How To Launch A Startup Without Writing Code

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How To Launch A Startup Without Writing Code

 

There is an unspoken rule: to launch a startup, you need to build a product, and to do that you need someone that can write code.

Whether that means chasing down a technical co-founder, learning to code, or even building that "Lean MVP" - the conventional wisdom is that without tech abilities you're nothing more than a dude (or dudette) with a Powerpoint.rocket launch

A growing number of startups, however, are quietly disproving this assumption. 

They're getting their first customers with minimal technology, and often no code at all. Instead of building fancy technology from the outset, they're hacking together inexpensive online tools such as online forms, drag-and-drop site builders, advanced Wordpress plugins, and eCommerce providers. 

They're jumping right in to serve customers in any way possible - heading right for their first paying customers. 

Most importantly, unlike the majority of their peers, by the time they start building a product, they already have a humming business.

How are they doing it?

Focus on Serving Customers Instead of Building a Product

Successful founders all know one thing: it's more important to serve a customer than it is to build a product.

This is the mindset you must get into when you start out. Most entrepreneurs are narrowly set on building a product that they lose sight of the real goal - to solve a problem for a customer.

Or, as Ben Yoskovitz eloquently put it,

"Customers don’t care how you get things done – just that you get it done and solve their pain."

Replace Technology with People

Think about the hardest part of the business you want to build. The part that would require the most complex development - the true innovation that no one else does.

Can a real person perform these tasks manually? 

For many startups, this was the secret to massive success:

David Quail is a super talented software engineer, with one exit already under his belt. He wanted to solve his ultimate annoyance: scheduling meetings over email. 

David's original idea was to build an artificial intelligence tool that could read an email chain and automatically schedule the event. But this would take months if not years. 

His shortcut to launching a business ASAP? He simply set up an email address for his customers to "CC" that forwarded to him, and did the work manually at first to prove that customers were willing to pay.

Over time he automated more of the service - but not before he already knew there was clear demand and was making revenues.

Another example - a marketplace:

Tastemaker is a marketplace connecting interior designers with homeowners for small design gigs. They started by contacting interior designers and building a physical list of those interested in extra work. 

They then asked their network who needed help with interior design - and made the connection, processing payment themselves. 

The Tastemaker founders used pen and paper to solve their customer's needs and prove the market. They then built their online platform in parallel (which eventually became their core business).

You've probably heard many famous stories like ZenLike and Tastemaker. They range all the way from companies like Groupon or Yipit (raised $7.3M), to Aardvark (acquired by Google) and Diapers.com (acquired by Amazon). 

What did they have in common starting out? At the core of many businesses, instead of fancy algorithms, you would have found the founders themselves, like the "man behind the curtain" in the Wizard of Oz, working hard, acting as the secret sauce.

Use These Off the Shelf Solutions

While your core tech might in fact be a service starting out, you can wrap it with an online presence, digital interactions, and the administration of a true technology business. 

In short, you can act, look, and smell like a fully automated online company that employs a posse of software developers and an in-house graphic designer.

* Use e-commerce services to accept payments and even subscriptions using "hosted payment pages" - requiring zero code.

* Let your customers interact with you through sophisticated online forms you can publish (and brand) using drag-and-drop editors.

* Build a support knowledge base and community forum with Zendesk, Uservoice, or GetSatisfaction

* Use copy-paste widgets from around the web like contact forms, Skype buttons, live chat, etc.

* Use simple-yet-sophisticated website creators to publish your central website and glue together all the tools into one presence. Strikingly and Unbounce are great for beautifully designed landing pages. 

I could go on listing these forever (well, I did here). As you can see, the web is full of tools that let you conjure entire features with the click of a mouse. 

The key is to always search for what you want before reinventing the wheel. Chances are someone has already thought of how to make your life easier.

The Hidden Treasures of Wordpress

To most of us, the Wordpress brand connotes a free blog, or a simple way to create a content website for non-technical folks.

But the true magic of Wordpress is the ability to extend its functionality to create many kinds of web platforms - while keeping your hands (mostly) free of code.

Wordpress itself is free, and you can purchase inexpensive plugins that automatically transform your website into a membership site, ecommerce portal, social network, and even daily deals site.

Instead of spending thousands on a designer, you can buy a high-end theme for around $40 and customize it to your brand. If you have a bit more saved up, you can hire a local Wordpress expert for a few hours of their time for small custom tweaks and a personal tutorial. And, if you don't want hosting headaches, you can use WPEngine (hi, Jason!).

Wordpress is one of the most incredible tools on the web for non-technical entrepreneurs. There's a bit of a learning curve, depending on how you want to use it, but definitely a faster option than finding a developer or learning to code. 

It puts fate into your own hands.

Put It All Together

Go back to that core customer need, and think of how to satisfy it by any means. Now how can you make that solution accessible? What would the process be for finding you and reaching out? How can you charge and provide support? 

