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App Development for Startups

How to start working on an app if you are a non-technical founder


App development for Startups
There is a lingering misconception that you have to be a technical founder to launch a startup – especially at a time when technology is almost inevitable for any type of business. Undoubtedly, having technical skills will make it easier to build and run a startup, however, that does not mean it is the only path, and that without a deep technical knowledge you will not be able to do it. Business acumen, being an entrepreneur at heart, and other factors also play important roles and can greatly contribute to your company’s successful launch.

Examples of famous non-tech app founders

Some top tech companies are in fact, led and founded by non-tech individuals. Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky was an industrial designer at an LA firm before diving into the tech world. Now Airbnb is an app that is standing toe-to-toe with big shots like Facebook and Twitter. Another notable CEO is Sean Rad, a college dropout who founded the popular dating app, Tinder in the year 2012. Today, Tinder is a 3 billion company that boasts of its rank as one of the highest-grossing apps in the app store. Let us not forget one of the brains behind one of the biggest social media platforms in 2020, Evan Sharp. Evan is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Pinterest. As you might have guessed, Evan as well was not a tech guy when he came up with the idea for Pinterest. He was a History major at the University of Chicago. One common thing these people had was they met tech people who helped them realize their ideas. Communication and visuals were their main tool in expressing their brilliant ideas to engineers. Alex Turnbull, who founded Groove HQ said that he used Photoshop and mock-ups to relay the ideas to his tech co-founders. Now that we have cleared that doubt in your mind, you might be wondering where to start if you do not have the technical skills and know-how required to work on a product or an app? We compiled several tips that you can use to kick-start your development journey. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Define your business and app needs

Before you start looking for programmers, Start by analyzing your business idea. Determine what kind of niche you will be serving and why would they want to use your app. Will you be serving a younger or older audience? Is there a certain primary need you need to fulfill or will it be more of a want, much like social media and gaming apps? Conducting a thorough analysis will help you identify the features and functionality that matches your business goals. Work with your team and list down the business challenges you would like to solve with the app. Then finally, list down the things you want your app to have: its functions, features, and other things in your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ list. The more specific you can be with this list, the better. It is a good idea to check with your team first and you will get an idea if you need to:

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

woman-in-brown-knitted-sweater-using-cellular-phone Before you start looking for developers, know what you need and want.

2. Have a detailed idea and design in mind

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. Remember how Alex Turnbull made his development ideas come to life even without tech experience? This is where it will come into play. Brainstorm with your team about the details and design of your app, create mockups, workflows, and lo-fi wireframes. The importance of visual communication will be your key to success in this process. While words can help you express your thoughts, considering how complex tech is, it usually is not enough. So even something as simple as hand drawn sketches on a sheet of paper will not only help developers understand your expectations, but will also make your thoughts and ideas a little clearer. 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, do not forget 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: be it closing the purchase or leaving the contact information. Read how WebWave explains why landing pages are so crucial.

3. Talk to experts

Non-tech founders of tech companies had their ideas realized through the help of their tech founders. Realistically speaking, you at least need one tech guy to help you in this venture. Think of it as an architect and an engineer working together. You will need all the help you can get for the entirety of the development process. Start by talking to the people who have built apps for startups before, as well as other industry experts. You might find your co-founder closer than you think. Evan Sharp, from Pinterest met his co-founder Ben Silbermann, while he was in architecture school. Their insights and experience can help you save thousands of dollars by avoiding obvious mistakes. Share your ideas with them through a minimum viable product (MVP) and pick their brains about: the software development, how you can make money, what business model to use, how to get users, etc. They can give you advice on the right direction to take your idea, and can suggest how to make your app unique and practical.
woman-holding-tablet-computer Start by talking to the people who have built apps for startups before, as well as other industry experts.

