It seems impossible at first. When we have a great tech idea, most of us who are not developers never pursue our vision because we don't have a co-founder with a technical background. In reality, through hustle and a little creativity, you can get a company off the ground before you bring in your master coder. Below, I'll walk you through exactly how we built our company with limited technical know-how and limited financial resources.
Step 1: Push as far as you can with what you know.
Start by getting your vision out of your head and down on paper. Fill out a Lean Canvas, and understand your value proposition like the back of your hand. Once you've completed that, go interview 100 potential customers.
Next, write down the responses and look for patterns. (If you need help figuring out questions to ask or what to look for, take Steve Blank's class on Udacity for free.) After each set of interviews, start revising your canvas. I went through more than 30 lean canvases before writing a line of code for Alumnify.
After that, make wireframes. When we were starting out, we went with Balsamiq, which is simple and gives you a free trial. Then take your wireframes and show them to as many customers as possible to get feedback. Don't stop until you have 100 more interviews. Great, now we have an idea of who our customer is and what we need to build for a minimum viable product. Note that we did the Customer Discovery phase without any money or development experience.
Step 2: Learn the basics of development.
Start using Codecademy, Treehouse's free trial, or Code.org for two hours a day for about a month. It won't make you a CTO, but you'll start learning the basics of coding. Even having some understanding of what a developer does will help you be a better recruiter for your tech co-founder. After you get through some of the basic courses, find a free Web template online that you like. (I used freewebtemplates.com.)
Next, edit the text to describe what your company does, and start showing it to customers to see how much you can charge. In a short amount of time, we found out how much we could charge for our Version 1. To our surprise, we even made a couple of early commits to buy our initial product. (If this step is too tough, try seeing if WordPress can do the trick.)
Step 3: Recruit, recruit and recruit.
Now you have an idea of what your customer wants and what to charge. And you've gained an understanding of the people you need to get on board.
This is where you get our tech talent. Make a page on Angellist and start reaching out to developers. At the same time, use LinkedIn, your network, and go visit college classrooms. My co-founder and I would speak at every computer science class we could.
Since you're not dishing out cash, your equity is going to take a big hit here. If you're not willing to be generous, you'll never make it out of this step.
Unless you're lucky, it's going to take you a while before you find the right developer willing to come in on strict equity. Don't rush this process. Make sure you find someone who has a lion mindset and who you get along with. It's OK if that person can only do part-time. The lack of hours will force you to decide what's important, which is good if you're like me and have a habit of adding features for no reason.
Also, don't mess up when you have an interested developer by not letting him or her have input in the product. Your goal as a leader is to paint the picture of the final destination, but let the people you recruit help draw the map for how to get there. It'll be easier to recruit a tech co-founder once you build a relationship in which he or she has say in the company.
Step 4: Sell.
Once you get to this step, it's time to roll up your sleeves and start selling like crazy. You recruit talent by getting people to believe in your vision; you keep talent by earning your team's respect. The best way to do this if you're not building the product is to go out and start selling it. You need to prove yourself by standing on the frontlines, chasing down new business, and driving revenue. In a startup, you're not going to earn your team's trust by barking orders from the sidelines. Get your hands dirty and lead from the front. From here, find a scalable business model and you'll be well on your way.