OnStartups

Tips For Getting Started For The Non-Technical Web Entrepreneur

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on May 6, 2011 in guest starting 27 Comments

The following is a guest post by Fan Bi, the Founder of Blank Label Group, including the sites Blank Label, Thread Tradition and RE:Custom.
 
No programmer wants to be the technical co-founder of your IDEA, no angel will fund your IDEA, no customer wants to buy your IDEA. Do you see the pattern? If you’re at ground zero with an idea, the best thing to do is to make your idea into something real. 
 
1. Pitch everyone your idea 
 
The Winklevoss twins are still going to end up with eight figures to their names. You should be so lucky to have someone take your idea. The most useful thing you can do when you’re at the embryonic idea stage is talk to everyone humanly possible about it. A lot of people won’t get it, a lot of people will tell you it’s dumb. That’s okay, just treat them as data points. After all, startups are an experiment and you’re at step one of testing your hypothesis. Make sure you take down the contact info of the people you meet as you’ll want to follow-up with them as you progress down these steps. Once you have a one sentence pitch and a 60 second pitch down-pat, you’re ready to move on.
 
2. Mockup wireframes 
 
You’ve got a much better sense of the idea, you’re received feedback from other entrepreneurs, and hopefully some customers. Now put your idea on a whiteboard. Draw out what your homepage looks like, no color needed; just think about language and layout, study other sites that have good design, look at the existing players in the space, and understand what works well and what doesn’t. The goal of this homepage is to test whether people are going to apply an action (like give you their email address) in exchange for promising to solve their problem at some later date. This is a good example of something that’s super simple, here’s a better example. Once you’ve drawn up your homepage in a wireframing tool like Balsamiq, you’re ready to move on.
 
3. Hire a designer 
 
Go to 99designs, an oursourcing site like oDesk, or even Craigslist to find someone to design a homepage. This should cost you anywhere from $150-500. Again, show them sites that have design that works for you, send them your wireframe, and make sure you ask for at least three revisions in your fee. The three revisions should be used in three series of feedback, with the people who’ve given you feedback along the way. If you’re not familiar with Photoshop, make sure you ask for individual JPGs of the different images, as well as the JPGs of all three versions of the homepage (this will matter for the next step). Once you’ve got something that you think looks good, and other entrepreneurs and potential customers are on board with, you’re ready to move to the next step.
 
4. Do customer development
 
Now the fun stuff begins. Host the three versions of your homepage on Unbounce. You now have a website, congratulations. Next you’ll want to sign-up for Snapengage so you can talk to customers when they get to your site. Then you’ll want to sign up for Optimizely so you can create even more versions of the homepage, to test button placement, wording and images. And you’ll want to sign up for Google Analytics to get even more data about how people are using your homepage. Finally you’ll want to sign up for Mailchimp, so you can properly collect emails. All of these services have free accounts for beginners, and they all work with each other seamlessly. With around $200 on Adwords, you’ll want to start talking to potential customers. Starting Adwords does have quite a steep learning curve, way outside the scope of this post, but for a non-programmer, it’s a very important skill to learn. With all the tools you’ve placed on the homepage, you can test what language and layout works best based on given metrics, e.g. how long they spend on it, how many people take an action, and you can have real-time conversations with them to learn why they visited, what about the site makes them uncomfortable, etc. Keep going until you have 200 unique visitors to your page.
 
5. Make good connections with investors and advisors
Even if you’re not looking for financing, it’s always good to have a perspective of how investors view your business, especially your business area. Every now and again, they’ll also provide some useful feedback. In addition, you should start to more aggressively form relationships with informal advisors, people that have some domain expertise who you can go back to every month or so with simple questions and meet every quarter or two. You’ll also have a much better time recruiting a team if you have investor relationships and advisors to point to.
 
6. Develop relationships with press
 
Research journalists that write about your area. That should mean topically, and geographically. As an example, at Blank Label, as a web business we talk to tech journalists, as an apparel company we talk to fashion bloggers, as a custom brand we have lifestyle articles written about us, because we’re Boston based we get local press, because I’m from Australia we’ve been written about there too, and of course there are a ton of journalists writing about stories like yours everyday from Entrepreneur Magazine to small business section of New York Times. The important thing is to refrain from pitching them; just drop them emails about their articles, providing insightful feedback. You should comment on all their posts. They will inevitably ask you what you’re up to.
 
You should be able to move swiftly from steps 1-6 within 2 months. After those 9 aggressive weeks, you should go back to the programmers, angels and potential customers, and see if their decision to work with you has changed.
What do you think?  Any tips for folks that are not technical, but looking to start an Internet company?