Over the years I’ve heard and read a lot of advice on how to get a technical co-founder. Having a mostly non-technical background myself, I’ve been facing the issues of having a “great” startup idea without having the technical chops to build it myself (although I have more programming experience than most business students).
In the last year or two a lot of the advice have centered around learning to code yourself. The logic is that with some coding skills of your own you’ll be able to hack together an early version of your product and start getting some traction, making it easier to attract someone with enough technical experience to help you scale your product. The key here is traction. In a recent guest post over at Andrew Chen’s blog, Elizabeth Yin shares the results of a not-so-scientific survey of more than a 100 developers, clearly showing that the most important thing developers are looking for when considering joining a startup as a technical founder is traction. Traction, traction, traction.
Not only are potential technical co-founders judging you primarily based on traction - the same goes for investors (particularly Angels and VCs). So by achieving traction you can either choose to get a technical co-founder (and perhaps continue bootstrapping) or you can raise a seed round and hire a technical lead. Or both take an investment and get a technical co-founder and use the money on other things that can help you scale quickly. In short, traction opens up a sea of opportunities.
But how to get traction without money, coding skills or a technical co-founder in the first place? An MVP (Minimum Viable Product, in short a the most basic product you can build to to help you validate assumptions and achieving product/market fit) is an important part of the Lean Startup methodology. However, it’s a common misconception that you need to program to build an MVP, and to actually build a fully functional prototype of the product you have in mind to start validating your assumptions.
That is not the case.
Actually, after validating your earliest assumptions by talking to potential customers (usually assumptions related to the problem you’re trying to solve), you can move on to building your first MVP. And by building I don’t mean coding.
The main goal of your MVP is still learning and validation. It should demonstrate your UVP (Unique Value Proposition), nothing else. And in most cases you can set up some sort of semi-automatic system that at least simulates the functionality needed. Using a combination of Wufoo forms, Google Forms & Docs, Themeforest, Launchrock, Squarespace, Striking.ly, Wordpress, Tumblr, Mailchimp, IFTTT, Zapier, Gmail/Google Apps and your phone you can set up a semi automatic prototype that will enable you to both accelerate your learning and eventually reach product/market fit without writing a single line of code.
There are plenty of examples of successful email-first startups and startups that did everything manually in the beginning and then gradually automated the process when they started to get traction (including AngelList, iDoneThis and Groupon).
Remember, you should be so ashamed of your MVP that you will throw it away eventually anyway. Making a “disposable MVP” is a good thing.
Prove that you can be more than the idea guy. It doesn’t require programming.
PS: I am not saying it’s a bad idea to learn some basic coding skills if you are aspiring to be a founder or a team member in a tech startup. It will help communication with the team and a little technical skills will make the strategy outlined above a little bit easier.
PPS: If you need a little guidance on how you can build a semi-automatic MVP for your startup or side-project specifically, reach out via twitter or e-mail and I’ll be happy to help out.
PPPS: To get a weekly digest of the best startup advice from around the web directly in your inbox, check out StartupLetters.com.
Earlier this month I returned from a 9 day trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I attended Global Startup Youth (GSY) and Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). In short, GSY is a Startup Weekend-esque event (on steroids) with 500 participants aged 18-25 from more than a hundred different countries. GES is the brainchild of the Obama Administration, aiming to promote entrepreneurship across the globe and building ties between the US and muslim countries. GES in Kuala Lumpur 2013 was the 4th installment.
(Team photo, GSY)
After three high energy days at GSY, making tons of friends, building a negotiation training app, lack of sleep and battling both a massive jet lag and crappy hotel wifi, GES started.
After two days of intense networking, listening to a number of talks and panels, these are my three main takeaways.
1. Culture vs Startups in Asia
In a lot of Asian cultures, failure is seen as a very shameful thing. As an entrepreneur you are of course not trying to fail, but being overly afraid of failure will be inhibiting.
Myteksi co-founder and tech lead, Aaron Gill, mentioned this as one of the obstacles they had faced when trying to expand to other South-East Asian countries.
2. Hardware revolution
This shouldn’t really come as a shock for anyone - “the hardware revolution is coming” has been a mantra for a while now. But hearing Chris Anderson, founder and CEO of 3D Robotics, explain how open source drones has been able to really disrupt the defense industry actually opened my eyes even more to the importance of this “revolution”. It made me realize that it’s not only about Quantitative Self gadgets and wearables, but that it probably has a bigger potential to fundamentally change society than even the internet revolution.
