How To Launch An App Startup When You Don’t Write Code

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Posted: October 7, 2015


Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea – a mobile app consultancy and a mobile strategy columnist at Inc,, The Huffington Post and The Next Web. He is the author of Appreneurship: Build A Mobile App Business With No Technical Background.


Entrepreneurs are now starting to build mobile-first companies as opposed to a web-first approach just a couple of years back. The recent spectacular successes (Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion and that of WhatsApp for $21 billion) only help inspire the masses that are looking to launch their first mobile startup.

The challenge? How do I go about building, launching and marketing a mobile app! That’s the most common question one hears owing to the recency of this entire platform.

Building a successful app is a parallel, not serial, process that requires simultaneous progress along multiple fronts. This is akin to any business where entrepreneurs must create a product, test it, raise money, recruit talent, and find customers at the same time.

If you’re from a non-tech background, don’t consider technology as the end-all and be-all for your startup. Technology is only an enabler — the idea is your business. You don’t have to know about coding to create a tech product.

Here’s what you need to do in order to launch a mobile app startup if you don’t know how to code.

  1. Build something that isn’t incrementally better than the competitors

A paper by John Gourville, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, specifies that products fail because entrepreneurs irrationally overvalue their innovation, compared to consumers who overvalue what they’ve been already using.

He states that for new apps (products) to stand a chance, they have to be 10 times better than the existing ones, “making the innovation’s relative benefits so great that they overcome any overweighting of potential losses.”

The competition already has a head-start with a sizeable customer base and can quickly adapt to the new feature if it is of any consequence, squashing your business aspirations. You need to be able to differentiate a feature from a product.

  1. Outsource your product development

Silicon Valley would have you believe that the only way to build a product is to build it yourself or in-house. And at the same time, some of the billion dollar tech products or apps were outsourced in their initial days – Slack, Skype, Fab, etc.

You don’t want to end up with a team of your own developers and designers only to realize that the version one of your mobile app is not as exciting to your customers as it is to you.

Choosing the right partner can be daunting. Look for a team that spends time with you in understanding much more than just the features of the application. A good developer would have to understand your business, customer insights and the product roadmap to be able to do justice to app development.

  1. Double down on design and user experience

You should focus on three goals for a better-designed app (a creative vision highlighted by Google). First, enchant your customer. The look and feel is the first touch point for any customer that comes across your app store page or microsite.

Second, simplify the life of your customer who’s going to use your app. It has to be so simple to use that your app doesn’t need to come with instructions.

Finally, integrate a well-designed product with one that is personal and at the same time lets your customers experience new ways of doing things. For example, a cluttered market filled with to-do list apps was confronted by Clear, a beautifully-designed app.

  1. When thinking of marketing, look at a very small market

Paul Graham recently wrote, “Sometimes the trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It’s like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs.

When you build for a small number of users, you get the opportunity to make your mistakes with only that select audience. It’s better to have 100 passionate users than a 1,000 indifferent ones.

  1. The three pillars of app marketing

Create a ton of fantastic content on your own blog and as guest posts. Interesting content pulls people to your blog and in turn helps you get more click-throughs to your app.

The most predictable means of acquiring users is through paid placements across search (Google, Bing), social (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and through means of retargeting and banner ads. Ensure the customer lifetime value is greater than the cost of acquisition of the customer by a ratio of at least three to one.

Word of mouth is most often engineered or designed within the system through viral loops. You need to enable your users to spread the message about your app to others. Andrew Chen describes viral loops as “steps a user goes through between entering the site/app to inviting the next set of new users.”

These are only a few strategies and routes that you can leverage while building your mobile first startup. For more detailed strategies, tactics and actionable pointers on helping you launch your next successful app business, download my eBook – Appreneurship: Build A Mobile App Business With No Technical Background.