This is a very common topic these days. A lot of people have what they think great ideas for an App, but they lack the technical skills to develop an App by themselves. I too was once in this situation myself and I think I am qualified to give some background to this common question.
I received the following question from Karen Zhang:
“Hi Joep, I have this idea for a social application and I feel that this App has unlimited potential to become very popular, I can’t wait to work on my App and to launch it as soon as possible. The problem is that I have no skills in coding what so ever. How do I find people to help me with my App and how should I approach this?”
– Karen Zhang, Hangzhou, China
First of all, thanks Karen for your question and your contribution to this week’s topic. I know your situation quite well as last year I was in a similar situation myself. To address your question straight up I have to say that this will be very difficult. There are certain circumstances where you could pull this off, but the reality is that this is very rare.
In order to answer your question, I will address several aspects and topics related to launching an App and the development cycle itself.
Ideas are not worth much
Everything starts with an idea. As much as we like think it but actually an idea is not worth anything. I too used to believe that the idea that I had been going to change the way people were connecting to each other, I believed my idea was worth something. But I was wrong.
It is the execution of an idea where the real value is generated. The idea itself is just that, an idea, something intangible and floating on thin air. Still when we have ideas, we are often reluctant of sharing them with those around us, like they could just steal our idea and more important our passion for the idea itself.
Ideas are good and I would encourage anyone to write down as many ideas as possible on a daily basis. Not ideas that are going to make you rich, no, write down ideas that could add value to those around you. Turn yourself in an idea generator and share as many without limits, eventually you will become a hub for great ideas.
Why development skills matter
Coders and developers are in high demand, as I mentioned before the tech market is booming and there are plentiful opportunities for skilled coders that are looking for a gig. That also means that these developers have plenty of choices to select on projects that they think are interesting, either motivated by prestige, money, companies vision or something else. They can also work on their own project and create something themselves for their own benefit.
In other words, why would a developer join a project with someone who has no technical knowledge and merely brings an idea to the table, they have plenty of other options. Now a non-technical co-founder could have an advantage when they would bring something value to the table the developer does not have access to. This can be a myriad of things such as capital, connections or proven marketing and product launch skills.
Remember that until the App is fully developed, the value of the App and your associated company is zero. Like I said before, ideas are not worth anything, market research or a business plan neither. An App is worth money because it either has a special source code that others don’t have but could be valued to them and/or a large user base.
So what are your options?
Now when you find yourself in a similar situation like Karen there are a couple of things that you could do.
1. Add real benefits to the team
In case you haven’t already you could focus on bringing tangible benefits to the table beside the idea. Maybe you have access to capital, early investors, an inspiring mentor or something else that could bring substantial unique benefit to the company.
2. Connect with potential developers
You could also reach out of your normal network and find people who are interested in the development of App and have a technical background. Know that this won’t be easy and that you need to come with a convincing story as to why they should join you and your idea. If you go down this road expect that you will need to offer a part of your future company and it might be a good idea to learn a little bit how to code yourself to improve the communication with your potential partner.
3. Learn how to code yourself
There are a lot of great (often free!) online tools that learn you how to code. I have tried to learn how to code myself before and I should warn you that it is a long way from novice to a full-stack developer. Nonetheless, it could help you to better understand what kind of technical person you need and it would ease communications. I personally liked Codecademy and CodeSchool for their formats and structure.
If you plan on launching a less complicated application (something like a simple game), it is possible to develop your own App as a novice. However, expect to put in a lot of work and countless hours. If you are looking at something a little more complex I personally think it is mission impossible, that is not to discourage you or to be a pessimist, but what I think is a reality.
4. Spend some real money
Now if you have deep pockets you can outsource the process of App development entirely. There are numerous portals such as Freelancer where you can post your idea and people can bid on your project. You can also work with an App development company that takes over the entire project for you. As you presumably have no technical knowledge it is hard to know if are getting played or not. The design and interface can look really good but it could be the backend is loaded with bad code, eventually giving you more problems.
Another important aspect to take in consideration is that real App development is expensive. If you are looking at a social App like Karen you might be looking to spend close to 20,000 USD for a first version, that excludes future iterations and updates. You can find it cheaper, but you might end up with bad code, no support, something completely different than you expected or simple copy paste work.
My personal experience
I was in a similar situation like Karen last year. I had this idea about a social app that would change how people travel and share things. Albeit knowing my way around a computer, I am nowhere close to a developer or a coder. Since I didn’t want to spend the money on developing an App and I didn’t have access to a developer, I decided to learn how to code myself.
Although I did pick up some useful things along this journey, I realised that developing the App I had in mind was going to take a very long time. Ultimately I decided that I was going to put my focus elsewhere. I keep track of all my ideas and when the situation is right I can always adapt my focus depending on the current situation.
It is possible to make money from developing an App even though you are not a developer. A great example of this is someone like Pat Flynn who earns a modest but steady monthly income solely from Apps that he and his partner developed.
Personally I think that if you are no developer you should first focus on building you brand and audience before investing time and money in an App. Once you have created some credibility with other types of online businesses it is easier to launch an app using your existing channels.
What do you think and what are your personal experiences with App Development? As always I am looking forward to your comments below!