Rob Woodhead


May 12, 2021

Where to turn when you want to build tech?

Imagine, if you can, that you are a budding entrepreneur with an exciting concept for a new app. You’ve done your market research, identified your customers, you’ve even found someone to fund the initial stages. In fact you’ve done everything you need to launch the business except actually build the damn thing.

How do you do that? Where do you even start?

Now imagine another scenario. You work at a SME and have been asked to head up the “digitisation” of the business. After some googling to figure out what that might actually entail, you decide the best option is to build a web-based platform to automate the delivery of your services and reach a wider audience.

But who do you get to build it? Where do you even start?

Well, in this article, the first installment of the Old.St Labs Insights series, we are going to explore these situations. At the end of last year Rob L wrote a blog about his journey with tech development, and so we thought why not start by expanding on some of his ideas. We hope to offer some insights into the world of tech development for those new to the field, and provide some useful tips to anyone finding themselves with the prospect of building software. We’ll start at a pretty high level, but aim to get into more of the detail over the rest of the series.

OK so back to the scenarios.

How are you getting on as the budding start-up founder or innovation lead? Exciting times, but it can be pretty daunting to be in either of their shoes. How you are going to build your tech is a big decision to make, it could have a big impact on the business and a wrong decision could be very costly. If you haven’t got any experience with tech, the whole area can appear like a foreign land, with a different language and a whole set of confusing acronyms. So you are going to need guides, translators, or someone who can show you how to navigate through all the options and help avoid the various pitfalls.

What are some of the options available to you?

Teach yourself to code!

So this is probably the cheapest but slowest option available. If you have the time and the inclination, learning to code can be very rewarding. The trouble is that a good developer has more than likely spent many years learning how to build good products from scratch, and time is always in short supply, especially for entrepreneurs. Learning how to code and then building your own product will give you full control, but it is unlikely you will be able to build everything you need (apps, websites, databases, front and backends, cloud environments etc.). It’s likely you will need help at some point.

Where it is most applicable is when using what’s known as the no code / low code platforms to build simple initial prototypes or Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). These are platforms that require little to no-coding experience to create simple websites and apps. They are becoming more sophisticated all the time and can be a great way to get started, Bubble or AppyPie are worth checking out for the entrepreneurs, Mendix and Outsystems for the intrapreneurs.

If you are going to learn yourself, don’t get bogged down on which is the perfect language to learn, your goal in the early days should be to become familiar with the basic concepts of coding, which are similar across all languages. Check out Codeacademy or freeCodeCamp if you are interested.

Hiring the talent

The next option you have is to hire the developer talent you need to help you build the product you want. For a start-up this can mean finding a co-founder to be your technology lead, or in a business it can mean hiring a team of developers with the right skills you need.

Let’s take these two separately.

As a start-up founder you face all sorts of challenges, and entering into the creation of a tech product without any technical skills can be seriously tough. But it’s not impossible, you just have to look at the likes of Brian Chesky at Airbnb or Evan Sharp at Pinterest. But finding a good co-founder, someone you need to rely upon 100%, someone you will probably see more than anyone else for a few years, is exceptionally important and difficult at the same time. There are forums to help including CoFounderslab and FoundersNation, but be prepared for a lot of co-founder “dating”! This isn’t like hiring someone, this is getting someone to have real buy-in for your idea, potentially giving away a good chunk of your equity and creating a real partnership. Be very sure before you take the leap.

As the person working at the SME, hiring a team of developers can be a great way to hand pick exactly what you need and ensure that the skills stay within the business. Being a part of your company, your in-house team will clearly be able to dedicate 100% of their time to your project. They can also collaborate better on different projects. People from your design team, development team and even sales and marketing if needed can easily arrange a meeting, making it easier to coordinate different projects.

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