The Non-Technical Guide to Launching Products & Side Projects
I can’t write a single line of code and I’ve launched 10+ products within the last two years. All of them have been experimental side projects and some have done pretty well.
Over 7,000 upvotes on Product Hunt, 3.5 Million+ pageviews, 500k+ users. My first side project, Marketing Stack, got over 3k upvotes and got me a job at Product Hunt!
Below you will find a process and tools I use to get a launch out there. Quickly 🚀
Also I don’t say ‘MVP’ once in this post! (Except that one)
I don’t have a ‘perfect checklist’, but I recommend having a process and use some of the same tools. You’ll get used to them, figure out new features, and get better (& quicker) using them.
This is not a quick guide in helping you build the next Billion-Dollar company. This is about realizing it’s easy to get something up and launched (no matter how small), even if you are non-technical and have no cofounders. Teams can use the same process but it’s the way of thinking and doing things to get you from nothing to launch.
Let me know about non-technical launches you have done, on Twitter.
A book I can’t recommend enough is SPRINT by Jake Knapp — it helps you get into the mindset of churning out a workable prototype in 5 days. (As I’m writing this Jake and co have just written The Three-Hour Brand Sprint — check that out too.
My process is similar
- 💡 Idea
- 📝 Plan
- 🗣 Talk to people
- 🗒 Mockups
- 🤔 Decide the best
- 🛠 Build
- 🚀 Launch
This process, as I view it, is around 1–2 weeks max. There are, of course, different methods and approaches for launching products but this is mine. Many people set up a landing page with email capture forms. I include email capture (using Upscribe — below👇) as part of my process but often it’s from launching a Medium post rather than a landing page. Other times it’s a ‘Subscribe’ button on the actual product I launch.
Figure out what works for you 😊.
The first product I made, Marketing Stack is a curated directory of marketing resources and tools. There are lots of great recommendations in there from me on the marketing side of things. I’m not discussing much about marketing here, this is about getting something launched.
What are you looking to solve? What ideas do you already have? What ideas do you want to validate? Is there a realistic basic version you could build to test your hypothesis?
I have a continuous list of ideas. Some are batshit crazy, some are feasible, some are fairly ‘boring’, some are “Uber/Tinder for X”. I write them all down; the ‘X for Y’ ones are usually just an easy first step to visualise what you are thinking.
Is your idea a big one? Think about where you can focus initially. What can you build to prove your assumptions in solving this problem.
Remember these don’t have to be life-changing. This is merely a way to get into the practice of actually launching something, and quickly.
When you can churn out products quickly and often, you realize that it’s less of a big deal than you thought. You get less attached and likely to have an open mind to feedback, changing the focus or accepting it turned out shit.
I’ve experienced all the above situations.
You’ve got an idea with a focus. Cool 👍. Now map out how you are going to launch it. What tools you could use to get a feasible launch out the door. All ideas can be simplified into a build-able product quickly.
It may be that you have to do things manually, it may look ugly as hell but it just needs to do the function you want it to.
Remember, you are looking to launch quickly so put the pre-seed pitch deck down. Stop messaging (spamming) everyone you know or have seen online asking “I have an awesome idea, but I can’t code — fancy being a cofounder?”
No one likes that person. I’ve been that person.
🗣 Talk To People
Talk. To. People.
Who in your network could you bounce this idea off of? Who has valuable insights? (They don’t have to necessarily be the target audience). What do they focus on that you haven’t thought of? What do they love/hate about it?
Oh no! They don’t like some of your ideas. Guess what? You’ve not made anything yet so don’t sweat it. Perhaps you feel strongly against their opinion. Or perhaps if after a handful of people say the same thing, you rethink it.
This whole process is testing, is not costing you money and is a learning experience. It’s an experiment, always remember that.
I message about 5–15 people (probably weekly, some, daily) who I’m friends with via my startup-network and trust with my ideas, however wacky. They will tell me what they really think. Although when you know someone well enough, “yeah cool, it’s a nice idea” = “this is shit, NEXT.”
