Help for non-technical founders

We’re living in an age of online entrepreneurs. The number of people going out on their own has grown even in the most risk-averse cultures. (hello, Belgium!)

Nowadays, there is no entrepreneurship without software. Even the simplest proverbial lemonade stand uses an amount of technology that would puzzle its 1980’s counterpart.

Services like Zapier allow not-too-tech-savvy people to link together services and to automate workflows. In the very near future, No-Code-platforms will do the same for the average back-office tooling.

For most startups, that will be enough. A subset of them will need the dreaded “custom software development”.

Building custom software is expensive. It’s bloody hard. It requires you to find out what you want while figuring out what the tech can do for you. If you don’t have a technical background, you’re doomed to rely on a vendor who hopefully understands you. It’s dangerous.

Here are a few tips that can help you mitigate the risks.

Be sceptical

When a telecom provider cold calls you and proposes the deal of a lifetime, an entrepreneur thinks twice. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When it comes to software vendors, you should be equally critical. Do you really need to pay for a Scrum Master? Do we really need 5 developers? Is .NET really the best tech stack for this problem? Are there no Open Source solutions for parts of our problem?

Get at least three offers from different vendors and see where they match and where they differ.

Don’t manage

A surefire way to waste a lot of money is to get the cheapest freelance dev and have her build the system while you manage. Building software is a skill, but knowing HOW to build software is a completely different one. Get someone on board who knows how to do both. They will cost more, but the results will be exponentially better. Scratch that last sentence: they are cheaper in the long run.

Perfect is the enemy of great

You’re not building a perfect business. You would run out of money before you land your first customer. Same goes for your software systems. Lean into the limitations. It’s OK to have missing features. Each feature you build should be urgent. Don’t waste your resources on nice-to-have.

Keep it simple

In 85% of the cases, you don’t need an app. In 100% of the cases, you don’t need AI/Blockchain. If you’re pushing out an MVP, it’s your job to keep it as simple as possible. The first version should be embarrassingly simple. We’ve all read The Lean Startup, yet most entrepreneurs order platforms like they’re IBM. Keep it simple.

Prepare to learn

You know that you don’t know everything about your business upfront. You’re trailblazing and you know how to adapt to new insights and circumstances.

You’ll need the same mindset while developing software. You can’t write down a requirements document, ship it to India and expect a product that matches your business. You are not clairvoyant, they are not telepaths.

Be flexible and sail on the feedback of small iterations.

Get help

You wouldn’t start a company without consulting an accountant, right? So why build a software product without getting expertise first? Discuss your plans with a few senior developers and see what they come up with. You’ll spend a limited amount of money for invaluable insights. It’s a no-brainer.

As with every entrepreneurial endeavour, there are no guarantees. There are a million things that could go wrong with your product. Software development should not be the show stopper. If you play your cards right, you’ll build an imperfect-yet-simple system that supports you in taking your business to the next level.

That’s what you’re looking for, right?