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4. Learn about the tech

Many non-technical founders think they need to learn the art of coding. Especially if you do not have a limited amount of human resources in your team. Most startups experience this hurdle in the initial stages. While it would certainly do you no harm to learn to code, it is not a top priority because the developers you will be working with have the necessary background and experience in building applications. Nevertheless, it might 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 that you can learn and play around with. Perform some research on the technologies that can be used in developing your app/program, so that you do not get lost in the industry jargon. Try to get an understanding of the different tech stacks at the back-end, 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. In turn, you will be able to communicate more effectively with your developers. DevsData particularly recommends visiting Techcrunch and Venturebeat to stay up to date with the tech news. person-holding-smartphone Focus on the skills you have to make the business stand out and let the developers do the dirty tech job.

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. Should you hire a freelancer, or maybe partner with a software agency? Let us briefly go through all the options.

Technical cofounder

The first option is to hire a technical cofounder. He would be responsible for all the tech-related tasks, decisions, and processes during the development process. Since he will be co-founding the company, he is likely to be more dedicated to its success.

Software agency

The second 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, analyze some of their previous works, and ask for recent client references. It is a good sign if such a dev shop is also eager to engage in meaningful discussions about your app idea — it shows they are sincere and truly want to help you build a better app.


The third option is to work with a freelancer. This is often the most budget-friendly choice, and a practical one if you expect that the programming work will take less than a month. Freelancers are usually specialists in their chosen fields. Before going freelance, most of them honed their skills in a tech company or startup which makes them truly reliable in these tasks. Get a tech person involved when hiring a freelancer. This way they can determine and vouch whether the skills of the said freelancer are what you will need for the project. Make sure you set rules and expectations first about freelancer’s commitment to the project, frequency of communication. Ensure he has all the necessary technical skills to not only complete your project, but also make it top-notch. You might wonder how to choose a good freelancer. Search and selection of a freelancer for a project depends on the complexity of the work that needs to be done. There are three groups of freelancers:

  • Beginners with minimal experience and portfolio work well under the supervision of experienced colleagues, and can also do simple projects. If you need to do simple work with a small budget and low requirements, beginners are the right choice.
  • Mid-level specialists with work experience in the office or on freelance from 2-3 years. They can work on projects with low and medium complexity,
    typical tasks. For example, the development of a typical site without complex functionality based on the popular CMS. The main thing when
    choosing mid-level freelancers is to check the reality of their portfolio, request a resume, check client reviews, asking them to chat via Skype or
    by phone. As a rule, in this category, specialists have specialized higher education or have taken quality courses.
  • Highly qualified specialists with extensive experience and a good portfolio. As a rule, they have personal sites and blogs. They have a reputation in the professional community. They work with large budgets or with interesting projects. The client receives high quality work with minimal risk of delaying deadlines or project failure. If your project is complex, non-standard, hire a professional freelancer for the appropriate fee.

So, if you need to do a simple project with minimal requirements and budget – look for beginners. If you need to make a standard project with an average budget – look for mid-level specialists with experience and a resume. But if you have a non-standard project, and if you need a non-standard approach. Pay attention to professional freelancers with expert status. Yes, it will be expensive, but in return, you will get a quality, timely product. 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.

6. 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. Also, do not 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.

7. Learn from those who succeeded in app development for startups

Just because an entrepreneur does not have technical knowledge or skill sets does not mean they should give up on a great idea. There are existing non tech role-models in the industry who you can use as a reference. Study their journey and mindset they used to persevere and find success in the tech industry. Find the right people who can help you bring your ideas into fruition. In any industry, having a reliable team will serve as your best asset.

Take away

Be realistic, it is definitely possible to start a tech venture without tech skills but it does not mean that you can solely rely on that statement. You will definitely need a trustworthy and talented co-founder experienced in app development for startups. Search your network to find such a person. Starting and maintaining a technology business has many aspects. It is not simply about the app development. Look at the project from a company’s perspective. What can you do for the company? Since you are no tech person, perhaps you can take the lead in marketing and sales or Human Resource and PR. 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.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter/X.

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Tom Potanski Managing Director

Passionate and experienced technology leader. Combining business and technology, helping American clients find exceptional technical talent in Europe and Latin America.

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