Chances are good that you can pull it all off yourself. If not, consider starting a bit smaller than you originally imagined, if only to start generating revenues today and fund your development.

Once you have your first few customers, you'll have a very good picture of where your business is going, and what technology you absolutely need to build - and very clear motivation. 

Does working this way pay off? 

Tech companies started this way have sold for between $50-$540 million, or have gone public. They are growing at double digit rates. And they launched in a matter of weeks or months - not years.

If this approach makes you uncomfortable - that's great. It's a sign that you're learning to think differently. However, entrepreneurs presented with this approach often have similar gut feelings:

What Will Investors Think?

They will think you are clever, resourceful, flexible, persistent - and know how to focus on the right things.

To quote one of our investors, Len Brody, on his portfolio: "I call them the workaround culture... [they] just work around anything - and you have to."

If for any reason they are put off by your creativity and resourcefulness, then you're not talking to the right investors.

What About Scaling?

This is a very understandable fear. It's a scary situation to think, "Great, we got our customers, and now we're going to disappoint them."

Don't let that thought paralyze you. Growth is rarely if ever a black and white, rocket-ship-spike. It's a steady process that leaves you plenty of time to transition between solutions.

In other words, there's a spectrum between do-it-yourself and full-robot-revolution. You might hire a few people in the meantime (with the revenue that their hire would naturally generate) while also developing a scalable technology.

As most entrepreneurs will tell you the way you get your first 50 customers certainly won't be the way you get your first 5,000. 

For those of you feeling held back by your lack of technical skills - or deep in development muck  - ask yourself, what can you do *today* to get your first customer. 

Give it a shot. In contrast to paying a developer, you don't have a lot to lose. Do whatever you need to do to get your business going. 

Remember: you're not here to build a product - you're here to solve a problem. And you certainly have the skills to do that.

***

Want more specifics, examples, and tools? Check out my newest Skillshare course, How to Launch Your Startup Without Any Code (use code ONSTRTPS for %15 off)

This is a guest post by Tal Raviv.  He is the co-founder of Ecquire.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Oct 21, 2013

COMMENTS

This article arrives precisely when needed. I was just sharing very similar thoughts with my team. 
 
Nice job, well done! 
 
Petko Karamotchev 
Merar.com

posted on Monday, October 21, 2013 at 2:26 PM by Petko Karamotchev


This might be the best thing i've read all day and has definitely changed by perspective as I work on launching my new business.  
 
Thanks for the insight.

posted on Monday, October 21, 2013 at 2:50 PM by Greg Miller


Its certainly not required but if you have the time to learn I highly recommend you practice as much as you can.  
 
Great article though. This route is a good option for many, depending on the type of startup. 
 
 
Ryan,www.radiumcrm.com

posted on Monday, October 21, 2013 at 7:02 PM by Ryan


This is a great post. Thanks for taking the time to write it. One option you might have left out though is to outsource the coding off-shore. This is what we did withwww.wemothers.com. We looked for off-the-shelves solutions or white label software as you suggest, but couldn't find any. There were solutions out there but tailoring them to our specific needs would have required too many coding hours, i.e. too much money. So we found a team of coders based in Nepal throughwww.elance.com. Their costs were literally less than 5% of what we had been quoted for the job in the US. Sure dealing with an off-shore team brings its own set of challenges and it required us to provide a lot of the prep work ourselves (I had to learn how to do all the UX/UI and Wireframes and we had a designer help us with the design) but (and maybe we got lucky) our team did an awesome job in a record time. The added benefit for us was that the team had expertise in a variety of fields from coding Facebook plug-ins to framework design to data base integration (which all require unique skills and extra coders) in addition to the RoR knowledge we needed. My learning out of the process is that if you're willing to deal with the quirks of an off-shore team you can build anything you want at a marginal fraction of the costs and way faster than you could do it here in the US.

posted on Monday, October 21, 2013 at 7:02 PM by Ulli Appelbaum


Exactly what I was looking for without even consciously looking for it. Nature has its ways ;)

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 1:45 AM by George


Interesting. Good ideas which need a long time to realize.

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 2:25 AM by Plamen Radinski


This is a great appraisal to ponder to, I must say!  
 
I mean it could really do help launching a Startup. You have specified and precisely given information as well as tactics is finely explained.  
 
Thank you for sharing your views!  
I found and "kingged" this on the Internet marketing social site Kingged.com

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 6:35 AM by floreifemay


We're in the middle of launching not one but two startups right now using a lot of what was recommended here. We're going to capture what we learn and share it through our blog posts at startupssimplified.com. The blog isn't fully developed yet (hey, we're doing two startups here!) ;0) But when we're done we hope to create blue prints for other entrepreneurs to follow in our footsteps.

