How to Develop a Tech Startup without a Tech Background: Digital Product Development for a Non-tech Founder
Can you build a successful tech product without any tech background? Definitely yes! Lots of famous non-technical founders created today’s most valuable companies. Learn everything you need to know about building a tech startup if you’ve never done it before.
When you first enter the digital world, it can be overwhelming. Believe me, because I’ve been there. Tech people throw around terms like “cross-platform”, “API integration,” and “refactoring” and offer you hundreds of solutions to hundreds of issues.
How do you choose the right solution? How do you communicate with your tech team and build a successful product without prior tech experience? What steps do you take when starting a tech company without a tech background? We’ll answer these questions in this comprehensive guide.
As a non-tech founder, you’ve got valuable things to contribute: your vision, ideas, business background, market intuition and niche expertize
Like in any business, you need to develop and test an idea in the real world. Most companies start with something small: for example, a single shop or even just a web page. Then, after you see the demand is there and start generating your first revenue, it’s an excellent sign to expand gradually.
The same goes for tech startups. You launch something small but valuable to see the market response. This usually comes in the form of an MVP — a minimum viable product.
So, your main tasks as a non-tech founder when starting a tech company are to:
- Build a tech team
- Build a prototype and a minimum viable product (MVP)
- Contribute your business expertise
Let’s discuss how to start a tech company without a tech background and what steps it entails.
Create a vision for your digital product
All tech companies started by non-technical founders. started with a problem that needed resolution.
It’s good to be tech-savvy, but you have something much more valuable to contribute as a business founder. That being your vision, ideas, business background, market intuition, and other factors that drive entrepreneurs to success.
The idea for your startup can be as simple as describing a problem you’d like to solve for your customers or a list of things your customers will be able to do with your product.
To clarify your vision and make it more detailed, you can look at existing solutions and study the digital product market within your domain.
Research your market
As a founder, you know that everything needs to be tested in real market conditions. However, researching the market first can significantly increase your chances of success. When performing research, pay attention to:
- Current market trends
- Your competitors
- Best practices and standards for your type of software in a specific domain
- Market size and demand
Researching the market will give you a reference point to offer something better and different than what already exists. This will help you not only in product development but also in marketing.
Study your target audience as well. If you already have experience running a business in a specific domain, you should know your customers well. Learn how they use software, what platforms they use, and what they expect from products of this type.
Choose a business model
Before you start the development of your product, decide how you’ll monetize it and create a software startup business plan. Your monetization strategy will affect not only your business structure but also the functionality and even the layout of your product.
Let’s discuss the ways to generate revenue from your digital product in detail.
A SaaS business model allows people to connect and use a cloud-based service. In simple terms, instead of building their own solution, they can pay a monthly or annual fee and get access to a product that will meet their needs.
Google Drive, Salesforce, Microsoft 360, Zoom, and HubSpot are all examples of SaaS products. Depending on the domain and target audience, they can be B2B or B2C.
Canva, for example, is a design tool that both individuals and businesses can use. You only need to create your profile and use their in-built tools. All your work will be stored in a cloud and can be exported anytime.
White label software
With this model, you can create software and resell it to other companies as their own product with their branding and customizations. Typically your clients will be businesses that want to offer their product but don’t have the time or resources to build their own.
You can offer your white-label software countless times while giving your clients an opportunity to get off-the-shelf software with minimal investment and time. Unlike SaaS products, white-label software is usually sold through a one-time payment, although subscription-based models are also present.
By this model, your users pay you a monthly or annual subscription in exchange for access to your product or its certain features. A subscription-based model is one of the most popular right now and goes hand in hand with SaaS products and various services.
While this model provides steady and predictable income, it also requires constant improvement of your product or service, so that users stay subscribed and feel they’re getting value for their money.
A freemium model divides your product functionality into free and paid. This makes it easier to attract users with free functionality and encourages them to try the paid premium functionality or content.
You can make money even with a free part of your product, for example, through placing ads.
This is the most common type of monetization that most free apps use to generate revenue. However, it doesn’t work for all types of applications: it’s hard to imagine a professional SaaS tool with integrated ads, for example.
Monetization through advertising can be tricky. For it to be effective, you need a large user base. It’s easy to overdo ads and decrease user satisfaction and retention rates, so ads should be approached cautiously.
