App development for startups: How to start working on an app if you are a non-technical founder

There is a lingering misconception that you have to be a technical founder to launch a startup nowadays — especially at a time when technology is almost inevitable for any type of business. There is no doubt that having technical skills will make it easier to build and run a startup, but that does not mean it is the only path. Business acumen, being an entrepreneur at heart, and other factors will also play important roles.

So where do you start if you do not have the technical skills and knowhow required to work on a product or an app? Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Define your business and app needs

Before you start looking for developers, know what you need and want. Work with your team and list down the business challenges you would like to solve with the app. Then define the things you want the app to do or have: its functions, features, and other things in your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ list. The more specific you can be with this list, the better.

Check with your team first and you will get an idea if you need to:

  • Only hire additional people to work on the app for you
  • Implement tech you have never used before
  • Start a project from scratch

Before you start looking for developers, know what you need and want.

2. Have a detailed idea and design in mind

Your app is only as good as the brief — it is crucial then that you are able to properly relay the idea in your head to your team.

Brainstorm with your team about the details and design of your app idea and create mockups, workflows, and lo-fi wireframes. Even something as simple as hand drawn sketches on a sheet of paper not only helps developers understand your expectations, it also makes your thoughts and ideas a little clearer.

Make your brief as detailed as possible; you do not want developers to make any assumptions during the development process. The developer you work with should also create a comprehensive functional specifications document to delve deeper into each workflow and functionality.

Read through resources from companies like DevsData to get more ideas on prototyping and the app development process. Use online tools such as MockFlow for creating wireframes, prototypes, and mockups. These resources will give you an idea on how to start working with an app even if you do not have a solid tech background. Also remember about the importance of the landing page. It comes in handy everywhere when the company is seeking to convince the visitor to perform a particular task; no matter is that purchase or leaving the contact information. Ability to tailor communication is always an excellent way to improve the effects of marketing and sales. Read how WebWave explains why landing page is so crucial. 

3. Talk to experts

You will need all the help you can get for the entirety of the development process, especially if you are a non-technical founder. Start by talking to the people who have built apps for startups before, as well as other industry experts. Their insights and experience can help you save thousands of dollars by avoiding obvious mistakes, giving you advice on the right direction to take your idea, and suggestions to make your app unique and practical.

Remember also that there will be cultural differences across the globe, which means your app ideas might not be suitable for everyone, your target audience may not be as big, or that the specific market opportunity you were eyeing may not be that viable.

Share your ideas with them through a minimum viable product (MVP) and pick their brains about: the software development timeline, how you can make money, what business model to use, how to get users, etc. 

Start by talking to the people who have built apps for startups before, as well as other industry experts.

4. Learn about the tech

Many non-technical founders think they need to learn the art of coding. While it would certainly do you no harm to learn to code, it can be not a top priority. It is because the developers you will be working with have the necessary background and experience in building applications. But it would also not be a bad idea to learn the basics of the technology you will be working with. Google Flutter, React Native, Native iOS, and Android are just some UI software development kits you can learn and play around with.

Research on the technologies that can be used in making the program, just so you do not get lost in all the industry speak. Try to get an understanding of the different tech stacks at the backend, front-end, database options, app builders, web services, hosting solutions, etc.

The more informed you are with the tech, the better choices you can make, which means you can communicate more effectively with your developers.

5. Find the right option for your needs

Consider your options when it comes to building the app. As a non-technical founder, you will need to rely on somebody else to develop it for you, but which one?

The first option is to hire a technical cofounder. This is a key role that will be responsible for all the tech-related responsibilities, decisions, and processes. Because they will be co-founding the company, they are likely to be more invested in its success.

The second option is to work with a freelancer. This is often the most budget-friendly choice, and a practical one if you estimate the programming work needed will take less than a month to bring it to life. Just make sure you set rules and expectations first about their commitment to the project, frequency of communication, and their drive to not only complete the project, but make sure it is top-notch.

The third option is to partner up with a software agency. This is a reliable option if you are starting from scratch and you expect the development to last for several months. Check their portfolio, test run some of their previous works, and ask for recent customer references. It’s a good sign if the development shop is also eager to engage in meaningful discussions about your app idea — it shows they are likely sincere in helping you build a better app.

Focus on the skills you have to make the business stand out and let the developers do the dirty tech job.

6. Talk to software vendors and freelancers

Whether you are working with a freelancer, a technical co-founder, or a development agency, make sure they can act as your partner and that they understand the direction you want to take for the app. Talk to the potential IT vendors and find out what they can bring to the table. Read up on resources about how to select a software vendor to give you a broader idea of the selection process. 

7. Have an idea about budget and funding

You do not need to blow your budget to have a great app, but you also should not skimp on certain expenses. For budget concerns, remember to factor in all listed and unforeseen expenses to set your expectations.

Do not also forget to prepare and account for the later stages of the development process. If the app and the time are ripe, you can fundraise through an angel investor, US government grants, a Kickstarter campaign, and even crowdfunding.

Take away

Just because an entrepreneur does not have technical knowledge or skill sets does not mean they should give up on a great idea. Starting and maintaining a technology business has many aspects. Focus on the skills you have to make the business stand out and let the developers do the dirty tech job. Your passion, belief, and smarts are the key, not your coding skills.