Not all makers are technical. Most of them do have a technological background, in the sense that they either have experience at a startup or a big tech company, have a career in digital, such as marketing or UX design, or at least are passionate about technology in a way or another. But many do not know how to code. Traditionally, these non-technical people would have been advised to pair up with a technical co-founder to start their tech company.
However, the many breakups of fragile founding teams as well as a need for more independence have given rise to a new generation of solo entrepreneurs who do not want to compromise for the sake of starting a business. Additionally, this new breed of founders tend to favour bootstrapping over raising money, which removes the artificial pressure put on them to create a founding team.
The freedom to make their own choices sounds great, but how on earth do you go about building a product when you don’t know how to code and do not want to join forces with a technical co-founder?
There are several alternatives. You could pay an agency or a freelancer to build your product for you. You could use a combination of no-code solutions. Or you could learn how to code. Each of these options has pros and cons.
Built for you
There are many web agencies and developers out there who will be happy to build your product for you – or at least a first version – in exchange for an appropriate amount. As a solo founder, it is very unlikely that the amount they consider appropriate will be the same you had in mind. Which makes sense, as they are doing this for a living.
What if you have lots of money saved, I hear you ask? Even if that’s the case, you should probably not outsource the creation of the first version of your product. Outsourcing is really not that different from building a full-time team from the ground up. First, a bad choice could have a terrible impact on the future of your company. Second, you will need to manage other people on a day-to-day basis and will be responsible for the quality of their output. Which defeats the point of being a solo maker.
Lastly, if your goal is to bootstrap your company, you should try to aim for profitability as soon as possible. Agencies and freelancers are great, but they are costly. If you are a bootstrapper, they should be used once your business is already making money, not before product/market fit, and certainly not pre-product.
Look mom, no code
If you want to keep complete control over the design of your product and don’t know how to code, there has never been a better time to consider starting a business as a non-technical founder. The rise of no-code is real, whether people like it or not.
No-code products are very cost efficient, quick to build, and accessible to anyone who knows how to use a computer. You could potentially get an MVP up-and-running in a few hours. The question is whether it is a viable long-term option.
Some makers have been criticising the high number of dependencies of no-code products. While you do have control over how you design your product, you are at the whim of the companies providing these no-code products, many of them are fast-moving startups themselves. Should they decide to change the way their solution work, or their pricing, or to be acquired or shut down, you may have to change the fundamental structure of how your product works.
Additionally, it is hard to claim any sort of IP when your technology can be duplicated by signing up to any of the solutions you are using for your product – which is very easy to reverse-engineer. This is not necessarily an issue especially as it is unlikely that the value of your startup will lie in a unique tech your developed anyway.
Ultimately, no-code products currently offer a great rapid prototyping solution. A no-code MVP is better than no MVP, and may be useful to figure out if there is demand for your product. But with the limited functionality of no-code products, you will probably soon enough find yourself stuck if you want to take things to the next level.
Teach a man to fish
Within the no-code movement, the most likely companies to truly succeed are the providers of no-code solutions themselves. I believe they will empower millions of people to experiment with business ideas, create mini-apps, interactive websites, and ad hoc tools for their business or for their personal use.
But no-code solutions tend to focus on given patterns which lack the functionality code offers. For this reason, it is likely that for solo makers wishing to build something unique, learning how to code will remain for many years the way to go.
And we are fortunate to live in a time and age where learning how to code has never been easier. Between online courses, bootcamps, free tutorials, and innovative education systems such as Lambda School, anyone willing to dedicate a few hours a week to learning how to code could get to a decent level without ever leaving their couch.
Yes, the learning curve is a bit steeper – and even this could be argued against, as you would need to study many no-code solutions and understand them at a deep enough level to bring any complex idea to life. But the reward is total freedom, no dependencies, and infinite flexibility. Which doesn’t sound bad. Until AI codes everything for us, but then the tech industry would have many more philosophical questions to consider.