With this model, you play a role of a middleman that brings buyers and sellers together. There are lots of types of marketplaces, from e-commerce platforms like Amazon to food delivery or freelance platforms.
Marketplaces usually charge a fee from one or both parties in exchange for facilitating their deals. For example, a popular freelance platform Fiverr charges both clients and freelancers a 20% commission on each deal.
Prototype vs MVP
Now that you’ve clarified your vision a bit, it’s time to move from planning to executing. Usually, entrepreneurs prefer to test their idea in real market conditions before committing to developing a fully-fledged product. For this, they build a prototype and an MVP. Let’s discuss the difference between the two.
A prototype is an early model of a product that’s main goal is to demonstrate the concept and test its feasibility. You can present your prototype to stakeholders, investors, and your target users to collect feedback and decide if your idea is feasible.
A prototype isn’t necessarily a working product and can come in many forms, from simple UX design concepts to landing pages that introduce the concept and allow you to measure the demand.
A prototype is a risk-free way to make sure your idea is viable. After you make sure it’s feasible, it’s time to move to MVP development.
An MVP (minimum viable product) is a working product that has just enough features to deliver a core service to your target users. Its main goal is to test an actual product in real market conditions with minimal investments.
Then, based on the market response, you can make changes, pivot or continue to develop and improve your product.
Some entrepreneurs start with an MVP, skipping prototyping. This depends on your resources, wishes and of course the product itself. Let’s now talk about the ways to build your prototype or MVP.
Decide on who develops your product
As a non-tech founder, you need to find someone to build your product. There are several options here, so let’s review them as well as their pros and cons.
Build a prototype yourself
Some may suggest that you learn how to code and build your product yourself, but I don’t think that’s realistic. Learning to code takes years, and a long path of trial and error, so unless you want your product to be released in 5+ years, it’s best to partner with developers from the start.
However, you can definitely build a prototype using no-code tools. This depends on the complexity of your future product, but there’s always an option to use no or low-code tools.
With WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, you can build websites and landing pages. Tools like Figma, Invision, Marvel, or Adobe XD can help you build prototypes that mimic user experience.
It’s possible to build an MVP yourself if your product concept allows it. For example, you can build an ecommerce website on your own, but if you’d like to develop a mobile app or a SaaS platform, it’s too complex to do with no-code tools.
So, the pros and cons of this approach are the following.
- No or low-code tools are convenient and easy to use
- You save lots of money
- Finding the right tool may be time-consuming
- Design and layout aren’t flexible
- You are limited by the tools
- The option doesn’t work for complex products
Hiring freelancers is a good option for prototyping or MVP development. They are usually independent and work on semi-short-term projects, which will be enough for these tasks. However, sifting through thousands of candidates is hard, especially if you don’t know how to evaluate their skill level.
If your project is complex, you’ll likely need several professionals, like a UI/UX designer, a backend developer, and a front-end developer. It can be hard to manage a team of freelancers, as they may have different schedules, time zones, and pacing.
- Takes less time than building a prototype or an MVP yourself
- Is comparatively less expensive than partnering with software development agencies, although it depends on their location
- Inconsistent quality
- It’s hard to manage a team of freelancers
- It’s challenging to assess freelancers’ skills without tech expertise
I’d recommend this option only if you have prior experience working with freelancers and knowledge in software product management or project management.
Get a technical co-founder
Finding a co-founder is a great solution; you’ll get tech expertise and a dedicated partner. However, it may be hard to persuade someone to take the risk of joining you, believing in your product and going through the whole process often with little pay.
You can find a co-founder within your network, someone you know well, where the mutual trust is already built.
- You get a second point of view
- You can build your product the way you want
- It may be hard to balance a friendly and professional relationship
- Your tech co-founders’ skills may not be enough to build a whole product on their own
Most modern products require multiple team members, including developers, QA specialists, business analysts, project managers, designers, etc. One person can build a prototype or an MVP, but building a whole digital product singlehandedly may take enormous time and effort.
Partner with a software development company
This is the most convenient and quick way to build a digital product. With a trusted software development company, you get a whole team of experts that develop products daily and can help you with everything from market research and planning, to building, releasing, and even marketing your product.
