Ribo is an online marketplace for everyday tasks.
If you’re like me, your perception of what successful tech entrepreneurs should look like was heavily influenced by The Social Network and other such films. Since the early 2000s, however, there have also been numerous examples of non-technical founders who went on to create multi-billion dollar businesses. Which is why not having an engineering background should not hold you back. Today, free resources and no-code tools make it easier than ever before for non-developers to build, test and deploy digital products and services. Here’s how I did it.
Launch now, fix later
As Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, puts it: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” At the idea stage, your primary objective should be to come up with the fastest — and cheapest — way to test the key assumptions about your product and business model. For me, that meant creating a simple landing page with Webflow, buying a domain on GoDaddy, and publishing the site.
Having a fully fledged iOS app developed from scratch would have been far too expensive and time-consuming. Instead, I designed my website so as to include only the most essential features needed to solve my users’ problem: a PayPal button to accept payments, a Facebook Messenger plug-in for live chat support, and a MailChimp-enabled signup field to collect a list of potential customers.
Talk to people
Once you have built a functioning prototype, you might be tempted to just sit back and wait for hordes of customers to start flocking to your site. Unfortunately, that never happens.
Fear of rejection is a feeling experienced by every human. But you can’t let negative emotions get in the way. If you’re an aspiring startup founder, I would advise coming in with a thick skin from the get-go. That includes opening yourself up to the possibility of being challenged by others. Remember: as beautiful and elegant as it may be, your product is not a painting to be exhibited in a museum! It is a solution to a problem that exists out there, in the real world.
By putting your MVP in front of people right away, you can start gathering actionable feedback, and kick off the iterative process. Predictably, my first few demos and interviews were with friends and family members. Yet, it was when I moved on to a more unbiased audience that I felt like I was making actual progress. Specifically, I joined several online groups devoted to startups and entrepreneurship. To my initial surprise, I found a remarkably supportive community, with members proactively helping each other out with early product development, user testing, market research, and more. Within a few dozen conversations, I had learned what felt like months’ worth of customer outreach, which in turn allowed me to progressively improve on the messaging, refine the user interface, and streamline the purchase funnel.
The million dollar question
Keeping overhead to a minimum and doing things that don’t scale are critical ingredients to testing your business hypothesis. Finding product-market fit is something even superstar teams struggle to achieve. At the idea validation stage, however, you should concentrate on two questions: 1) Is there a demand for what I’m building? 2) And is the problem I’m seeking to address intense, frequent and/or expensive enough to warrant a new approach?
Conducting interviews and focus groups can go a long way, but don’t be fooled: when potential customers tell you they would consider buying your product, that does not at all translate to them being prepared to part with their hard-earned cash outside of a controlled workshop setting. You know you’ve identified an untapped opportunity when, despite early design flaws and limited usuability, your prototype is so much better than any alternative on the market at solving a particular pain point that customers are willingly paying full-price for it. That’s why it is so important for MVPs to be functional from the outset, and why experts generally recommend not giving your product away for free.
When our first few paying customers contacted us, we had set up a process by which users would be charged a fixed fee if, and only if, they were 100% satisfied with our service. We were skeptical people would tell us their honest opinions when they could just lie and reap the benefits of our service for free, but suspected no one would pay in advance either. Additionally, we had no mechanism in place to ensure that even happy customers would go through with the payment. Yet, in the end, they all did. This gave us a huge confidence boost, and made us realize we might be on to something.
The big leap
At first, you may well decide not to put all of your eggs in one basket by keeping your current position and working on your project part-time after work and during the weekends. It’s not an easy feat to juggle between two jobs, but some people manage to pull it off. Once you have successfully validated your idea, though, you must eventually decide whether or not to commit to it full-time. That’s when the real work begins. So, put together a team, raise some money, and launch your business. Good luck!
Feel free to reach out and learn more about our journey at AskRibo! 🚣