How to build an app as a non-technical person

How to Build an App as a Non-Technical Person

So you have an idea for a web or mobile app, but you’re not a technical person. How are you going to build this thing? What’s the first step?

Building a tech product as a non-technical person may seem daunting at first, but there are a lot of different ways for you to get the job done. Want to turn your idea into a reality? Here are some options:

Go ask your coder friend

The unfortunate reality is if you’re planning on trying to start a company, a technical co-founder is key in the long-term. Even Y-Combinator says,

“We’ll consider funding you, but your chances are about ten times better if you find yourself a technical cofounder.”

I think almost everyone starts their journey by asking their friend to build an app for them. However, more often than not, this is not a good move. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • Coders get pitched by multiple people a day to build something. Why your idea?
  • Coders are almost always working on other side projects and won’t be able to dedicate 100% time to you.
  • Just because they can code, doesn’t mean they are the right person for your job.

Without any type of validation, it’s almost impossible to convince a coder to build something for you. It’s a real chicken-and-egg problem — they won’t build anything unless you can validate the idea, but you can’t validate the idea without building something.

So what do you do? Talk to people, do some market research, and build a basic MVP (minimum viable product) to prove that your idea is worth pursuing.

But I don’t know how to code, so how exactly am I suppose to build an MVP?

Hack together your own MVP

Ever heard of Product Hunt? It has exploded and become the go-to resource for discovering the coolest new products and startups.

Did you know that the first Product Hunt was made in 20 minutes?

That’s right. The first Product Hunt wasn’t perfect or pretty, but it was enough to validate the idea and recruit some people to build it.

The first version of your product doesn’t need to be complicated. Building a barebones MVP gives you the opportunity to do 3 things really quickly:

  1. Prove there’s a market for your idea
  2. Get something in the hands of potential users, so you can solicit feedback
  3. Adjust and iterate, so the next version is way better

Can you do everything manually and then build the technology later? Can you mimic the social network you want to build by using a Facebook group or subreddit? It’s time to get creative.

However, in some industries, a hacked together product simply won’t get the job done. In highly competitive, crowded markets (I’m thinking security and finance for example), you might need an advanced MVP to test your idea. Another possible scenario is you might have ample industry experience and know that there is a definite need for what you’re building. You just need to build it quickly.

That’s where software development companies come into play.

Use a software development company

There are more and more software development companies popping up everyday, which makes choosing the right one really hard.

Choosing the right company greatly depends on you preferences. Here are 4 factors to take into consideration when choosing a company:

  • Cost vs. Quality – This is an important one. Do you want to build for speed or quality? This is the general tradeoff in any software build. If a firm says that they can build the highest quality product in the shortest amount of time, you should probably run in the opposite direction.
  • In-Person vs. Virtual Teams – Are you the type of person that communicates better in face-to-face situations? If so, then you should strongly consider using a local company. Although you’re greatly limiting whom you can work with, having a company that you can sit down and meet with may make all the difference.
  • Onshore vs. Offshore – Again, this point boils down to quality and communication. If you don’t have experience working with people overseas, then I’d recommend going with a company in the US. If cost is a major issue, then offshoring can be a great option (you can find people through sites like, oDesk, and Elance). If you do choose to go with offshoring, then the vetting process becomes extremely important. I’ll get into how to vet overseas companies in a later post.
  • Ruby on Rails vs. Python vs. Node.js vs. PHP vs. Everything Else – There are a ton of different technologies and platforms you can use to build your product. You don’t need to know the nitty gritty about each one, but it’s definitely worth doing a little research to get a high-level overview. At SotoLabs, we use Ruby on Rails because it allows you to rapidly prototype and quickly build features. However, it really just depends on what you’re looking for and the type of app you’re building.

Ok I understand my options and I’ve decided to use a software development company. What’s next?

It’s time to start talking to companies.

I would recommend talking to as many companies as you can. This includes the top-notch companies (shout out to thoughtbot and Hashrocket for Ruby on Rails), local companies, and offshore companies. Give each company the exact same overview of your project and see what type of proposals they come up with. Then, put them all in an Excel sheet and start comparing.

Want to learn more about our process at SotoLabs? Don’t really care about our process, but want to chat anyway? Send me an email at

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