Unlike working with freelancers, you can trust your vendor with team and project management and focus on business development.
Usually, software development agencies offer multiple forms of cooperation so that you can be flexible: scale your team, handle management yourself, hire a specific specialist for any number of hours, or get a dedicated team that will work as your in-house team.
- You can start your project in a matter of weeks
- You save lots of money, especially if you hire overseas
- You can scale your team anytime and get access to all kinds of specialists
- You get technical support at all stages of your project
- You don’t need to pay any additional fees contrary to hiring developers
- Your vendor can handle project management
- A good vendor will bring both technical and business expertise to the table
- Finding the right vendor can be challenging
- This option is typically more expensive than working with freelancers. However, this depends on the location
- The cooperation between you and the vendor will be mostly remote
Outsourcing gives you access to companies worldwide, and the pricing can vary vastly. However, just like with freelancers, the quality varies a lot too. Let’s talk about how to find the right vendor for your project.
Find the right tech partner
So, how do you find a reliable tech partner? There are thousands of software development companies, and it can be challenging to assess them. Let me give you some tips on how to identify the right tech partner for your startup.
- Ask for recommendations
- Evaluate the vendor’s portfolio and content
- Check reviews on listing platforms
- Reach out and interview your candidates
I always recommend interviewing all shortlisted candidates and encourage clients to involve their trusted third-party experts for the technical interviews. Evaluate not only the technical skills and the portfolio but also pay attention to how your potential vendor communicates with you.
Test your vendor by going through a discovery phase with them. The way they handle the preparation and documentation stage will tell you everything you need to know about how your vendor communicates and understands your business needs.
What solutions do they offer right off the bat? Are they transparent with their processes? How well do they explain the technicalities to you?
It’s also a great practice to only go through a discovery phase with your chosen vendor without committing to the full development. The process and the result will tell you everything you need to know about how your vendor communicates and understands your business.
Let’s now learn more about the development process’s stages, including the discovery phase I mentioned above.
Explaining the software development lifecycle for non-technical founders
Let’s look at the software development process from start to finish, so you know what to expect.
After you contact a software development company, they schedule an interview with you. During this interview, you share your idea and vision for a future product, and your vendor provides you with a very rough estimate of how much time it may take.
This estimate is based on experience working on similar projects with such scope, technologies, and product type. Several clarification calls may be protected by a Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that protects your idea, intellectual property, and business information. You can discuss your product vision in detail and find out if you’re on the same page with your vendor in terms of budget and timeline.
A discovery phase is a research and planning stage of software development. During this phase, you’ll communicate with a business analyst about your business goals, expectations, and available resources.
A business analyst is a specialist who speaks business and tech languages equally well. They will guide you through the tech world, give advice, and translate your business needs into concrete technical solutions, features, and user experiences.
A business analyst can validate your product idea by performing various types of research like:
- Market research
- Competitor analysis
- SWAT analysis
- Risk evaluation
- Product feasibility analysis
As a result of this stage, you get all the documentation needed to launch the development process – a Software Requirements Specification, a development plan, detailed estimates, UI/UX concept, etc. A BA will also create a wireframe of your product that will show the major screens and transitions between them.
After the documentation is complete, a lead developer will recommend the best tech stack for a product and provide a detailed estimate. Then, the project manager will complete this estimate by including time planned for communication, project management activities, testing, and potential risks.
This documentation will ensure that you get exactly what and when you expect it at the end of the development process, with no surprises.
Based on the features listed in the documentation, a designer starts to flesh out the user experience and interface design.
User experience design describes how your users interact with your product and represents the paths users take to achieve their goals. User experience design is often expressed in wireframes — schematic images of screens that show the main interface elements and the transitions between screens or pages.
User interface design is a visual part of the design. It expresses your branding and identity in the shape and color of interface elements, as well as typography, visual element hierarchy, animations, and more.
When the design concepts are ready, it’s time to share them with developers so that they can bring them to life through coding.
Development and testing
Now it’s time to develop everything that was planned. Developers start with preparing the development environment and creating a suitable architecture that will be easy to scale as the product grows.
At each stage of development, they use a software requirement specification as their guide and implement each feature accordingly.
Most software development companies work according to Agile principles. According to them, the whole development process is divided into equal sprints that usually last 1-3 weeks.
