and Launchrock were both launched during Startup Weekend. Now they are million dollars companies with investors like Y Combinator or 500 Startups. Zapier went from zero to 600,000+ users in 3 years!
Startup Weekend is the most known, but not the only organisation that helps entrepreneurs to start their business. Lean Startup Machine goes even further. Imagine you make some money on your product even before you actually build it. Yes, that’s possible and Lean Startup Machine is out there to help you do that. As they say about themselves — “it is best to attend before you go to Startup Weekend”.
Validate as much as possible, before you start building.
Lean Startup Machine, like Startup Weekend, is a 3-day workshop. Its goal is to validate your idea before you start building it. So the main difference to SW is that LSM is focused on your customers and their needs, not your product. They identified that the main factor of business failure is not getting enough customers. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you are so blinded by the glamour vision of your product, that you forget about your customers. Grace Ng and Trevor Owens, leaders of LSM project, decided to help entrepreneurs to make sure they’re doing something that the customers truly need.
LSM is for non-technical people. They teach entrepreneurs that they can build a business without having to code. “We help entrepreneurs to learn the process, talk to the customers and validate the need. Development happens after the workshop”, they say.
On LSM workshop, your main tool is the Validation Board, where you identify your customers, their problems and your solution. You will pivot many times, so it’s most important to make sure you can learn quickly and update your solution based on your customer’s feedback. But can you reach your customers in 3 days and even earn some money?
Mark Abramson and his team are one of LSM winners. They had a really bad start on the workshop. All their assumptions were wrong. They pivoted 5 times before they found what customers are willing to pay for. With half of the workshop gone, they had only managed to invalidate 5 ideas using the validation board. It was Saturday night. They had no money and no idea for the product. On Sunday, they collected $4,400 in 90 minutes from their first customers! Watch how they did it here. There are many companies that started their successful journey with LSM. Reclip.It, a company that attended the workshop in 2011, was acquired by Wallmart 2 years later. Branch was acquired by Facebook for $15M. Fashion Metric is also worth mentioning, with investors like Marc Cuban and TechStars. You can be the next one and you don’t necessarily have to attend LSM to achieve it.
Identify your customer needs, validate the product and find product/market fit.
The same people who are responsible for the huge success of LSM created Javelin. It implements the same process as Trevor and Grace are teaching at LSM. It’s a web platform which helps you to identify your customer needs, validate the product and find product/market fit. Javelin lets you follow the same process as the Lean Startup Machine workshop. First Javelin connects you to the group of customers you can interview. You can have access to over two hundred thousand potential customers willing to talk to you (but as for now just in the USA). Next, you identify your customers and their problem. Then you create a solution and validate it using Landing Page Builder, Google Ad Creator and Business Metrics & Projections. You can learn more about Javelin and even get early access to the platform here.
As you see, there are plenty options to start with your MVP, but there is one thing in common. Always think of your customer and their problem in the first place. This is how I approach every new project at The Software House. I was a developer myself, so I’m aware that sooner or later you will need to have a solid development team. At some stage you can’t build a fully working prototype using WordPress, I know. But what you can do, before writing the first line of code, is extensive customer development. This can save you time and money when you start with software development.
This is my first post on Medium. If you like it, I kindly ask you to recommend it to others :)
If you have any questions or need help with your project, you can contact me via www.tsh.io or leave a comment below. Also, If you know any other way to start with your startup or have some similar experiences, I would be happy to read about it.