Starting a tech startup without any technical skills is hard. Although it is getting easier to pick up programming skills via free platforms like Codecademy, Khan Academy and the likes, learning enough technical skills to be proficient for your product can still take a long time.
So what can you, the non-technical founder, do?
Demonstrate Value To Bring A Technical Person On Board
As a non-tech founder, you need a technical person (whether as a co-founder or a founding member) in a tech startup. And the best way to attract a smart technical person to join you is by demonstrating that
- Your business has value and
- You are the best person to run this.
Here are four ways that you can go about doing that.
1. Test Value Proposition
What is the biggest pain point that your startup is solving, and how do you communicate that to your target audience?
That may be one of the most important question a founder must answer. Fortunately, you can find the answer without having any technical skills. There are a couple of ways you can find out what message and value proposition resonates best with your target audience.
1. Facebook Ads or Google Adwords
Test value propositions by creating a different ad for each proposition. Run these ads on Facebook or Google Adwords (or even both, if your budget allows it) and track which value proposition gets the most clicked. This will be the proposition that best resonate with your target audience.
If you’re not sure who exactly is your target audience, which isn’t an uncommon problem when you just started out, you can also test that with ads. Just target different value propositions with different set of audience and track which audience/value-proposition set gave you the best returns.
2. Landing Pages
If an ad (usually limited to 70 – 90 characters) cannot fully encapsulate the value you are creating, test it with landing pages instead. There are plenty of tools out there to help you create landing pages without needing you to know how to code. Here are some of them:
2. Start Making Money
Nothing validates your idea better than people putting their money on it. You can do that on your landing page, or you can leverage on existing platforms for that.
If you’re starting a hardware company, you can test it out by running crowdfunding campaigns on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
If you’re starting a software company, you can test it out on Fiverr. Fiverr is a marketplace where you can find people to do tasks (or called ‘gigs’ on the site) online for $5. Since an algorithm is just automated human intelligence, you can start testing your idea by providing a service manually.
Here are some examples of different kinds of software businesses, and how it can be converted into gigs on Fiverr.
- Homejoy (Marketplace) – “I will find and validate qualified home cleaners in your vicinity who fit your schedule.”
- Moz (Saas) – “I will analyze your website and give you ideas on how to improve your site’s SEO.”
- Groupon (E-commerce) – “I will bring you hundreds of new customers to your offline store.”
3. Gather Your Community
If for some reason (say, your idea is much more complicated) making money isn’t possible without a product, at least start by building your community. Start a blog, start getting email addresses of your potential users, bring on some possible partners, mentors and potential investors.
Doing this does two things:
- Prove that there is possible demand for your product and
- Prove that you can gather the right resources for your product.
There are plenty of free blogging services such as Blogger and Medium, but I strongly recommend WordPress simply because of the comprehensive range of free plugins that the WordPress community has created.
On my other blog, I used WordPress, SumoMe (for a pop-out to collect email addresses, in exchange for an ebook), and Mailchimp (an email marketing campaign tool I use to send out the said ebook automatically).
4. Design And Test Your Product
As the visionary of your product, you can start designing how your product should look like. The most basic way of creating a prototype is to draw it on paper. Otherwise, there are free or cheap tools that can help you create a clickable prototype:
Once you have a prototype or mock-up of your product, talk to your users to find out what they want and what they like and don’t like about your product. The best way to do that is to meet your users and watch them ‘use’ your prototype.
If meeting your users isn’t possible, another alternative is to install a live chat tool, such as Olark or Zopim (both have free plans), on your landing page or existing website. Otherwise, you can create short usability tests on UsabilityHub.
Make something people want
“Make something people want” is the startup mantra of many accelerators, founders and mentors. I agree with it, but somehow I feel that the part, “people want” is so much underrated and overshadowed by the former “make something”.
(If you have noticed, the 4 tips above all seek to help you address what people want.)
There are simply too many products out there without a clear understanding what problem they are solving, much less having a clear view of who their target audience is. And no, “everyone” is not a target audience.
As a non-tech founder, knowing what people want presents a very compelling reason for a technical person to join in, which is just what you need to kick-start your product!
Elisha Tan is the Ecosystem Builder at Tech in Asia. She builds tech startup ecosystems in Asia by providing the right resources and opportunities to founders, investors, accelerators and incubators.
Prior to working at TiA, Elisha founded Learnemy, an online marketplace where you can find in-person classes taught by local experts and enthusiasts. She is passionate about helping people make a living doing what they love.