After each sprint, developers and the project manager evaluate their progress and plan the future sprint. This allows you to prioritize features based on your current needs and keep the development process iterative and flexible.
As developers create the functionality piece by piece, they review each other’s code (this is called peer review) and send it to quality assurance specialists. The QA team checks each small code to ensure it works according to the technical specification. Then, the code returns to developers again for fixes.
This back-and-forth process of checking small pieces of code just as they’re being produced allows for delivering high-quality code in the shortest terms. Previously, QA specialists used to run tests at the end of development, resulting in many inconsistencies and extended time needed for fixes.
However, along with small tests during the development, QA specialists also perform full software testing before each major release to ensure that all parts of the software work well together.
Deployment and launch
All the final tests are made, and it’s time to launch your product and show it to the world! Depending on the platform, the release procedures will be different.
For example, to launch a mobile app, you must ensure it complies with the rules and regulations of app markets like Google Play or App Store. Then, you need to submit your app to your developer account and wait till it’s approved.
You also need to take care of your app’s profile: upload an icon, showcase screenshots, and add a well-written description optimized for search engines.
When launching a website, you need to take care of your hosting, domain, production server, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to transfer all your website files to the server.
We also highly recommend integrating analytics into your software before the launch, so you can start collecting valuable marketing and technical data from the very start. This will help you with the next stage: maintaining and improving your digital product.
Maintenance, support, and evolution
The post-release work includes two main activities: maintenance and evolution.
Software maintenance allows your software to stay relevant and functional. It includes:
- Bug fixes
- Updates to the new versions of OS
- Library and framework updates
- Code refactoring
- Performance improvements
- Security checks
- UI/UX improvements
- Adapting to new app market rules
- Adapting to new devices
Look at maintenance like regular visits to the dentist. It’s much cheaper and easier to take care of your teeth on a regular basis than waiting till serious problems arise. The same goes for software: regular checks will ensure your code quality and allow your software to stay functional.
Software evolution is building new functionality and expanding your software’s value. After you develop an MVP and it shows good results, it’s time to add those blows and whistles that will make your product unique.
Use analytics to track user behavior and collect feedback. This will allow you to identify bottlenecks and see how your users respond to new functionality.
Basics of software architecture
There are two main categories of software: mobile and web. The difference between them lies in the technologies and platforms they operate on.
However, the overall structure is the same: every software consists of a server-side (backend) and client-side (frontend).
The backend or the server side is the backbone of the software — it’s responsible for the business logic, data management, server requests, and outputs. Basically, it’s the brain of your software that operates according to rules written in code.
Frontend or the client side is everything your users see when they interact with the software through a device (desktop or mobile). The interface changes its state after each user action, as the client side sends a request to the server side and gets a response that’s reflected in the content a user sees on their screen.
Other elements of software architecture include:
- Monitoring and performance tools
- Automation tools
- Cacheing tools
How to choose a technology stack for your product
A tech stack can make or break your product, as it influences the speed, performance, scalability and future maintenance of your product. It’s important that your stack corresponds to your product’s:
- Number of integrations
- Security requirements
Let’s take a look at the most popular technologies for web and mobile software.
Web tech stack
The typical client side web technologies include:
- HTML 一 a hypertext markup language used to create and display electronic documents
- CSS 一 is used to create a web page layout using font styles, sizes, design, color, tables, and other web page elements.
There are hundreds of backend technologies that are suitable for projects of different sizes, complexity, and architecture:
- Frameworks and libraries: Ruby on Rails, .NET, Django, etc.
- Databases: Microsoft SQL Server, MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, etc.
- Web servers: Apache, Nginx, Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS), etc.
- Cloud infrastructures: AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Heroku, etc.
To choose the right web tech stack, I’d recommend you consult with experienced developers who can not only build solid software for now but also predict your future needs: for example, more features on top or an increasing number of users.
Mobile tech stack
Mobile technologies depend on a platform. Now there are two major platforms: Android and iOS. If you want your app to be present on both, you need to either build two apps with native technologies or create one cross-platform application.
Native apps are built with technologies dedicated to a single platform created by either Google or Apple. The native technologies work perfectly with their respective platforms, as they were created specifically for them.
