How to Make an App When You Can’t Code (a Step-by-Step Guide)

You’ve dreamed up the perfect app idea, but your amount of technical knowledge is slim to none. Now what?

Coding experience isn’t necessarily vital upfront when it comes to making an app, so never fear. “People … essentially use the lack of this technical talent as an excuse to not get started when, in reality, it’s sort of this chicken-and-egg situation,” says Jonathan Greechan, co-founder of and head of marketing for The Founder Institute. “A lot of people think, ‘I can’t start the business until I have the technical founder — I can’t launch it,’ but in reality, you won’t find the technical founder unless you start building out the business.”

Many first-time tech founders think they need to find a team immediately, but in the early stages, the most vital part of your business is the product concept. Consider waiting to bring on a technical co-founder until you have a deep understanding of your market — because that understanding should inform who you want to partner with and the skills you’re looking for.

Your mission when making an app: Prove to the world — and to potential investors and customers — that you’ve got a sound business idea. Though it’s important to show people may eventually be willing to pay money for your app idea, focus more on creating an absolutely essential product for your market rather than generating revenue right out of the gate, says Rob Biederman, co-founder and co-CEO of Catalant Technologies

Here’s your go-to guide for building out your business idea — from identifying your audience to creating your app.

Narrow your idea, and focus on the problem you’re solving.

Before Nadia Masri, founder and CEO of Perksy, incorporated her company, she dove into researching the consumer insights industry and her target market: the millennial and Gen Z generations. Before you move forward with creating your app, you need to gather key intel, including gauging the strengths and weaknesses of competitive products. Just because you’ve dreamed up something great doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t had the same idea — and had it sooner.

“People … are intimidated to talk about their competition,” says Masri. “Competition is great — it validates a concept. I think there’s a healthy level: Too much competition means the market’s oversaturated; not enough competition might mean that the idea is not that viable.” Of course, take any sweeping generalization with a grain of salt, she says. If you size up the competition and know you can do something differently to provide greater value to your end user, you’ve got a fighting chance. Make sure your potential product or service is something that you yourself need and want, and do an extensive amount of research to validate your app idea.

While you’re narrowing that idea, make your goal to “solve one problem for one customer with one killer feature,” says Greechan. Apps that try to solve a slew of problems often take on too much — either they’re not solving any of the problems especially well, or none of the problems are especially important. Think about what would make you yourself download the app and — this is key — keep it on your phone.

Another way to think about the problem you’re solving: Consider the “customer pain point,” says Biederman. Ask yourself what the app needs to be able to do to satisfy customer pain, then consider the key requirements of that solution — the ones without which it would have zero value. Focus on solving that one problem incredibly well, and once you do that, “customers will end up basically helping you define your product road map,” says Greechan. You’ll receive requests for adding certain features, and you can use them to help chart your way forward in product development.

Pinpoint your audience, and test for demand.

Let’s say you’ve got 10 business ideas, and you know that the odds are only one of them will be successful. Would you choose one at random and fund it to fruition without doing your research? Or would you try your best to predict which of them is most viable, then put your time, energy and money behind that one? In a hypothetical scenario, it’s easy to say the latter. But once you have a tech business idea, there’s a psychological temptation to put everything behind it and hire developers from the get-go.

“It’s like going to the casino,” says Alexander Cowan, professor of technology management at The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “It’s exciting — you feel like you’re getting a shot at rolling the dice and seeing what happens. But the reality is you’re giving yourself one roll of the dice when you could be giving yourself five, and that’s a big mistake.”

Make it work on the cheap.

“Figure out the absolute cheapest way to have something that works that you can start offering to the target customer,” says Greechan. “In the beginning, you’re really just trying to release the [simplest] product that … solves one customer problem. You don’t need tons of technology to do that.”

Return to the original problem you’re trying to solve for your core audience, and make sure you’re focused in on it. “You want to prove as many things as you can about your end market and their pain and how you can solve it at minimum possible cost,” says Biederman.

Updated: August 20, 2019 — 2:08 pm
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