Should entrepreneurs know how to code?

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Perfecting your product before testing it in the market is an outdated approach, many have argued. But what if coding a technical solution isn't necessary, either?

In a post on entrepreneurship blog, author Dharmesh Shah speaks about the importance of testing the market first with a minimal viable product (MVP) to attract customers and iterate the product according to their feedback. There's no need to gain extensive experience in coding, web development, and designing a website or even looking for a technical co-founder before testing a product in the market, he explains, if entrepreneurs focus on what counts.

Focus on the ‘who’ not the ‘how’

What matters most to customers is that a service works. Whether its inner workings are automated or manual, machine or human, customers simply want it solved well, Shah argues. So entrepreneurs looking to test out an idea on a shoestring don’t need to set up a sophisticated customer support system from the outset, if they can handle it manually.

One example Shah draws on to make his point is Tastemaker, an online platform that connects house owners with interior designers. Rather than spend time designing an advanced solution, the founders began by cataloguing customers’ needs with good old fashion pen and paper.

Tools for building a quick prototype 

This method applies best to services companies; if tech is a business’ core service, then pen and paper won't be a quick solution for assessing market demand. But for those that want to build something quickly to test market demand:

  • For e-commerce businesses, a comprehensive payment solution can help entrepreneurs set up a payment gateway without doing any coding work. In the Middle East, Gate2Play combines several options in one, while ShopGo integrates solutions into a fully customizable e-commerce platform, and PayFort also offers multiple payment options.
  • For customer management systems, Zendesk, Uservoice or GetSatisfaction can come in handy.
  • For building websites, WordPress is an easy and free solution. Strikingly and Unbounce are another couple of resources that Shah lists that can help create a beautiful landing page.

By using the various tools that are available, entrepreneurs can build a minimum viable product without being tech gurus. And finding innovative alternatives to costly solutions could even attract the attention of investors.

The ‘do-it-yourself’ approach also applies to testing new markets; iterating a product gradually, launching via web only, and hiring a few talented team members can help startups decide whether a market is worth entering. When going for a land grab, it can be tough to hold back, but expanding too quickly will easily kill a startup.

A scalable solution is still necessary

Shah's point isn't that startups should forgo tech skills altogether; after all, automating processes is necessary for scaling. After gaining a good number of satisfied customers, for example, Tastemaker then built an online platform to replace the manual work. 

At Wamda, we've heard time and time again that, especially thanks to the scarcity of reliable freelance developers, building a startup without a technical cofounder is extremely difficult. In this environment, startups that are serious about their ideas should be ready with a known developer on hand, to be able to scale their idea once they've found market demand. Few things are worse than finding a viable solution to a market need and being held back by a lack of talent.  

Did you agree that startups should test without immediately worrying about developing a technical solution?  

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