By Ellie Cachette As one of several experts in product building I am often pitched ideas--app ideas, business ideas, startup ideas, “ It’s like the uber of XYZ!” Oddly enough some of the best and most disruptive app ideas I’ve heard are from non-technical people. One of the biggest complaints I hear is how people wish they were “more technical” or “knew how to program” but the truth is 70% of an idea can be fleshed out before any coding even happens. Sometimes if you have easy access to engineers (or code yourself) you may find that hours get lost building when there wasn’t a solid plan to begin with. While the concept of “build fast, fail faster” seems reasonable to most startups, why not just figure out the tech before making tech? Why not test demand and features before any coding takes place? (see also 5 Trends to Consider with App Ideas) There are lots of different ways one can validate or flesh out a tech idea before even building “the tech.” Here are some tips for building tech without building tech:
- Check Market Demand
Market demand is a way of seeing if the space or industry is ready for your idea or app. Are there other similar apps around? Are there other technologies being built around the idea? I would look around Product Hunt, search google, App stores… and see what is out there already. If there isn’t much competition, that is actually bad news for you. It means it will be harder to get users (aka User Acquisition) and educate a whole space. The existence of competitors is a good and healthy sign. Your marketing costs will also be lower, because if people know of a competitor they can generally understand what you do too.
- Check User Demand
Do users even want your app or technology? Perhaps you like the idea but how many “you’s” are there in the world? If there are less than 100,000 you’s, then don’t do it. Flesh out the idea more and figure out what problem you are solving. User demand can also be demand in general, as in whether people are already looking to solve the problem. The best way to check this can be as simple as asking others if they would use your app or doing polls or research. Figure out who your first beta users will be before even scoping an idea. Sign them up now, make an email list, make a splash page, and ask around. Are people comfortable with the idea of what your app would do or be called? Is the timing right?
- Run Product Validation
Another tip that can be done in parallel to other items while figuring out your idea is product validation. This is a way of imagining what the product would do, what the core features would be and if the product actually makes sense in a real life scenario. One way to work this out without writing one line of code would be to prototype it. Several apps make it very easy to create a prototype or fake app like Marvel, Framer, or Invision. Try to create and walk through as much of the product as possible from beginning to end. If that doesn’t work find Product Validation checklists online or use templates and tricks from books.
- Understand Dev Costs
At some point before fleshing out your tech idea, you should get familiar with how much development will cost. Fleshing out a product idea for a couple more weeks before starting development could save you $40,000. Once development is in progress, things are expensive and well planned. It’s hard to scale back and slow things down once the ball is rolling. Be prepared: development costs add up quickly.
- Prioritize app features
Similar to product validation, try to think about and rank features based upon usefulness or value. Another way to look at features is cost vs. return. For example, if a feature will cost $10,000 to make, is it worth $10,000 in value? It’s hard to say, of course, if you aren’t technical. That’s why it’s even more important to focus on budget and value. What value does your app or idea bring? How big of a problem does that solve? Would you be willing to spend $100,000 or more on a idea? Even at the most basic level, mobile apps cost $50,000-$250,000 to pull off successfully.
- Look for Threats
This gets a bit tricker especially for first time founders but look around for threats. Would your app be dependent on another platform like Facebook or Twitter? Does another company control your destiny? In the early stages, you need to work with partners, but you also need to limit risks as much as possible. Look around and see if there’s anything that could harm your idea. Reduce and eliminate these risks as much as possible.
- Make an RFP
An RFP is a Request for Proposal and a document used when shopping around for developers and technical help. A good RFP not only helps you become more organized, but also helps your vendors to be organized in their response. Some websites like gigster will even let you upload your RFP for fast development budgets and quotes in return. Make an RFP and start to give your idea the legs it needs to walk ;) Knowing how to code isn’t a requirement for launching and building an idea. There are plenty of good reasons to hire experts and product builders to help along the way. Getting expertise isn’t cheap, however, so do your best to build out the tech before building tech. About the guest blogger: Ellie Cachette is an advisor at Koombea and contributor for Huffington Post and Inc.com. Listed as one of the Top 7 Women in Tech to follow and alumna of Springboard Enterprises, Ellie is an expert on product building. Read her book Guide to Software Development Agreements: Bringing Ideas to Apps or follow her on Twitter at @ecachette