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How to Build an App as a Non-Technical Person

Building an app as a non-technical person is quite hard, right?

The first thing you’ve probably done as a non-technical founder for your ‘revolutionary’ idea to ‘disrupt’ the market was… look for a CTO or a technical founder.

Am I correct?

This is the wrong way to start…

The reason why is that in most cases you haven’t even started to work on the general concept of the application and you are being ‘blocked’ by not having a CTO on the board with you.

Did you know that you could build an app without having a clue about coding or design?

Below I’ve listed solutions for you to start building an app as a non-technical person. On top of that, you will find a list of tools you could use and a few great case studies from other non-technical founders with detailed instructions on how they did it.

How to build an app as a non-technical person?

#Learn how to code by yourself

To build a Minimum Viable Product or the first version of an app to validate a need for it and to get proper funding for development, you could do the same as the guys from Instagram did.

Learning how to code by yourself (Time>Money), finding a freelancer for building an app for you (Money>Time), hiring a software development company (Money>Time) or hacking your app…

Here you can learn how to develop an app:

  • https://www.codecademy.com/
  • https://dash.generalassemb.ly/
  • https://www.khanacademy.org/
  • https://www.codeschool.com/

You can find more here – 45 OF THE BEST PLACES TO LEARN TO CODE FOR FREE.

I’ve personally started with a step-by-step tutorial of building a static website with Bootstrap with this free youtube video course.

Learn to code to build your app as a non-technical person.

#Start with designing a prototype of an app

Start to design a prototype of an app in three easy steps:

Design – use Sketch, Balsamiq, and AdobeXD to design an interface of your app.

Animate – use AdobeXD, and UXPin to design and animate the workflows between your beautifully designed applications.

Get inspired – use SketchAppResources, UI Patterns, or ProductHunt to look for inspiration of great products, or even use some open-source freebies of app interfaces (Freebiesbug) and tweak them a bit.

Read my post on how to prototype an app as non-designer to get from 0 to hero in just a few days.

With such a prototype you can go and sell your product/vision to:

  • potential customers
  • potential co-founders
  • potential investors

#Use an app builder

There are plenty of web platforms enabling you to build an app by drag & drop elements. You don’t need to code anything. The quality of the app in most of the cases is crappy and they are slow, but for your first MVP, it’s enough to validate a product.

You could use tools like:

  • https://buildfire.com/
  • https://bubble.is/
  • https://www.appsheet.com (Google Sheet driven apps)

More inspirations in a blog post from Product Hunt here.

Be aware that those solutions are great to validate the idea, but you won’t be able to scale the app, add custom features, and improve the UI/UX of it. The solution is pretty OK to start, but don’t expect any superb outcome.

Buildfire app builder

#Find a freelancer to build your app

If you need something simple (up to 1 month of work for 1 developer), without any automated tests, scalable backend, handle a huge amount of data, and you don’t burn to much cash for it, just hire a freelancer.

However, if you’re hiring one:

  • Get somebody recommended or with great reviews – he will not disappear when difficulties appear.
  • Be aware that rates below $30 will make it difficult to get a well-coded application without any technical debt.
  • Try to find a developer, who will be focused only on 1-2 projects maximum.
  • Define your clear goals and tasks. Learn how to write user stories here.
  • Sign a contract with a freelancer and remember to include that you will own the code/you have the full rights to it (in some cases after the job is finished, you could be asked to pay the license fee for the software you paid for).

Read more on how to protect your Intellectual Property while outsourcing.

#Find a software development company to build your app

First things first – in 70% of the cases you don’t need an MVP done by a software development company. It will be too expensive and too robust.

However, if you know that you:

  • Your already profitable and established business will rely on it (!)
  • Need for your business a highly scalable, robust application
  • You’ve extended experience in the area of the market/business to conquer it
  • Have experience in working with software developers or software development companies, then…

Just do it. Outsource it.

