Some great product advice for non-technical founders

Ex-Microsoftie Tara Reed’s talk on “apps without code” should be a must-watch for any non-technical entrepreneur with a hot idea to build.

One of the highlights from a tech conference I recently attended at Oakland’s Kapor Center was a presentation by entrepreneur and ex-Microsoft marketer Tara Reed. She spoke about building “apps without code.”

That’s Reed’s catchphrase for apps made using what developers call WYSIWIG tools. As in, “what you see is what you get.” These are all drag-and-drop tools — most of them web-based — that non-technical folks can use to create websites or apps without mucking around with the actual syntax of JavaScript or PHP or some other inscrutable geekery.

If you’ve ever made a web page with a tool like WordPress, you get the general idea. But Reed’s rundown went waaaaaaay more in-depth, with picks that put all sorts of additional programatic juice at the disposal of non-engineers.

I don’t believe there’s video available of Reed’s Kapor session per se, but I found a good YouTube video of her giving essentially the same talk recently at another Bay Area event sponsored by Google. That event was in early March, so she really hasn’t changed much since then.

I really wanted to pass this along because Reed’s talk covers an issue that comes up all… the… frickin’… time… with non-technical founders who have some hot idea they’d like to bring into the world. I know I get asked about it a lot by other entrepreneurs, as someone who’s both used WYSIWIG tools and written some code the old-fashioned way on past projects.

One caveat, just for the record: As any hard-core developer would tell you, the WYSIWYG tools Reed mentions do all in fact generate a lot of code on an automated basis “under the hood” of anything they create. So there technically still isn’t any such thing as an “app without code.”

But this is a quibble, ultimately. Reed’s broader point — that you can make apps without having to touch and troubleshoot the code yourself — is what’s crucial. An early-stage project in particular could certainly use these tools to at least prototype and/or ship a version 1.0, then perhaps get funding and some “real” engineering talent later to build the next version, as Reed ably demonstrates. (In particular, her Twitter clone, generated entirely with WYSIWYG tools, was flat-out uncanny.)

Whenever a non-techncal founder asks me about this subject again, my go-to response will be to refer them to Tara’s presentations and/or encourage them to connect with her directly. She’s the guru on this, as far as I’m concerned.

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