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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… looking 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:
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.
#Start with designing a prototype of an app
Start to design a prototype of an app in three easy steps:
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.
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:
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.
#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).
#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…
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.
#When NOT to hire a software development company
Working with a software development company isn’t cheap.
Building an app together with a software development shop is like hiring Navy SEALs to get your job done. They are experienced, well-trained and ready to ‘execute’ your idea.
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 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:
- Use a great system from Cratejoy; it’s like Shopify for subscription boxes. Here you can find great guides on how to run a subscription box service.
- Do you want to create another AirBNB? It’s Sharetribe out there. So, you can start your two-sided marketplace today.
- Create an app based on a database that’s a spreadsheet – use Airtable for it. Easy peasy even for an 8th grader.
- Always wanted to build the next Hackernews, Producthunt, or maybe Reddit? Just use a free and open-source Telescope NOVA (built with JS <3). The second version of Product Hunt was built with Telescope in 8 days.
App to match people:
- Stopcyberbullying is a simple app, which connects random people, who experienced Cyberbullying. The app is based on Typeform, Google Sheets, Zapier, and Gmail. It’s a fully automated system done without any coding. Read instructions on how to do similar app.
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.
- You can build a local search directory like Yelp in a few hours. Thanks to WordPress and a cool plugin called ListingPro, you can do it easily. Here you have instructions on how to do it step-by-step.
- You can start with selling an ebook/mp3/video/excel file to verify your idea. You can use Gumroad to launch a single digital product website with a great admin/analytics dashboard and implemented a payment system.
- 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.
I hope that I convinced you that you can build an app as a non-technical person.
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