Getting Started as a Non-Technical Founder
*Read this pre-blog on Non-Technical Founders by Marketplace Studio*
Being a solo-Founder is hard, let alone being non-technical when you plan on building a technology business and then factoring in you want to create the marketplace of your dreams. Marketplace platforms are notoriously complex and deal with a lot of use cases or problems that need to be well thought out. Where do you start?
First, you might try looking for an Incubator or Accelerator depending on what stage your business is in. Incubators are programs held by organizations with the sole purpose of flushing out your idea and guiding you to certain tools required to build your business. There are some specifically designed for marketplace companies, and others more agnostic to tech startups. Check out Day One to get an idea of how one could help. They act as a conduit to mentors in specific areas or general networking with other fellows.
Accelerators are different in the fact that they're for later-stage startups who are using in the building. phase or in the market (they've launched their product). Y Combinator would probably be the most famous because of all the big names who graduated from their program. Some will actually invest in your company when you graduate and the special ones will invest beforehand for equity in your company. This gives the organization a stronger drive to ensure you succeed.
Finding a community is important to understand you're not alone on this tremendous journey. There are platforms like Slack or LinkedIn Groups that support entrepreneurs in the planning & building stages of their marketplace startup. Then, there is a special place called Everything Marketplaces which is built on Circle but designed for Marketplace Founders & Operators. It is an excellent community of marketplace lovers who contribute by sharing their thoughts or more importantly their experiences.
Now that you've found some like-minded people, it might be time to start thinking of your own team, your own startup family. Where to start?
Your Founding Team
There are many choices when determining your first hire or the first couple of people to embark on this campaign with you leading the way. Instead of letting instinct or emotions drive this decision, you should let your business plan be your guiding star. Let's see some options below as a marketplace!
Sales / Business Development
We've seen time and time again that building Supply is key to a successful marketplace launch. To do this requires a healthy detailed plan for generating leads and acquiring the Supply side of your marketplace. Perhaps you're building a P2P (Peer-to-Peer) marketplace for physical goods and need to "Fill The Shelves" first. You'll know if it's dependent on local geography meaning you need to grow Zip Code by Neighbourhood, County by City, or State by Country. All of these options will depend on the type of goods being transacted on your marketplace platform. You most likely need a viable amount of Supply to kick it off and that is something you can easily do without a Product in the market. Use a sheet and diligently track every detail, you're basically selling a promise of what is to come.
On one of our projects on a P2P rental marketplace, we had a Sales Rep build supply while we were still wireframing our mobile app. They used our Founder's local contacts and leveraged his reputation to build Committed Supply to be onboarded once the App was ready. This allowed us to launch our home city with a lot of options for Demand to browse through. If this sounds like something you need based on your plan, we'd suggest finding an enthusiastic Sales Rep with some domain experience.
Marketing takes a lot of skill and of course a talented brain to do properly. There are some Founders who like to be in stealth mode when building meaning they keep every aspect of the business behind the "curtain" until it is ready to be revealed. This helps to get ahead of any copy-cates or break into the market if there is hefty competition. Marketing has a log of facets, social (obviously), SEO (of course), PPC (Paid Ads), and Earned Media, just to name a few and each would be owned by one person or a team at a certain point. But you're just starting and this is a startup meaning people need to wear multiple hats aka do a ton of auxiliary tasks and learn as they grow. Now, there are some swiss army knives out there who can handle the whole lot, however, you cannot, cannot expect a single marketer to handle all of these roles. It is simply not possible if you expect it to be done well and effectively. Marketing could be started as soon as you have the idea, use Wix to create a simple site and lock your social handles and grow organically by interacting with your target market to build your brand.
Brand, now this is something that we recommend to be done at the beginning, but open to suggestions. A brand is what someone pictures in their mind when they think of your business. It encompasses much more than just a logo and colors. There is actually a whole science behind choosing what colors need to represent your company. Marketplace Studio usually helps with this in our Pre-Development package with our Founders. We show you almost everything (nobody knows everything) that you should consider when building your Brand. If you go it alone or with your team, remember one thing, it is for your target market, not for you, remove your egos from the equation.
