Friday 18 October 2019

Startup diary: Introducing the ‘no-code’ method to building a software startup - a money-saver for the non-technical


Setting priorities: Building software may not be necessary for startups at first
Setting priorities: Building software may not be necessary for startups at first

Richard Rodger, Voxgig founder

There is one final option for building a software startup when you're not technical: doing it the 'no-code' way. Over the past few weeks, we've looked at your options for getting your software product built or improved when you're a startup with limited coding resources, or none at all. All of these options (consultants, outsourcing, freelancers) have involved getting custom code written, just for you. But there is an alternative strategy, where you defer this for as long as possible.

Having your own software system, and your own intellectual property, sounds nice, and will be important for investors down the line, but it's expensive. Not just getting it built. You have to run and maintain it afterwards. That also takes technical skills - which remain, as ever, expensive.

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When I advise very early-stage startups, I almost always advise against building software. This is what we ourselves did at Voxgig. Our first 'product' was a newsletter.

Our first website was built using Squarespace. No coding for me, despite the fact that I was a professional software developer in a former life.

In 2019, you have a wide range of fabulous tools to use to build an online business. Software developers should be the last thing on your mind.

After all, at the early stage, you still need to validate your idea. The best way to do that is to get a simple product out there in front of potential users (and customers).

Developing software is slow and hard - so it's time to take a look at the so-called no-code options.

You'll always need a website. Go with one of the online website builders, like Wix or Squarespace.

That will have you up and running in a few days at most. You'll need to get used to image manipulation - hopefully you have someone on your team who can do this already, and knows a little Photoshop. If not, turn to online tools like Canva.

A search for 'online image editor' will bring up many more. In a pinch, just use Powerpoint. They don't call it the startup hustle for nothing. You'll need some stock photography too - iStockPhoto is a good place to start.

I've not mentioned the above services to endorse them; more to indicate that there are many high-quality options available if you go looking.

Save the professional web developers for later, when you've got a little traction and a few customers to prove to yourself that you can justify money on a custom website.

The same principle applies to social media activities. In the early days, you are the face of your company anyway, and it's better to get a feel for customer engagement yourself.

This is a classic experience for startup founders. Start out washing the dishes yourself, and you'll know what to look for in a dishwasher later.

A website is not a software product. How do you take the next step?

If you are technical, or have a technical co-founder, you might agree that lots of things can be built using online services, but you still need to build your own product.

This is dangerous, and a startup that does not have technical capability is in a better position at this point because it is easier to avoid making the mistake of building without verifying.

There are many 'better mousetraps' lying in dusty cupboards that no one would buy.

The no-code movement is supposed to be about letting 'ordinary' people build complex software.

In practice, this is an impossible goal - software is not just about typing in code, it's about designing with an engineering mentality.

Not everyone is good at it. Thus, there are two types of tools, and you need to be careful to choose the right kind.

If you have no software skills, choose the tools that genuinely support non-technical users.

Many of the tools use code for customisation, and as a 'get-out-of-jail' card for features they lack.

You are in a bit of a Catch-22 here - how can you even tell? This is where talking to other founders comes in, and doing your research. But at least you know what you're looking for. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Webflow: powerful and will take time to learn, but you can get quite far; Launchrock: your product will need a landing page; GoodBarber: and you'll need a mobile app.

Connect all these things together with something like Zapier. WordPress: the blogging platform that does everything.

These are just to get you started. You'll absolutely want to try a few things out yourself. If you are technical, you can widen the tool choice, and make use of the 'coding' features that some offer.

However painful this feels, remember that it is still cheaper than custom software development, and you can't justify that yet before you've validated your product.

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