How To Start A Start Up (From A Designer)

Can you crank out lines of code faster than Mark Zuckerburg hopped up on Red Bull on autopilot? If so, this article isn’t necessarily for you, although you may find a few helpful tidbits. This is for anyone starting a company without in-depth technical experience.

In other words, this is for anyone like me, a designer with an idea and the motivation (read: stubbornness) to make it happen.

About a month and a half ago, I decided to finally take the leap and pursue my own endeavor after 3 years of resistance. After validating the business idea (Collide, an iOS app that connects people with shared ideas using complimentary skills and their location), I realized that in order to actually build it, I would need to play to my strengths.

What exactly are these strengths?

Over the past 9 years, I have studied and practiced design. This started as traditional graphic design, grew into UX and UI design, and eventually evolved into what I call “entrepreneurial design” — design principles and methodologies applied to the creation of new ideas, products, services, solutions and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

In a nutshell, I have experience in ideation, branding, web design, user experience design, user interface design, and the design of pitch materials.

I know how to design something and communicate its value, but I have never actually built something, let alone an iOS app.

So, using my strengths, I developed a three-pronged approach to building this new business without technical experience:

  1. Product — I started by using the design sprint process to create an initial prototype of the app and validate it with potential users. Since then, I have been going through the revision/feedback loop. Each version I create, I test with another group of potential users in order to learn quicker and create something they will actually want. The nice thing about a prototype? There is no actual code involved. Just smoke and mirrors, or in this case, screenshots linked together using hotspots with the help of a program called InVision.
  2. Technology — Since this is the area where I’m lacking the most, I have decided to approach it a little differently. I am currently taking an online course in iOS development using Swift and xCode in order to learn the basics of app development. This serves two purposes: 1) to learn enough to communicate with others who will potentially serve as a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), and to start building the product itself. This empathetic approach will allow me to better understand what exactly goes into building an iOS app and in turn, show a better appreciation for development talent. I am also testing the app prototype with developers in order to receive technical feedback as well as generate interest with potential partners.
  3. Community — This is where I have the most experience. Branding and positioning ideas is what I’ve been doing for my entire design career. Since there is nothing actually built yet, I am using a few different ways to engage my audience:
  • A landing page with email capture
  • Social media
  • Writing articles based around connecting people with ideas
  • In-person events that mimic the in-app interaction of connecting others with complimentary skills

All of these methods are growing a community around the product. Once it’s built, there will already be an engaged audience waiting for it.

By no means am I prescribing this as the only way to build a company as someone with limited technical knowledge. I am simply offering a framework that could provide a useful starting point for others like me.

Even if you’re not a designer, this outline can be adapted to better suit your own personal strengths. After all, one of the major keys to entrepreneurship is identifying and exploiting your competitive advantages, or the skills and experiences that set you apart from everyone else.

Are you currently building a company without technical skill? How did you get started? I would love to know! Leave a comment below, reach out to me on Twitter at @williamfrazr, or shoot me a message.

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You can signup for the early release of Collide here. Follow us online at @collide_app and @gometamo!

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