Also chatting with others helps you find out about other companies who may already be toe-deep in this space. Maybe you knew about them, maybe you didn’t. Either way, its a good thing to be discussing, why you are looking at it differently.
Remember at any stage of this feel free to go back to the first step. The first few times launching something I’d encourage you to see it all through, even with what turns out to be a ‘bad’ idea and worse execution. It’s about learning the process.
After a while you will feel comfortable with the process and happy to start it over again once hitting certain barriers. YOU HAVEN’T MADE A COMPANY, DON’T EMPLOY PEOPLE OR HAVE INVESTMENT. So don’t sweat it.
🗒 Mockup solutions
Use whatever you feel most comfortable with. Paper? Whiteboard? Napkin? Design/prototyping tools? All will do.
Draw some ways you envision this to look. Do a few variations but make sure you are drawing up some completely different ones too. Look at other websites to get some inspiration. There are a ton of ‘website design directories’. Is there a website you visited that you thought the experience was really interesting?
Check out Product Pages if you want somewhere to start.
I often do the ‘mockup’ when I’m actually making it. It may make me slower but using things like Carrd (mentioned below) lets me change things so quickly and easily.
🤔 Decide the best (quickly)
Time to learn to accept what actually will look good, what you can actually make with the tools you have, what a good flow looks like, what is too complicated.
Focus on the one action you want your users to do. If it’s to sign up for something or click a certain button then make it easy for users to do so. Make things clear and simple.
Sometimes I’ll revisit my ‘feedback friends’ to check it out and if something isn’t clear or needs new colours (I’m bad at that!) then they will let me know and I’ll tweak it.
🛠 Build it
For me, I already have my go-to tools for this process (see below). No doubt there will be new ones that come to my attention, especially given my role at Product Hunt. I’m always testing out new things.
It may take you some research before, after, or even during this process. Don’t worry about testing things out, not liking them and going for alternatives. I’ve found the more simple, the better for me. I’ve tested different web builders, like WebFlow, and I got a site up and running but it’s more complex than I usually need. However I have a designer friend who swears by it and uses nothing else.
There’s often no one-size-fits-all too so be open to trying different things.
This step looks different for everyone, me included.
Sometimes hunting it on Product Hunt and seeing if anyone likes it (or cares) is my launch. Or I may post it out to Twitter to get some feedback. Other times just posting it to a wider group of friends is the launch.
The point is that it is live and it works (perhaps ugly). You’ve made something. It’s launched 🚀
People want to do this process for a number of reasons. Mine are usually for learning experiences. I’m curious and like exploring new tech groups and how I can build something to support that.
Again, this looks different for everyone.
I have many projects of varying success. All are still live. One has spun off and become a company (I’m no longer involved), one still gets thousands of pageviews and users a month, some spike when launching and then drop off.
I don’t have time to try and make all these experiments into anything more and I’m ok with that. I’m not looking to launch companies, I’m just looking to launch.
Getting something out the door is a win for me and I can’t stop doing it.
Also I have a little graveyard of products I’ve made and are ready to launch but I just decided against it or thought it wasn’t as good as first thought. These don’t take up much time and are just experiments so I have no emotional attachments. It happens.
Want to know more about non-technical product launch processes?
These are the ones I use and find really simple to get what I need done. There are alternatives to all of these of course. It’s up to you to figure out what works for you.
I’ve been using Carrd a lot recently to put together websites. I find the navigation to be pretty sleek and think it’s so easy to whip something up in no time without coding a single thing. The integrations with Google Analytics and GoDaddy are so simple to set up and these are what I use for analytics and buying my domains.
Other tools I have used and recommend for non-technical people
WebFlow & Bubble — What I will say is that I found these to have a lot more in terms of functionality but will also take you some time to play around with. I like getting my ideas done simply and out the door but if you want to build a more comprehensive product then perhaps look into these alternatives. I must mention WordPress & Wix too — well worth checking out.