Product People are famously curious people who can help you resolve a lot of your business questions and talk to potential Users. There are some who are technical, design-focused, or business focused, but usually, all share similar personality traits and will get a job done. At this phase of the business, they'd be acting as a scientist running experiments meaning they form an educated hypothesis based on primary or secondary research (data-lead decisions) and go out and test, re-test, and disprove or validate it. Product Managers are essential to slowing you down and making more precise moves toward your goal. This is also something Marketplace Studio can help with.
Finance People are important to consider at the beginning but it is unlikely you'll need them right away on a full-time basis. You need to create financial projections and fundraising material but you can contract this out on UpWork or by a local service. Some Incubators or Accelerators would have resources to connect you with the right people to get this job done well.
Developers, last because we have learned that hiring a developer any earlier will result in a lot of waste time, effort, emotions, and money. In this case, when creating a marketplace and starting from scratch, it is important to not go hire the first available (relatively inexpensive) dev you meet. Why? Well, this is exactly what we did in 2017 and it was a massive mistake because we had no idea what our Users actually wanted us to build or what they needed to truly adopt the platform. Yes, there is sense to get to market as soon as possible with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) but you can do so much better. This is why we have our Pre-Development package, "Pre" as in to do it prior to writing any code. It includes a hybrid-Design Thinking methodology that allows us to respond (not act) based on actual User Feedback on how the product is designed and WHO you're building it for.
Tech Stack Roster
Here are some tools we suggest when you're starting out.
Figma Figma is great as a free tool for wireframing or creating UX Flows & Mind Maps to plan things out.
Atlassian Start using Confluence to easily track your documentation such as Brainstorming, Product Requirements, or Launch Plans. This is also a free tool while you're a small team.
Google Business Email is obviously important, but also with connected Google Sheets which is easy to use and included in their Business Plan.
Slack Start joining Workspaces or chatting with your team. Another free tool!
Canva Start designing your pitch deck, forging a logo, and creating social posts! They have a free plan too.
Fiverr Need to outsource quick tasks? Fiverr is a great place to get some decent talent for quick and budget-friendly jobs.
Semrush Start researching your Keywords and Search Volume to get a sense of demand for your offering. Google Search Console or Google Ads can offer similar data for free.
Sharetribe Go / Flex If you need a quick and effective way to validate your idea in a no-code fashion, Sharetribe offers to Go for just this. It can be launched on the weekend and gives you the basics to further validate your idea. Later, you can graduate to Flex which is what Marketplace Studio typically uses to launch your Version 1 of the platform in a friendly-scale manner.
Useberry This will let you test your UX throughout the design phases of prototyping with a similar audience matching your personas.
What Marketplace Studio Offers
We essentially slow you down to increase your velocity later on. We embed ourselves into your company to learn not just what you're building, but also the WHY behind it. We use a hybrid approach to Design Thinking which is a 5-step process that allows you to understand who you're building for, how, and why they want it.
Design Thinking Sprints
Data & Insight-Driven decisions based on research and User Interviews. We solve problems, not build features.
Our designer can test your current brand against your primary persona to validate its effectiveness or create an unforgettable brand.
The Product Forge
Hybrid Product-Led development, focusing on business requirements and the solutions to our persona's problems.
Designing a marketplace online platform with the correct personas in mind is not an easy task. We run through vigorous validation.
Developing & Coding a marketplace from scratch is tough and not to mention expensive. That is why we have platform partners.
There are many unanswered questions when it comes to designing, developing, launching, or scaling. We can make sure it's done right
Other Marketplace Studio Resources
If you'd like to learn more or discuss what you're looking to create, we'd love to have a virtual coffee with you. Please schedule a consultation with Marketplace Studio.