Cross-platform or hybrid apps work on third-party technologies that operate on both platforms. Some of these technologies are better, and some are worse, so if you want to create a single app for both platforms and save money, pay close attention to what cross-platform technology you choose.
- Programming languages 一 Java, Kotlin
- Development Tools 一 Android Studio, Android SDK
- UI frameworks 一 Jetpack Compose, Android UI, UI kit
- Programming languages 一 Objective-C, Swift
- Development Tools 一 Xcode, AppCode
- UI frameworks 一 UIKit, SwiftUI
Cross-platform frameworks include:
- React Native
- jQuery Mobile
Out of this list, I would strongly recommend either Flutter for small to mid-sized projects or React Native for large projects. Other frameworks typically lead to unscalable, inconsistent projects that need many fixes and roundabout solutions.
Note that the mobile technologies I mentioned above are responsible for the client’s side of an app. You’ll need web backend technologies to set up a database, a server, and APIs, that will connect all the components of your product.
Top marketing strategies for your tech startup
So, you’ve come a long way in developing your software product. How do you bring it in front of your target audience? There are several strategies you can use for that. I’d suggest that you start marketing your product before it’s developed. The sooner you start testing your marketing strategy, the better.
According to the lean startup strategy, you can test your target market for demand even if you don’t have a product at all. Usually, businesses demonstrate a prototype, or simply launch a landing page that explains their concept. They bring traffic to this landing page through paid ads and measure the number of people who clicked or left their email.
With this strategy, you can promote your product, test the demand, and get your first users that subscribe to your newsletter and are waiting for the product launch.
SEO and ASO
To promote your future or existing product, you can build a text or video blog and optimize it for search engines. This way, your target audience will be able to discover your product.
Create content for all the stages of the buyer journey: awareness, consideration, and decision. Answer the questions they typically ask at each stage, publish your work, and don’t forget about the calls to action.
If your tech startup is mobile, use App Store Optimization (ASO) to your advantage. Present your app on the app market, write a stellar description, add icons and screenshots, and encourage your users to leave reviews. When optimizing your app for app market engines, it’s essential to strike a balance between keywords and writing for your actual users.
Social media marketing
Social media can be a great source of new users for your tech startup. You can post text, videos, and images showing your product, partner with bloggers for more visibility, and work on brand awareness.
You can also encourage your users to create social media content. This will bring you new customers, build trust and increase your credibility.
Digital ads are great for experimenting and bringing short-term leads. This isn’t a long-term strategy, as it’s too expensive to run ads — in order to get results, you need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars.
However, you can use remarketing and other digital marketing tools to remind your users about your product.
Oftentimes, users go a long way before paying for a product or service. They read reviews and testimonials and ask for recommendations. You can build trust by turning your existing users into your advocates.
Encourage them to write reviews and case studies, share information about your product or directly refer their friends to you in exchange for bonuses, rewards, free product plans, keys, and other freebies.
If you choose a subscription-based monetization model, it’s a good idea to give your users a free trial first, so they can try your product out, especially if you don’t have many reviews yet. Your users will more likely subscribe to your service if they don’t need to make a huge commitment right off the bat.
Almost all digital companies like Canva, Dropbox, or HubSpot offer free trial versions of their product.
In this article, you’ve got a comprehensive guide into the world of tech product development for a non-tech founder. Of course, it doesn’t cover all aspects of how to start a tech startup; otherwise, this would be a whole book.
However, from Mobindustry experience, I can tell that our non-tech founders have become tech-savvy after a few months of working with us. We are always ready to explain what solutions we recommend and why, and you can get direct answers from developers, QA specialists, project managers, designers, and our CEO.
So, the key takeaways from this article are:
- Even if you’re not a tech person, you can launch a successful tech startup with the right partner
- In a partnership, your main goal is to share market and business expertise and define the strategic direction of your product
- It’s ideal if your tech partner can bring the business outlook to the table as well, instead of only coding what you tell them
- Communication is the most important aspect of your partnership with a tech expert, so talk with several vendors to find a perfect match
If you’re looking for a tech partner that can code and recommend solutions from a business perspective, make sure you shortlist Mobindustry and schedule a call with us. We’re very enthusiastic about building businesses that last, and will support you on all stages of your journey, just like a dedicated business and tech partner would.