If I had a penny for every time that I heard the phrase – “I have this great idea, but I don’t have the coding skills to build it” – I would very rich by now. Over the past 3-4 years that I’ve been hanging around the entrepreneurial scene, I’ve met a lot of people who have ideas, but lamented about how difficult it is to get a developer on-board to help them.
Unfortunately, techies are in demand – there’s a no shortage of people looking for good developers that are experienced and able, but (sparked by reading Jennie Lee’s post about Entrepreneur School for non-technical founders, and an upcoming Interface3 project) I thought I would share some top tips to help any non-technical entrepreneurs to find a techie to get involved in their project.
(BTW, I’m assuming that you don’t have much money to pay the developer, if you do, then you don’t need to read this, but merely get your cheque book out)
1. Have a clear idea of what you want to build!
… and I don’t mean a generic statement like, “I want to build a website that helps people find stray cats <insert own functionality>“. Every techie’s nightmare is someone saying “Can you build me x?” because its the equivalent of finding a brickie and saying “Can you build me my dream home?”
When people ask me to build a website, the first thing I ask is “Have you got a design?” And what I’m doing there is trying to find out how much they’ve thought through the project. If not much, then it means I have to spend most of my time refining what needs to be built (i.e. working out the requirements) rather than actually building it: I need to work out what it needs to do, what it looks like, how many buttons it should have, and what data I need to store in order to make the whole thing work. To re-use the brickie analogy, the brickie would tell you to come back with some architectural plans.
If you really want to entice a techie, make sure you do as much of that work for them before you approach them. It means that all they have to do is build, not help you figure out what you want to build (get the difference?) So make sure you think through what the web app (or iPhone app) should do and look like. Here’s a rough process:
- Think about who your target audience is
- Go and ask them about whether they would like an app which does x
- If they say ‘yes’, ask them every question you can about why they would use your app, what for, and what functions they would expect to do the most
- Once you’ve asked lots of potential users, aggregate their responses and write down a list of the functions the app should perform
- Then go through the list of functionalities and add the inputs and outputs of those functions (when they press this, the app should return this)
- [THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT] Get a piece of plain paper, draw out what you think the first screen should look like. Include as much detail if you can – size, colour, font, pictures, if it includes data – where the data should come from
- For every link there is in your app, get another piece of paper and draw out what it should look like. Repeat until done
- Write down (and think through) how the user travels through your site (i.e. which page do they land on, and which page do you leave?)
- [THE OTHER IMPORTANT BIT] Go back to your potential users, ask them whether they like it. Take their feedback and improve your design until THEY (not you) are happy.
Once you have done all of that, THEN go and see a developer.
In the industry, we call that requirements gathering, paper prototyping and wireframing. That’s what User Experience (UX) experts do.
Most of the time, a developer’s time is wasted because people change their minds about what needs to be built. Make sure you get as close to what you think your users want before you start building. Of course there’ll be changes, but non-technical entrepreneurs can actually pre-empt a lot of changes without the need for a fully functioning prototype to elicit user feedback.
2. Have connections to your target market
Another important aspect to selling your vision and dream to a developer is to show that you can actually deliver on your part – sales and revenue! If you can demonstrate that you have the business contacts to make this app sell (or the skills to get people paying for your service), then that provides a much more enticing proposition.
I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they’ve got an idea for some app, with no concrete way of how they would get people to buy. Gone are the days where you can make millions from a web/iPhone app by simply existing. The number of people who make millions from iPhone apps are far and few between; I’ve come across people who genuinely think that they can make thousands of pounds from their app.
Demonstrate that you have the connections, that you can do the sales pitch, then the developers will follow.
3. Be prepared to pay something up front
The developers are taking a risk by doing some work for you. Be prepared to pay them something up-front, and perhaps revenue share afterwards. By paying – you’re showing that you’re serious. Or if you’re not paying them, keep them happy some other ways … whether that’s food, or cool tech toys, it’s important to recognise that it’s not only you that’s taking a risk on them, but also the other way round. Finally, make sure you listen to them as well!
(Also read this read/write/web article on how to build a web app)