One of the posts I linked to in the last edition of Startup Letters was actually a very good primer on this topic if you’re interested in reading up on it.
3. Lack of “backend” in many Asian countries and regions
When building businesses that rely on distribution, such as e-commerce, you will face a lack of “web 1.0 infrastructure”. This is how CEO of LAZADA Group (part of Rocket Internet), Maximilian Bittner, put it. The problem is that all the logistics companies are set up for handling B2B bulk shipments efficiently and cheaply, not personal deliveries or returns. This renders Amazon Prime-like shipping speeds nearly impossible. Fixing this is a great opportunity for companies or entrepreneurs with the right resources.
The newly launched LinkedIn Intro, the iPhone Mail plugin that gives you the power of LinkedIn right in your inbox, is great in so many ways. It’s still a little buggy, but it’s a great start.
One of the main annoyances for me after installing it was that the shortcuts for Archiving a message had been turned into shortcuts for Trashing them instead. This is because LinkedIn Intro is added as an IMAP account, which has this behavior by default.
Luckily it’s quite easy to fix. Here’s the official guide:
If your iPhone is running iOS 7, turn on the Archive feature for your LinkedIn Intro mail account:
- From your iPhone home screen, open the iPhone Settings app (looks like a gear).
- Scroll down and tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
- If you weren’t taken to the main page of your iPhone settings, tap the navigation arrow in the top left until you get back to the main settings page.
- Tap your Gmail +Intro account.
- Under IMAP, tap Account.
- Scroll down and tap Advanced.
- Make sure Archive Mailbox is set to All Mail. If you don’t see the All Mail folder, go to your Gmail settings and make sure that Show in IMAP is checked for this folder.
- Make sure Move Discarded Messages Into: is set to Archive Mailbox.
As mentioned, this fix is only for iOS7. If you’re running iOS below that, why don’t you upgrade already?
PS: To avoid having two Gmail inboxes on your iPhone, go into Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Gmail (or whatever you named your original Gmail account) and uncheck Mail. You should still leave Contacts and Calendars checked if you want those to sync, as they are not synced by Linkedin Intro.
I’m giving away one free ticket to Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria October 30-31, 2013. All you have to do is to sign up for my newsletter (Startup Letters) using this link before Saturday at 11.59 pm EST. Spread the word to any of your friends that might be interested. They will thank you later!
Sure, there are a lot of similarities. Only Apple is producing devices running iOS, just like they did not want to licence their Mac operating system to OEMs. Google is licensing Android freely, and most noteable OEMs are focusing on Android (apart from Nokia and Blackberry), just like the case was with Microsoft Windows. If you subscribe to this logic, you probably think that Android will eventually end up with 80-90% market share, while Apple in the end will serve 10-15% of the market (the high-end).
There is one difference, though. A big one. In fact, it changes everything. There are virtually no switching costs any more. Most services people use on their mobile devices and tablets, both for work and personal, are based in the cloud. The app you have on your phone is basically a shell for accessing those cloud services, and most apps are available for both platforms. They are platform neutral. So it doesn’t matter if your colleagues use the one or the other, you can still collaborate using the same services.
While the lower end of the smartphone market is likely to expand rapidly in the time to come, a lot of people will also be able to afford more expensive phones. And a lot of those people will probably choose an Apple product. And as long as a lot of consumers still prefer an iPhone, they will still buy an iPhone, even if it’s used for work. Remember the BYOD trend?
You should probably see my argument in light of Ben Thompson’s critique of Clayton Christensen’s theory of low-end disruption.
THE FLAW IN THE THEORY
Interestingly, Christensen himself laid out his theory’s primary flaw in the first quote excerpted above (from 2006):
You also see it in aircrafts and software, and medical devices, and over and over.
That is the problem: Consumers don’t buy aircraft, software, or medical devices. Businesses do.
Christensen’s theory is based on examples drawn from buying decisions made by businesses, not consumers.5The reason this matters is that the theory of low-end disruption presumes:
- Buyers are rational
- Every attribute that matters can be documented and measured
- Modular providers can become “good enough” on all the attributes that matter to the buyers
All three of the assumptions fail in the consumer market, and this, ultimately, is why Christensen’s theory fails as well.
Anyway, predicting market shares multiple years from now is next to impossible, but my guess is that iOS likely will stabilize around 30% worldwide, if not even higher.