A Guide to Executing on a Startup Idea for Non Technical People

With the proliferation of tech in the media, every aspiring individual sees tech as where it’s at. And it’s true, there’s money, fame & success if you make it. And why the hell won’t you?

Jumping into this, if you’ve got the technical skills is easy. Get an idea, build a (minimum lovable/viable product) & get to validating it. But what about those without technical skills? How on earth do you get started? Well this blog post is for you.

So you’ve got an app or web idea that you wanna pursue….

I Dare you to think outside the box !

I’ve had the opportunity of hearing from lots of you & the ideas you’ve come up with. Honestly after a while, it started to get repetitive. I largely found that most ideas fell into three categories

  1. Social Apps
  2. Apps of already Existing Social Features (FB, Instagram Clone) but with one additional feature that you think is missing from the original
  3. App that lets people buy & sell their textbooks (This I’ve heard so many times, it deserves it’s own category)

From what I’ve learnt so far in this world. You can never outright dismiss an idea, especially because it’s all about execution. But to be fair, your chances with the above will be low.

Social Apps are hard !

Unsurprising the biggest mobile apps are social apps, but with huge potential rewards come huge execution risk. Why? Social apps have two main obstacles that have to be overcome.

  • The Chicken & Egg Problem of Content vs. Users (You need one to get the other & vice versa)
unless you’re doing an app which does it 10x / 100x better than your competitor, how likely is it that a user will jump to your platform & ask their friends along?

When acquiring users for a social app, you don’t have to just acquire a user (if that wasn't hard enough), you need their friends as well. It’s extremely stressful for a user to port their social graph onto yet another app so unless you’re doing an app which does it 10x or 100x better than your competitor, how likely is it that a user will jump to your platform & ask their friends along?

But before you even get to acquiring users. Lets imagine you’re building an Instagram clone, what will a single user with no friends do on the app?

The key to apps especially on the mobile platform is that you have to add value to the user from the immediate start. If not, they’ll never open the app again & eventually it’ll get deleted. Which bring us to obstacle #2.

  • The Single Player vs. Multi Player Mode

Social apps by definition are in multiplayer mode. You help two people interact with each other in some way. But what happens when your user has no friends on your platform yet? Yet you need to keep them coming back & eventually inviting their friends.

You solve this by having a single player mode. A popular app, Instagram, did exactly this. Instagram started out as a platform before the platform. Instagram when it started simply let you upload a picture, add a filter & post it other social apps like Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter.

People would see these pictures, want those filters & ask their friends what app they used. Then they’d get the app themselves. Once Instagram acquired a sizable user base they then pivoted to being a social platform in off themselves.

Clones can be killed easily !

Another common idea which I mentioned earlier was Apps of already Existing Social Features (FB, Instagram Clone) but with one additional feature that they think is missing from the original.

A good example of this is Mindie. Mindie did other things but their most compelling use case was that it allowed you to record Snapchats with music from your phone. Snapchat in February decided to revoke their access & in the next week launched the ability for you to record snapchats with music.

You really want to avoid this kind of scenario. When coming up with ideas, it’s essential to think outside the box. This will also help loads when trying to attract talented individuals to come & work with you in order to turn your idea into a reality. Read this by Paul Graham in order to learn more about coming up with ideas.

So you’ve got an idea but you’re the product / business guy. You’ve tried coding but you think it isn’t for you. What’s next?

Your next goal is to develop a prototype that conveys your idea behind the product well enough so that you can show it to others, gain good feedback & maybe even convince them to work with you on it.

Developing Prototypes

If you explain an idea simply by talking, no matter how good you are, odds are, the person won’t fully understand what your describing. However, add a few sketches or a prototype & then they’ll really get it. In this day and age, it’s so easy to do (without knowing how to code) there’s no excuse not to have one.

Here’s a simple three step process

  1. Sketch out the different views & what each view will contain on paper. This will let try out different ideas really quickly.
  2. Draw these up in a tool like Balsamiq Mockups. This will help you create a low fidelity prototype where visual design isn’t important. What’s important is how does the user flow from screen to screen. How is the information presented to the user?
  3. In this stage you make a high fidelity prototype with a tool like Proto.io. It will help you create a prototype that works & feels like an actual app (even if it’s all faked). Here, visual design becomes more important but the goal is simply to have something you can give friends so that they can play around & really understand what it is that you’re trying to build. FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK & PRODUCT VALIDATION ARE VERY IMPORTANT.

I myself am still learning about how best to gain feedback & validate my ideas. Dan shipper wrote an amazing blog post with regard to this. Read this as well. In general, It’s all about asking the right questions. If you ask would you use this app, most people are likely to say yes even though they won’t simply because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

So you’ve validated your idea. People want what you wanna build, what next? You’ve got to find some technical talent….

Finding Technical Talent

This advice will be targeted at university students.

First, hit up your friends. Have no friends that code?

If you check online, or on meetups, you will find many meet ups & networking events for mobile developers or iOS developers in particular. As a student you could try looking for talent there but I can tell you now that you won’t be able to afford their prices(upwards of £300 a day) & they have far too many responsibilities for them to work for equity.

Your best bet is looking for people in your university’s Computer Science Department or at Hackathons. If you decide to go to a hackathon, don’t just go there & be a business guy looking for talent. Go there with a genuine interest around coding as well, hoping to learn the technical details behind what you want to build for example.

Coders get business people trying to convince them to join their team on a regular basis. You’ve got to stand out & show you have an appreciation for their skills, the time & passion it takes to build things.

ALSO, I CANNOT REITERATE THIS ENOUGH, DO NOT GO ABOUT REQUIRING NDA’S BEFORE TELLING CODERS ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO BUILD.

I personally lose interest once I hear this & almost every person in tech is tired of hearing this. Why? Because we know the insane amount of effort it take to build anything. The idea is 1%, execution is the other 99%. No one will steal it because they won’t care enough. They have their own ideas they are trying to build. If they did, they would simply join you in building the app.

The second issue with NDA’s is how in the world do you plan on getting feedback if everyone you tell has to be willing to sign an NDA. With NDA’s, it shows you’re building a product in isolation of feedback which is disastrous.

Hope this helps you get started on your idea. The name of the game is persistence. It ain’t easy but even if you fail, you will learn a ton just by going through the process & you’ll be an incredibly valuable hire to early / mid stage startups. If you have anymore questions, feel free to hit me up on twitter or facebook.

On a motivational note -> There have been successful companies by non-technical founders, you can find some of their stories at Hustle Con Stories