Hustle, Not Code

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Don't know how to code? Don't let that hold you back, says this founder, who explains how she replaced lack of tech expertise with sheer hustle. By Grace Sales (Founder & Designer, CardWiX)

Once upon a time, I had this idea that sat on my brain for two years. It involved developing a web application that saves time by automating business card scanning. Part of the idea came from my strong background in client relationship management software (CRM).

One problem: I don’t know how to code. But I know how to hustle.

Getting Started

Instead of finding a co-founder who knew how to code, I sat down and poured my thoughts onto pieces of paper and napkins. I needed to piece the puzzle together in order to come up with a basic prototype. I zeroed in on a basic design: I have to be in control and see what everyone is doing on my site. I also want to know if customers get their project on time and if they are satisfied. Doesn’t sound hard, does it?

I returned to the drawing board and divided the design into two segments: the front end side, which is what the customer sees, and the back end side, which is how the project is done. On the front end side, the customer doesn’t care how it is done. They care about the results and how easy it is to use the software. The software has to be user-friendly or no one will use it. On the backend side, I focused on protecting the data of my customers, as well as finding a way to get the data done in the shortest possible time without sacrificing quality.

It’s All About the Customer

With these components in mind, I focused on the experience of a customer ordering online. I asked myself basic questions like "If I click on this button, what will I see?" Or, "If someone searches the web and happens to land on my site, how can I convert them into a customer?" "Are the colors visually appealing or will they turn off my customers?"

With no background in graphic design or coding, I compared dozens of websites and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each site. As I progressed with my design, I sent out surveys and text messages to friends, potential customers, focus groups and crowdsourcing sites to gather feedback. I never lost sight of the customer’s pain points, which are the driving force behind the web application. If I can’t eliminate the paper clutter, save time, protect data or make the service cheap, why would they solicit my services? I had to find a way to incorporate these pain points into the design of the application.

Just when I thought that I had no problem talking to people, I found myself facing nerve-wracking situations. My first opportunity to speak and introduce myself came in a room full of seasoned business owners. I heard my voice crack as soon as I introduced myself. Looking back, the rehearsed elevator speech sounded robotic.

Because of that awful experience, I threw myself into countless networking events. Someone suggested that I join toastmasters to improve my speaking skills, so I did. Another invited me to become a business workshop volunteer. Every day, I was looking for opportunities to talk to people from different industries.

In as little as two months, I kicked my confidence level up more than a notch. I went from being nerve stricken to being able to strike a conversation with a stranger about my service. I learned to polish my elevator speech, to shut up and listen, to ask advice from mentors, to identify potential clients and to follow up after a networking event. I was even invited to speak to groups. I had to tweak my business plan and attend a 16-week business workshop. My law degree and business background came in handy when we dove into the legal and financial analysis of the business.

Real Test

I survived the technical glitches, beta testing and other technical jargon thrown at me by my developers and focus groups. After a series of back and forth discussions with my developers, I picked up new terms like bugs, API, beta test, alpha test, wireframe, prototypes, etc. I learned cool sites like Adobe kuler, balsamiq (which is not the vinegar you put on salad), amazon mechanical turk, PR web, etc. I enjoyed every part of my half-geek life.

It was time to do a beta launch. I’m a solo founder and not venture-backed, so there was no fanfare. The reality was that my site was going to be one among the millions of websites out there. The real test for me was not about the idea. It was about whether people will buy the idea because I can solve their problems, because they are curious or for some other reasons.

Who was my first paying client? A former Morgan Stanley lawyer who is now an angel investor.

Obtaining additional outside funding when the time comes is another story for another time. For now, I’m focusing on how to grow my business. Today, while keeping my customers' pain points at the forefront of my endeavors, I continue to innovate and keep my customers happy. You see, I am enjoying every part of my entrepreneurial life — especially the hustle.

Do you agree that enough hustle can compensate for a lack of coding skills?

photoAbout the guest blogger: Grace Sales is the founder and designer of CardWiX, a web app that solves business cards clutter and organizes data into usable formats. In addition to her extensive background in CRM, she incorporates her legal, IT and business backgrounds to explore innovative solutions. Follow her on Twitter at @CardWiX