Great idea, limited tech knowledge. What now?
February 3, 2014 10:08 AM   Subscribe

In 2014,what options are now available to an entrepreneur with very limited tech knowledge? Is it now more feasible to build a (Minimum Viable Product) site using more turnkey methods, like site builders, pre-made themes, etc., than it used to be? I realize that really getting something tuned to where I ultimately want it will require tech help. But to get the ideas roughed in and functioning, so as to attract investment and help, what can a non-programmer do/use nowadays?
posted by skypieces to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to depend entirely on what it is, exactly, that you're trying to build and how you envision it working. Are you talking about a company that sells services that could sit on top of an e-commerce suite? Facebook for owl lovers? AirBNB for cars? Just a blog and company site?

FWIW I'm a big fan of Squarespace, but if you're going to need to integrate it with some massive bespoke engine based on something like Django in the future, that may not be your best choice.
posted by Andrhia at 10:18 AM on February 3, 2014

Best answer: I agree that this will depend a lot on what you're trying to build.

Do you live in a tech hub (NYC, SV, Austin, Boston, etc.) If so, I would start networking with entrepreneurs and ask them for some guidance.

A high level outline would look like this:

--What problem ("pain point") are you trying to solve
--Create wireframes for it
--Determine the technology (software, programming languages required)
--Develop the MVP or hire a consultant to develop the MVP
--Solicit customer feedback

This is pretty much the "lean startup" method, described by Eric Ries in his book of the same name.
posted by dfriedman at 10:38 AM on February 3, 2014

Best answer: If the tech is the important part of the idea, then the best and only real option is to learn some tech or hire/partner with someone who already understands it. (Not least because if you're having ideas about technology in ignorance of how that technology works, your ideas probably aren't as good as you think they are.)

If the technology is primarily important to the idea only in the sales and marketing sense, then yes, you can get quite a long way with a nicely themed wordpress or equivalent site and a turnkey ecommerce solution.
posted by ook at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Orthodox MVP strategy is to create as little as possible until you start getting money from people. This is highly dependent on your skills, so sometimes this requires a sitebuilter placeholder page, a la launchrocket or weebly, sometimes it's just the sales pitch, mockup, or video. Having an actual prototype is well down the road if you want to do true MVP, but this is just to acknowledge that it's not required.
posted by rhizome at 11:38 AM on February 3, 2014

Response by poster: Further clarification: The basic site idea is user ratings and short reviews on local events. Some capabilities considered include venue-submitted photo uploads, press releases, etc.; audience-submitted photos of events and attendees; social media sharing of various elements; a collection of profiles of area artists; etc. Biggest function is user ratings and reviews.
posted by skypieces at 12:05 PM on February 3, 2014

Check out Founder Dating (connect with potential co-founders) and Founder Suite (get a demo and financing).

Also, read Ideas vs. Execution. This is Startup Canon... you won't like it, but it's true.
posted by rada at 12:06 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just saw your update. So your idea is... to clone Facebook Groups, Google+, Meetup, Ning and a myriad other super popular websites that do this really well already? Can't you just host and grow a group using one of these services?
posted by rada at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2014

Response by poster: @Rada: In short, no. Without laying out an extensive explanation of how this site would serve the niche I work in, I can only tell you that none of the services you list, nor any other I have found in my years of working in this, serve this need adequately, least of all Facebook.
posted by skypieces at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2014

So, okay, yeah, the specific technology is basically irrelevant to your idea, as those are very very well-trodden paths at this point.

It sounds like there would be little if anything for you to learn from wireframing or building out a demo. Instead, if you're looking for investment and help you should probably focus primarily on solid pitches for the "what pain points are you trying to solve" and the "why this particular user niche would benefit from re-inventing this particular wheel" questions, not to mention the "how will you combat the network effect and draw your userbase away from the many well-established sites already doing essentially the same thing".

I have to say I share rada's skepticism: an idea that boils down to "It's [well-known existing business], but for [different user niche]" is pretty much not an idea at all.
posted by ook at 12:59 PM on February 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the gestalt is that the more competition there is, the more proof (product) is going to be required to demonstrate differentiation.
posted by rhizome at 2:11 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: While I appreciate all the unsolicited opinions about the feasibility of this specific idea, they do not address my question. This is not the only idea brewing. My question was about tools that may be available to tech-challenged entrepreneurs now that might not have been available a few years ago.
posted by skypieces at 6:00 PM on February 3, 2014

You might be able to build a functioning demo using Drupal, some books, and some time. A lot of the functions you mention can be put on a page without having to do heavy duty coding. It's not going to be a good long term solution for you if you're expecting a lot of traffic but it's something you could get rolling with.
posted by Candleman at 8:10 PM on February 3, 2014

Best answer: Given the description of your specific idea, I would take a good hard look at the WordPress ecosystem. There's enough docs on WordPress that even if you don't have a huge amount of tech background, you might be able to swing it together. (Drupal has a very high learning curve.)

BuddyPress, maybe a Rating Widget. You might grow out of this set up, but it might at least give you something to start with.
posted by foxfirefey at 8:19 PM on February 3, 2014

It really sounds like you need someone that knows how to build you a database backend, and then a user interface/graphic designer to make you a nice site. Making a bare bones prototype is going to take significant time. The reason you need someone with technical knowledge is not that you cant do it yourself, its just that those techies have spent years acquiring the skill to make something like this and you haven't done that yet. If your driven to create something like this, maybe you should just go to the effort of teaching yourself the coding and photoshop skills necessary to do it yourself, but its going to take you a couple years to get there.

That being said, ya check out wordpress that shizs ligit.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 12:43 AM on February 4, 2014

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