Contributing Without Coding With Zach Goodman of Unlockable


[Recently, attended a fabulous class on “Being a Non-Tech Cofounder” hosted by Newark-based BrickCity Tech Meetup. At the meetup, Zach Goodman, who describes himself as a marketing copywriter turned UX designer turned product lead turned entrepreneur, gave some very impressive practical ideas about how founders can contribute without knowing code. Goodman was recently in charge of a large tech project in Newark, NJ.

After the class, James Lopez, cofounder of ThePhatStartup, posted this blog on ThePhatStartup site. ThePhatStartup was established in February. The founders say “they decided to start ThePhatStartup during a Startup Weekend that focused on music and gaming. We realized that many of the attendees were inspired and actually learned from many of their favorite Hip Hop figures. We decided to bring these lessons to life while also providing an educational platform that people could use as inspiration or to get started during their journey as an entrepreneur.”] thought Lopez said everything we would have said if we had written an article about this event ourselves. Lopez has kindly agreed to allow us to repost here, with some minor variations.

Whenever you meet an aspiring entrepreneur in the tech space, usually the first question they will ask you is “do you code?” If you say yes, they will pitch you their idea in hopes that you will join their “team” to help build out their vision. Say no, and they will either walk away from you after a few words, or most commonly tell you about how hard it is to find a technical (coder) cofounder. You will hear about how they haven’t even started their business because they do not have the technical chops. However; how do you build a product that you haven’t thought out or attempted to ask people their thoughts about? There is so much work other than coding that needs to be done for a business to succeed.

Our very own Anthony Frasier noticed that this was holding many entrepreneurs back and decided it was time to change that thought mentality by hosting Zach Goodman at a BrickCity Tech Meetup titled Being a (non-tech) Founder: Contributing Without Code. Zach started off with a bit about his background working with Cory Booker and Vimeo as a copy writer. He went through many of his own mistakes creating a product no one cared about and how it led to a great product called Unlockable, which turns commercials into games for unlocking web content. We all hate those messages stating “skip advertisement in 20 seconds” on YouTube and other video sites; Zach is working on changing that.

As a techie that isn’t the best coder in the world, I can feel some of the pain that people present to me. However; even the best of coders need help when building out products. Zach made it very clear that there is so much besides coding that needs to be done.

 For example, wire frames, customer development and copy writing itself is important as hell for any business and is codeless. Without any of those things, executing on the actual product becomes much harder and can make or break your product. Sometimes theses tasks are more important than the actual code and at times will need to be done first way before a line of code is written.

 Zach covered some of these tasks and dropped gems on the lean methodology way of doing things.

Four Key takeaways from Zach’s Class:

The Only Way To Learn How To Build A Web Product Is To Build A Web Product!

Easier said than done? Not exactly. Zach told the crowd that a white board is his best friend; it’s my best friend also. But why? As soon as Zach has an idea, he takes it to the white board and starts to sketch out the idea. He also uses the whiteboard to create crude wire frames of his product.

As a non-coder wire frames are super vital. Here you can go through the actual user flow in regards to presentation and the actual call to actions. You can take on the role of the user: What do you need them to do? What are you expecting them to do? and so forth. Here you can create an initial sketch of your product, which could be used to test the products interface and also to use as a prototype as you shop your idea around to investors or the hard to find technical co-founder.

There is no guesswork, you can see what you are trying to accomplish and so can others. No coding is needed, but you have such an important weapon! As Zach puts it “this is a lot of education you can give yourself without coding.” He specifically mentioned balsamiq as great tool to create wire frames that you can put in front of your target market.

Start With Why!

Zach stated that we should always “answer the why before anything else.” This is advice that really resonates with me because I always ask people why are you building this. If they can’t answer why they are doing it, then there is nothing to do. My friend Amber Rae put me on to Simon Sinek about two years ago who really digs down into the notion of Why. Check out the video here. Zach told the crowd that they should ask themselves, why this, why me, and why now? So why build that new sneaker marketplace? Why can you fix that problem? These are all great questions that people tend to bypass when they see dollar signs floating around their heads.

Learn About Your Customers!

In order to learn what your customer needs or want, you must get out of the building and talk to them. Before building the actual product why not gather information through your target market. Asking your customers questions about your product can pay huge dividends so you must speak to them as early as possible. You don’t need to satisfy every single user’s needs but there will be many common needs or wants that you will hear about. Those are the comments or features you want to focus on to increase your success rate. I wrote a post about why you should attend a Lean Startup Machine event to learn how to do customer development here. We also dropped a sick interview with Jason Evanish of KISSmetrics focused on customer development which I encourage you to watch or listen to!

“Finding A Tech Co-founder” Events Don’t Really Work!

 Zach made a great point about attending events titled “finding a tech co-founder” or co-founder dating type of events. He stated that most people who attend events like this are in the same boat. You will run into way more non-technical folks at meetups like this which defeats the purpose of going. Want to find a tech co-founder? Attend an event that they would go to. Attend a meetup for developers, or an event focused more on the technical side of things.

Also, just don’t attend, be prepared to network and maybe even present that wire frame or prototype you have been working on. You might not find the tech co-founder of your dreams but having a room full of coders is very valuable. They can give you insight on the tech side that you would never think of alone. Have fun and make new friends. Not sure how to network? Well we’ve got you covered. Check out our conversation with Mike Bruny on proper networking here.

Zach dropped so much knowledge but these four things really can set you on the right path. I leave you with a statement that you should hang up on a wall somewhere straight from Zach. He stated, “you can’t ever win if you quit!” Many wont attempt but the few that do will sometimes quit the race right when they are nearing the finish line. By always giving it your all you increase your chance of winning. Winning can consist of building the new facebook or winning can simply mean that you just educated yourself big time in something you didn’t know before. You can’t ever beat that, so forge ahead and keep hustling!

Our friends over at Lean Newark were also in attendance and did a great write up of the event over on their site. It’s a must read!

Thanks to James Lopez. The original post was published December 5, 2012, here.

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