I honestly only use Marvel and Sketch to play around. I use them to draw wireframes of what I’d love something to look like (basically if I did code). Essentially use these instead of pen + paper…because I can’t draw either!
You can now use Marvel + Sketch together: Sync, play and record prototypes in Sketch. Check it out
Designers may be squirming in their seats reading how ‘willy-nilly’ I just draw stuff in these tools 🙈
I haven’t been building up a personal email list for years like some people have. I post something on Medium every now and then and being able to pop in a little URL and have all signups accessible, so easily. It’s magical. Which is why I’ve recently being using it.
I’ve used it before and it’s stuck with me. You can easily export subscribers from Upscribe to a Mailchimp list and set up email newsletters, campaigns and automation.
A lot of my ideas either come out of a curation of resources (perhaps with a specific angle) or from connections and conversations that come from them. Medium is a great way to put together a list that can be useful for people and potentially lead to other opportunities.
Also, I find a curation of resources a lot more valuable than some people may think. It allows me to collect and learn A LOT about a particular topic, find out people in the space, interesting startups and through all that, ideas can develop.
Example: Ultimate Guide To Voice Assistants
Such an easy way to put together a survey/form. Customisable with different categories of inputs which can be easily analysed and exported in a spreadsheet. Typeform also lets you integrate payments from Stripe.
Apple Notes: Simple note taking on my iPhone and Mac
I don’t use anything fancy for my launches, plans or collection of ideas. I did try Notion for a while and as I do love it, I don’t think it’s as useful as a solo-experimenter for small launches — worth checking out for bigger projects and multiple makers! Simple to-do lists via Apple Notes is perfect for me and syncs to my devices.
Trello and ProdPad are great roadmap tools. I’ve not put a big emphasis on them here as I think of these as tools for actual product development. As I mentioned, this post is more about just getting something out the door initially. I’d use Trello or ProdPad after to decide priorities, next steps, nice to haves, bugs/fixes etc.
As a community builder myself, I see a lot of value in people building communities around different verticals. These come in all shapes and sizes. Variances of Hacker News, Slack Groups, etc etc. Mightybell offers so many bells and whistles on their free plan — It’s a great way to go when starting off your community.
When thinking of a name I use this site to type in variations and I can see all available domains, social media handles and even what logotypes could look like.
Creating a logo
The best resource I’ve used (and continue to use) is from Marc Hemeon
They do over a billion photos viewed a month. So many beautiful photos! “Unsplash is now one of the biggest (and most vibrant) creative communities on the internet. Full stop.”
So easy to accept payments and set up. The company has a lot of resources to help startups with everything from incorporating, getting a bank account, and guides on how to start a real business.
(This is a pretty specific tool👇)
I’ve made a few chatbots to see if I could do it, how they were done and what I could come up with. Chatfuel requires no coding — bliss! It’s essentially linking up prompts to other content blocks.
No, I do not implement ‘AI’ because how many of you have actually had a ‘conversation’ with a bot and it go well?!
I think the best user experience is like a lightweight app within Messenger. (apparently Facebook does too)
The first product I launched was Marketing Stack… and although I had a developer (Mubashar Iqbal) put together the website for me, there are alternative ways to create the same template. e.g. Chipmunk
Story of Marketing Stack — it took me a lot of hard work and providing value to lots of people before I got to a point where I was in a position to launch my first product and have Mubashar Iqbal offer to help build it.
The more successful of my side-projects, BotList, has a similar story to Marketing Stack. I’d be very active in the community for a long time and had been grinding on an idea I had. But it would have been no more that a Google Sheet directory initially without Seth Louey + Mubashar Iqbal. I stopped working on it last May and they continue to run it. Check it out.
You can launch things yourself but it pays off to build a network and help others when and where you can.
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