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 10:27 AM by David


Good article.  
It's worth reading Paul Graham's "Do Things that Don't Scale". Same message.  
http://paulgraham.com/ds.html

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 11:52 AM by Yuval


Thats a great article to reference Yuval. I've read it several times now. Probably the best thing I've read in 2013.

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 12:13 PM by Ryan


Adding to Dharmesh's list of tips, if you're going for a premium theme in Wordpress, be sure to get one with "responsive design". Might as well start your development off with mobile and tablet compatibility! 
 
When hiring contractors on Odesk / Elance, be sure to give them an in-depth test before hiring them, or break the project into portions. Avoid agency contractors at all cost (you WILL get inconsistent work quality). I've had way too many experience with really incompetent "PHP developers", even those who charge $7+ an hour. (I'm a developer myself, so I know terrible programming practice and unmaintainable code when I see them). 
 
That being said, this approach generally bolds well only for marketplaces and services-type startups. If you're going after a market with establish players and validated need from your customers, you need a product that's 10X better. A simple WP site won't get you very far.

posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 7:41 PM by Brian Lynn


Great,ever the best article I've read today.

posted on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 12:33 AM by Wang, Xiaoxiao


Great article and some great comments too!! 
 
And for those who just must have an MVP, we could build one, damn quick and cheap too. :-)

posted on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 1:51 PM by Damn Quick MVPs


This content comes accurately when required. I was just discussing very identical ideas with my group.  
 
Nice job, well done!  

posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 1:32 AM by Business Opportunities


great article i agre in many things

posted on Monday, October 28, 2013 at 5:30 AM by acacio santos


A very interesting article with many pointers that can help one save money when starting up. 
 
Very often Entrepreneurs spend thousands of pounds and all their saving only to fin that they have built a products nobody needs or will ever use. 
 
Two thumbs up on the : serve customers in any way possible - heading right for their first paying customers Strategy. 
 
Definitely the way to go. 
 
 

posted on Monday, October 28, 2013 at 6:06 AM by James Bauer


Dear Dharmesh Shah, 
 
Thank you for the great post, I'd love to hear from you as a founder on how you validated Hubspot and proved the market demand before you went ahead and built the product.  
 
Many thanks, 
Moad

posted on Monday, October 28, 2013 at 6:02 PM by Moad


Awsome article! This was very motivating and interesting. I wish I've read about it 2 months ago. I would probably saved some money and would be exactly where I'm right now.

posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 7:26 AM by Marcos


Thank you for this great article! I am also tackling the misconception that "you need to be a coding genius to start a tech company" with a non-profit workshop for young people in which they build non-technical (but still digital) MVPs using free online tools and then take them out into the real world! I'd love some tips :) @techtalentac @certainnathan

posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 9:37 AM by Nathan Cruz Coulson


Moad: For HubSpot, we actually went ahead and built the product and started selling it very, very early (while it was still in "alpha"). The fact that the product was pretty bad, but people bought it (and stuck with it) anyways was great validation.

posted on Saturday, November 02, 2013 at 10:25 PM by Dharmesh Shah


Great Article. Excellant ideas which need a long time to realize and motivate others.

posted on Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 3:22 AM by Sunil Elango


Fantastic article. These were the last remaining issues holding me back. And thank you for the real life business examples mentioned in the story to prove your points. Well done.

posted on Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 4:19 AM by W Martin


Great article. We definitely use a lot of the ideas discussed in here.  
 
I'm a huge fan of leveraging Wordpress to avoid building a full product and still create a pretty solid UX in the early stages. I think WP is also a great way to introduce yourself to code and gives you a good little base to build off of when you do want to dive deeper.

posted on Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 10:24 AM by Carl


Outstanding article. 
 
I wish I would have had a lot this information a few years ago when we started out.

posted on Friday, November 08, 2013 at 4:58 PM by Brandon Phipps


I love this article. There is so much rhetoric out there on starting up, and if you don't know how to code it'd be damn scary. Im totally into the MVP concept and keeping the customer (and their problem) at the center of your world. 
 
Nice article, well done. One for me to share on the next newsletter at http://tech.linkgopher.com. 
 
Thanks for sharing.

posted on Saturday, November 09, 2013 at 11:26 PM by Tim


Fantastic post and highly inspiring. We followed the same steps when we created appzippy. We created a base of regular customers for our iOS App source code and when we launched online we had a steady set of customers plus new ones. Thanks again for explaining it so well. 
 
James 
www.appzippy.com

posted on Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 6:02 AM by James


Excellent article. This is what we did at appzippy with first selling our products to our existing clients and then moving to an online model.

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posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 12:33 AM by Rockstar43


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posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 6:16 AM by PNPLondonWebDesign


Dhoom 3 – The Hunt is Over’ is an upcoming action thriller Hindi film, written and directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya and produced by Aditya Chopra. 
 
