Building a product without technical skillsFeatured
There’s one thing that keeps startups alive - momentum. In the early days, it's always about getting the ball rolling. Once you get further along the journey, it's about keeping it rolling in the right direction. But getting started can feel tough, especially if you don't have technical skills yourself. It might feel like there’s nothing you can do to begin work on your product. So here are five things you can do from day one to get the ball rolling on your product, without technical skills.Build a non-technical prototypeA prototype is an early version of your product and should be the first version of your product you’ll be aiming for. The purpose of it is to get feedback on your idea and prove that people are interested in it. It should act as a prompt for a conversation.Contrary to popular belief, it does not need to be fancy with lots of bells and whistles. I recommend starting with paper prototyping. This means you need to grab your pens and paper and draw out a version of your product. Draw a couple of squares on a plain piece of paper. Make them either phone-sized or bigger depending on your product. Then draw all the different screens that you think people will need to use your product.Then you’ll want to start using it in conversation with people. Get them to ‘act out’ how they would use the product. Ask them to narrate and pretend to press buttons, swipe or read. You should swap out bits of paper to show the right screen depending on their actions. This will help you realise what people want to do on each screen, and if you’re missing some screens altogether. It is an incredible springboard for conversations and feedback.Once you’ve got as much feedback as you can from paper prototypes you'll want to go to the next level. A great way to do this is by creating wireframes or a no-code version of your product. The reason we start with paper prototypes is that they are quick to make. If you draw something wrong, then draw a new one, you’ll have lost about five minutes - that's it! You'll be more ruthless with what you are creating and experiment more with no fear of getting it wrong. Therefore you'll collect more in-depth feedback.Remember your prototypes exist to get you feedback. They prove which parts of your product your users want and need. You need to figure out exactly what you want to build. This is so when you work with a technical team they'll only build the things you are sure your users want. This saves you time and money.Find people to test your initial idea withWhen you’re armed with a prototype, the next step is to find people to whom you can show it to get feedback. Depending on who your audience is, this can be tricky. The number one way to access your audience is to find places they are hanging out and go there. In this pandemic world that’s Facebook groups, clubhouse rooms or networking communities. But in a non-pandemic world, you can meet people in person though I encourage you to get more creative. Want to speak to runners? Head to a local park run. Want to speak to people with dogs? Why not go to a dog park, or contact a dog training group and ask if you can chat with people when the class has finished. In my time I’ve spoken to people about their families' habits in IKEA, approached people in coffee shops and even asked questions in museums. When I say get creative, I mean it!You’ll need to ask yourself which barriers might make speaking to your audience harder. And therefore who you might need to work with to access that audience appropriately. My first business was for teenagers. There was no way we could approach them without permission from their parents. So I set up partnerships with schools. There are plenty of other groups of people who are hard to target. Working with their gatekeepers is vital to ensure you can access them safely.Set your vision and missionVision and mission enable you to have a clear end place you are striving towards. Without either you can find yourself heading out on a journey and ending up in the wrong place. I wouldn’t get in the car and just drive without knowing where I was going. It’s the same for your idea.Create a vision and mission by considering what drove you to start this business. Ask yourself about your why. A vision should encapsulate the world you want to create with your business. A mission articulates what you are doing right now to get there.Find your technical partnerYour idea is technical, so at some point, you will need some technical support.Start by talking to people in your network. Don’t worry about sharing your ideas widely. Ideas are common, it’s the execution that makes a successful business. You’ll never know who will be able to help you out.When looking for a technical partner, you'll need to decide if you want to find a co-founder or work with a developer or development agency.Either way, the search to find the right partner can take some time. And whoever you end up working with will likely be your largest cost. It's the right technique to start your search early, but don't let it be your only focus to grow your product. Instead, make sure you are still investing time in the other activities on this list.You’ll have to try a few different people and be super clear on what you want from them. This ranges from their personality & working style to their experience and the job role you have in mind. Determining your criteria up front will save you time in the long run. The wrong technical partner can make or break a business.Choosing the right one isn’t a task you can rush.Be open to learningIt’s ok to not know everything. You already have so many amazing skills in areas that aren’t tech, so capitalise on them. It’s also important to notice your areas where your knowledge is lacking and it’s holding you back. Then figure out the right way to plug those gaps.The type of learning you’ll want to do will change based on the skill itself. For some, you’ll want to work towards mastering a skill so that you can do the task yourself. For others, you’ll want to pick up a fluency of a topic. Then you can work with the people who have mastered it with ease.If you come across a topic you’re unsure of then make sure you note down what it was. Then invest some time in figuring it out. You can do that by online courses, asking an expert (they’ll exist on Elpha I'm sure) or googling. I'm so passionate about learning that I started a business in it! Techniclarity teaches you just enough tech to launch your startup.Not having technical skills yourself doesn’t mean the momentum of your project needs to stall. Working on any of these tasks will allow you to make small steps to the bigger goal of launching your tech product.