There are a few things to consider while talking with an outsourcing company to build an app as a non-technical person, like:

  • Always reject the cheapest companies (it’s about quality, not quantity).
  • Look for those who will say ‘No’ or challenge your ideas/features (look for a software development partner).
  • Look for a culture fit, ‘partner chemistry’ – You should understand each other and talk a similar language.

You can find more detailed answers about choosing a software development company here.

#When NOT to hire a software development company

Working with a software development company isn’t cheap.

I’m running together with my co-founder a JavaScript development company – Brainhub, therefore I would like to share with you my thoughts on when you shouldn’t hire a software development company.

Building an app together with software development shop is like hiring Navy SEALs to get your job done. They are experienced, well-trained and ready to ‘execute’ your idea.

navy-seals-rescuing-cat

However, you shouldn’t hire Navy SEALs (software house) to solve problems like getting a cat from a tree, but more to rescue a president from kidnappers.

To be more specific, there are a few reasons, why you would like to have an app built by Navy SEALs of software development:

  • There is nothing like this on the market that you could take from a shelf or use a creator to build it = You simply need to build one.
  • You’ve got an extensive experience either on the business side or technical side of building an app – You know what do you need and how to work with software developers.
  • You want to scale your business and already have a validated MVP or customers that are paying for your bootstrapped MVP.
  • It’s not a landing page or simple static website or any project that will take 1 month of 1 developer to do it – it’s simply too small of a project for a software development company (rescuing-a-cat).

#Be creative with tools available online

Now, the fun part – building an app. Let me share a few inspiring case studies and how-to guides that you could just copy for yourself, as mentioned before.

There are so many existing solutions on which you can verify your business idea that it is sometimes hard to find a reason why to build an app from scratch. Let me show you a few online solutions that you could use to launch a business today.

Subscription box service:

Two-sided marketplace:

  • Do you want to create another AirBNB? It’s Sharetribe out there. So, you can start your two-sided marketplace today.

Database-driven application:

  • Create an app based on a database that’s a spreadsheet – use Airtable for it. Easy peasy even for an 8th grader.

Community application:

App to match people:

List of products/items submitted by a community:

  • Builtwithbootstrap is a fully automated website which makes money selling bootstrap themes (affiliate) and posting websites automatically to their landing page for money. Build on Tumblr ($0 cost for hosting + enables to modify the html+CSS). Read more about how the founder did it here.

Search directory:

Digital product:

  • You can start with selling an ebook/mp3/video/excel files to verify your idea. You can use Gumroad to launch a single digital product website with great admin/analytics dashboard and implemented payment system.

Web application:

  • Kollecto is a web app that helps people become art collectors. It’s making $30k per month and was built by a founder without any coding skills. Read a case study on how a solo founder did it here.

I haven’t listed here all the huge startups/apps, which are your first inspirations for the next Uber for bicycles or Tinder for pets etc. There is a really easy pattern to find a clone app or SaaS service to help you start a business, where you pay a monthly fee and a small 1-3% fee on each transaction.

Do you know how to do it?

Ready?

Google it using this pattern:
‘build a(n) TYPE A NAME OF AN APP like app’
ex. “build an UBER like app”

Tools to use to build an app as a non-technical person

I’ve listed all the tools that I would recommend to a non-technical person to build a very first application.

Usually, you can find great case studies written by founders, who used their tools in non-conventional ways on the company’s blog (ex. Zapier).

  • Automation/Connecting apps: Zapier or IFTT
  • Forms/Surveys: Typeform or WuFoo
  • Everything-is-possible-app: Google Sheets 🙂
  • Web application/Website: WordPress

It’s time to build your app!

Now is the time to build your MVP, your first application that you’ve dreamed of. Just pick your way to do it from the detailed list above and go for it.

Start to build your app.

I hope that I convinced you that you can build an app as a non-technical person.

Resources:

  • https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-black-and-white-stripe-shirt-looking-at-white-printer-papers-on-the-wall-212286/ (image)
  • https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-air-balance-beach-345415/ (image)
  • https://buildfire.com/ (image)

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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