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posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 7:01 AM by Rockstar43


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posted on Friday, November 15, 2013 at 7:41 AM by Stephanie Miller


Yeah, so first post I'm reading on this site and I personally think that for a non-technical person to start off using something like Wordpress to handle a site is a bad idea. Sadly enough, you don't mention that this is a practice that wouldn't for most cases and Wordpress isn't everyone's cup of tea in terms of handling. 
 
I'm a software developer and people who try to use Wordpress than what it was designed for (a content management system, not a store, etc) tend to have problems. True story™.

posted on Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 5:37 PM by Jacky Alcine


need to underline that Wordpress has moved from a blog software to a highly customizable website development software. As mentioned there might be just a few occasions on where standard cms software plus plugins won´t be able to present the startup in the desired manner. However, even with the high end templates (using page building tools) I won´t say that is easy to setup and customize an appealing website for anyone without previous CMS experience.

posted on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 6:37 AM by Start up Design


I've just launched a startup that makes it simple for people to create subscription based startups without writing a line of code. Kind of like a shopify for subscription based services. So if you have a great subscription idea and want to get started check us out! 
Bish Bash Box 

posted on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 3:13 PM by Sean Reilly


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posted on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM by Blue Is The Warmest Color


Again, brilliant post as usual.  
 
I think there is a realization now that code is not the answer for a successful startup, but problem identification and precise solution. 
 
A successful execution of idea does not mean that we have to start ever thing from scratch, but at the same time, entrepreneurs need to that ability to do that once they have launched, if needed.

posted on Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 2:27 AM by MVP


I am currently going through a start up phase for a new idea that I do not have figured out exactly. I know how I can help people, but the details around the product are not exactly there yet. I am just going to continue to educate the potential customer and help him with his pains and let the details fall into place.

posted on Monday, November 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM by Alan


I have learnt many useful things from this article.Am going launch a new startup soon,i can make use of this information to get succeed.we can save time and money too with these concepts.

posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 7:10 AM by Brand Arrows


Great article! It's amazing how far you can get now cobbling together off the shelf solutions. Always helps to have some developer resources for customizations specific to your business, but you can jump so far ahead by using things like wordpress templates as a starting point rather than starting from scratch.

posted on Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 10:02 AM by Michael


Great article! I actually run my own web development business myself and agree with a lot of this. Many people don't realize if they want a good looking site, and they're not wanting anything too specifically a certain way, they can get it done themselves. I would also point out businesses that need a website should really look into search engine optimization to have their site found(also something they can easily do themselves with a little know how). Being in the field I can say there are a ton of web developers/companies that can't do much beyond what you taught and prey on people not knowing this and really behave like a classic car mechanic. I'm actually in the process of writing an article on how to avoid these web developers and find a good one for people who either want something more finely touched or still just want someone else doing the site.

posted on Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 8:27 PM by Kapil


Great article. Thanks for taking the time. In a SW based startup as you describe, I can tell you from experience you have it right. Get your customer first, or at least, launch your marketing/sales concurrently. If you wait to market when your product - software or other - is completely debugged, you risk running out of cash before you get your first customer.

posted on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 1:18 PM by Bryan Cockel


Excellent article and very true. I would let my team at the IBEA Foundation learn this new mindset. ibeafoundation.org

posted on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 8:11 PM by Heber


We are so busy making everyone else happy that most of the time we even forget to eat, moving from one task to the next with just coffee. 
Read more:  
Stressful job

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posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 2:35 AM by blessing


Excellent article and very true. I would let my team at the IBEA Foundation learn this new mindset. 
 
http://www.accayip.com

posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 4:56 PM by accayip


Great blog about start-ups and what they need. For me the most important step a start-up needs to take is to use marketing. Whether this be online marketing or field marketing. Doing things such as test demo's in relevant area's showing how your product fixes previous problems is the most persuasive selling point. 
 
When I started my company i used Ambience field marketing and they have done a fantastic job with all of my new products. IF you're interested visit - Ambience Field Marketing

posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 3:42 AM by Jade McCarthy


This is great article. We get a chance to work with lot of tech startups as a PSD to HTML company - http://www.netlingshq.com. And most of the founders we worked with were not developers, but they did had great knowledge about the domain they want to serve and how to reach out to clients. For building the application or the site, they just distributed the work between remote team of a project manager, a web designer, a frontend developer and a backend developer. And I know it can be hard to find and manage such a team, but if you are good at identifying the right people, then this model works well for any tech startup, where your most of the time should be spend at finding ways to get customers.

posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 6:57 AM by Dipesh Batheja


Nice article job well done. Covered every aspect. Keep up the good work.

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Very nice information. Thank you for sharing it.

posted on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 7:55 AM by Abhishek


Comments have been closed for this article.