No Experience Required: Build Your App With no Product Team in 1 Hour per Day
by Minh Ha Duong on Startup Grind
Startup founders are becoming something like this generation’s rock stars: founding your company, launching an app, and going after Unicorn startup status has become a dream for an increasingly large amount of freshly graduated, non-technical aspiring founders and post-corporate business people of all ages. Lured by the lucrative economics of a viral app, founders are excited to build and launch technical products, but it’s not always so easy.
Often, the two largest barriers for starting a project are time and technical skills. The most common advice in the Valley is to find a technical co-founder, but anyone who has tried this path knows how difficult it’ll be with just an idea. If non-technies begin considering learning how to code to build their products themselves, the next constraint is usually time. Vicious cycle, huh?
One Product, One Hour Per Day
What if there was a way to spend less than an hour per day to develop your product?
This approach will help you build a product while making best usage of your most valuable resource — time. I learned about this methodology from a discussion with Amol Sarva — a serial entrepreneur, investor, mentor and one of the smartest people I have met — and through his book “Ship While You Sleep”.
Code As Cards lets you build on-demand product teams for Agile Development that scale up or down in an instant.
You can start of your project by doing the following 4 things:
- Build your engineering team through Upwork without an extensive hiring process
- Let them work on your Github repository and manage To-Dos as simple Trello cards
- Use an app framework like Meteor for simple testing
- Focus on Product Management activities
The Code as Cards approach focuses on minimizing waste. Hiring a team of engineers that can develop your app can be a painful and time-consuming process without the guarantee of getting people with the right skills to ship your product. There is a simple solution to this: Do not spend time on hiring. In other words: Hire everyone but also fire without scruple as quick as you hire. Amol hires and fires hundreds of people per month.
Mass Hiring Tactics
By using global hiting platforms like Upwork you can get people all around the world working for you for a low hourly rate. How are you able to select the skilled people without a complex hiring process?
Just test them through their work they do for you. Give them simple modular tasks that can be done in 5–8h. Use Trello to manage cards = things that need to get done in order to progress the app development. The tasks are so simple that understanding the entire application is not necessary to build the next step. And the steps are easily testable so that you do not need to be technical in order to understand that the job has been done. It can be something as easy as “Add a blue round button that leads to the signup page”. Reliable developers will be rewarded with more work and you will eventually gain more engineers for your core team. By using Github you manage everything, you own it and you make sure mistakes can be rolled back in the worst case.
Most importantly, developers you hire in high volume don’t need to be great. By focusing on quantity you can get a lot of work done without dealing with the hiring process. If someone comes on board that cannot fulfil her tasks or works inefficiently just fire her again. In this model, no matter what happens, your project advances step by step.
Keeping the Product Development Moving
If you have minimal technical skills you can do minor fixes and integrations yourself. However, usually the tasks should be designed focusing on visibility and shouldn’t require you looking into the code to check a task’s fulfillment. Since everyone is involved on the project transparently, all work can be seen on Github, Trello and in the live code hosted on Meteor — not just by you, but by all other developers. It’s ultimate accountability, with embedded quality control.
As project manager, you can focus on the important things: product vision, management, and customer development. In later stages you will need to hire more product managers that can help you write the cards and manage the entire process.
The core argument will always be this: as a founder, your most precious resource is time — do not waste your time doing work that can be done by others. You can extend this approach by hiring freelance designers through Behance or even freelance writers for content marketing through Craigslist.
Of course, this approach requires you having some money to spend — but the time you would otherwise need in hiring engineers, learning how to code or finding a technical co-founder is way more valuable than the cost of shipping a product through the Code as Cards approach. Mobile apps can be developed for $5000 within less than 3 months while even the leanest dev shops would ask for at least ten times as much. This approach is most useful when your app is modular and has simple functionality.
Now Let’s Get to Work
Amol perfected his Code as Cards approach for his startup Knotable and has shipped this product with minimal time effort. A friend of mine has used this approach for his new app and shortened its development time enormously. I am sure I will try this for my next startup and I hope that sharing this methodology will give you a way to start realizing your ideas in an efficient way. Let me know how it works for you if you decide to try it for a new product or side project!