So you have an idea for a startup. Being the dreamer that you are, you can’t help but zone out and imagine waking up every morning excited to create something you can call your own. You think about how revolutionary your idea is and how it will change the face of communication, art, or perhaps humanity as you know it.
The problem is that you have absolutely no clue about where to start. Learning programming on your own is out of the question and you’re paranoid that anyone you tell your idea to will steal it. You tell no one and are sitting around waiting to meet a rockstar developer trustworthy enough to confide in and call your partner.
The bad news is that you’ll probably never find that developer if you keep your mouth shut (obviously). The good news is that you can add value – A LOT of value – without ever writing a single line code.
Apply these tips and add value. Master these tips and be an entrepreneur.
1.) Customer validation
While programmers code in their cave, you have to get out of the office and do some field work. It’s easy to get caught up in the coolness of your own ideas and that’s why you need others to bring you back down to level ground. After all, no matter how open-minded you are, you can only ever answer questions in accordance with your own interests and experiences. This is a bias that’s impossible to eliminate.
To counteract this, it’s important to validate your product with real people in an objective manner. How should you do this?
- Going out in a public area and asking people
Go to the mall. Go to the beach. Go to the farmer’s market. Go anywhere, but make sure that you talk to people. Perhaps you’ll be offput by the idea of being bothersome, but cold responses are a part of the growing process (both for you and your business). To top it off, you’ll be really surprised at the incredibly poignant things you’ll learn from people who aren’t personally vested in your product.
- Ask your social network
Make sure to preface your questions with the fact that you want brutal honesty. Nothing could be more useless to your startup than input that was altered so as not to hurt your feelings.
- Pay for responses
When all else looks too imprecise for your tastes, ask prospective customers directly. Sites like Ask Your Target Market make it incredibly easy to get down to the most valuable data.
2.) Organic PR Generation
To build authority in their respective domains, bloggers and journalists need to generate new and interesting content all the time. Naturally, this can be pretty difficult, so they’re constantly on the lookout for potential subjects to cover.
That’s where your product comes in. Are you local? Contact the local news about covering a native darling. Does the niche your product serves have a community of bloggers covering it? Ask the editors of these blogs if they’d be interested in doing a story. Are you yourself newsworthy? There are blogs out there that cover everything from immigrant success stories to helping people make career changes. Whatever situation you’re in, startups are exciting. Leverage that excitement for all the buzz it’s worth.
Isn’t it funny how the person claiming that a product “sells itself” is in fact a salesman himself? Even if your knowledge of technical jargon is minimal, this has no bearing on your ability to talk about (read: sell) your product. I couldn’t tell you a month ago what an SDK was (Software Development Kit), but you can bet that I talk with great energy and enthusiasm about all of the cool little benefits of my startup’s product. Even if you’re not interested in generating leads face-to-face, networking is a great way to meet investors, connectors, and anyone with great advice.
At networking events, we’ve met some amazing people; engineers at Qualcomm who want to work with us to further develop the underlying technology that powers our app, top tech law firm representatives who have connections to VCs and angels in Silicon Valley, serial entrepreneurs who have been guiding us since day 1, and of course, awesome people who just want us to succeed. You just can’t get these kinds of connections (at least this quickly) sitting in a room all day.
4.) Leadership and Management
One response I frequently run across when asking entrepreneurs how non-technical founders can add value to their startup is that great developers are looking for equally great visionaries to lead them. While this response flew over my head the first few times I heard it, I saw this in action while participating in Startup Weekend San Diego (where our app was conceived).
Being a visionary isn’t about predicting how the future will be in 5 years and mapping a perfect plan to capitalize on that foresight. It’s the ability to lead a team of people who are all firmly committed to an initial idea and its evolution into something real. What this comes down to is making swift decisions that foster harmony while minimizing conflict.
The visionary of our startup, who pitched the idea for it at Startup Weekend, is a very nice, agreeable, and soft-spoken guy – perhaps exhibiting none of the constantly caricatured qualities of what a ‘leader’ looks like (cue soundtrack from Gladiator and play heroic clips of Michael Jordan interspersed with Steve Jobs quotes). But looks can be deceiving because our leader is extremely good at keeping us all committed to his vision for the app while being genuinely open to each of our opinions and input. We all feel very valuable to the team, we’re all working toward the same goal, we enjoy each other’s company, and there’s never any tension while we’re in the same room. If you think that’s just a coincidence, I advise you to jump on any randomly assembled team of experts charged with creating a product and reevaluate your answer in a few days.
In the end, there is plenty of work that you can do as the non-technical co-founder of your startup. All it takes is a bit of leg work, Marketing, PR, and research. If you play your cards right, learn from your mistakes, and can do all the work outside of writing code in an IDE, the rockstar programmers will be looking for you to lead them.