When people think about starting up their own business, they come up with all sorts of mental barriers that prevent them from ever actually taking any action and making it happen. One of those barriers is the excuse “I can’t code.” There’s this sense that to have a really successful startup, especially in the tech world, that the person founding the company needs to be some kind of coding genius – the next Zuckerberg or Page.
But it turns out that thanks modern tools, this level of deep expertise is rarely required at the top level. This doesn’t stop entrepreneurs from providing themselves with excuses as to why they can’t strike out by themselves, though. Self-doubt and “growth anxiety” are epidemic in the world of founders.
The purpose of this article is to make the point that none of this is true. It is possible to construct a business out of thin air, using a bunch of cheap tools that can be found on the internet. Entrepreneurs are piling into WordPress.com, apps and online form builders without having to have a smidgen of coding expertise themselves.
Serve Customers Instead Of Building A Project
Many entrepreneurs emerge from life experiences where they have had to complete some enormous project, be it through a company or in an academic institution. As a result, they think that the raison d’etre of their company is to succeed and build something. And while that seems so plausible in theory, it’s rarely true in practice. The reason for this is that customers don’t actually care all that much about what you’re building or even why it’s important. Instead, they want you to solve a problem for them in whatever way you can.
Startup founders run into trouble when they get bogged down in all of the technical problems in their projects without putting their head back above water to figure out if they are going in the direction their customers want them to.
Replace Tech With People
There’s a tendency to think that only technology, not people, are able to offer services in the tech industry. But the hilarious story of David Quail, a talented computer programmer, proves otherwise. Quail realised that people really didn’t like scheduling meetings over email. It was time-consuming and just a big chore for everybody involved. So he decided that he would develop a piece of artificial intelligence software that would automatically read email chains and make entries into people’s schedules, based on the contents. There was just one problem: developing AI software capable of doing that sort of thing was going to take years.
Quail decided to do something that was very unusual, especially for startups. He decided he was going to turn himself into the AI, and get people to pay for the privilege. He got access to company emails and manually entered arranged meetings in people’s schedules, based on what they had talked about in their email conversations. To many people, it seemed like a crazy idea, but Quail proved that it was a service that people wanted and were willing to pay for.
Thanks to his experiment, he soon attracted investor capital. With that, he hired a bunch of people who could do the coding with him and automate more and more of the system.
Use Off-The-Shelf Solutions
Educators like to think that they’ve finally caught up to the digital economy, now that they’re imploring all children to learn to code. But, as it turns out, they’re about twenty years too late. Today, it’s possible to construct pretty much anything you want, including websites and app, using intuitive, browser-based interfaces. Sites like buildfire.com, for instance, allow users to construct their own apps, something that they would have had to pay thousands of dollars for just a couple of years ago. There are also tools that entrepreneurs can use to create their own knowledge base, like Zendesk, as well as widgets that they simply cut and paste into their site, like the Skype click-to-call button.
What’s so funny about the current business environment is that many organisations still don’t know that these tools exist. They’re happy, it seems, to pay ultra-premium prices for things like websites, even though the tools and the people exist to do them far cheaper. For instance, even if you’re not confident about using a template builder yourself, there’s nothing stopping you from hiring a freelance designer to do the work for you.
Don’t Worry About Your Investors
Another issue that entrepreneurs imagine that they will run into if they try to start up a business without knowing the first thing about code is cranky investors. What investor in their right mind would invest in a tech entrepreneur who doesn’t know how to code? It’s lunacy, right?
It turns out that investors have a name for people who start tech businesses in a state of ignorance about how the underlying technology is put together. They’re called the “workaround crew.” And what’s surprising is that investors are actually quite fond of this breed of entrepreneur. Far from suggesting that they are ill-equipped to do the job, investors see these people as resourceful, flexible and enterprising. They often know what the right things to focus on are, rather than getting bogged down in the detail.
Investors also understand that nobody actually knows every single thing about how a tech product works. Sure, the programmers might know how to code in a particular piece of coding software, but they rarely have detailed understanding about what makes a device work over a network or how to integrate a product into an existing ecosystem. Expertise isn’t necessarily technical.
Don’t Worry About Scaling
If Quail had continued to do everything by hand, he would never have been able to scale his business. Instead, he planned to automate parts of his service and use his spare time to get more customers. Scaling is important and usually it requires some pretty significant technical infrastructure. But that’s not something founders have to worry about immediately. Their first task is to attract their first 50 customers, through whatever means necessary.