How These Non-Technical Founders Built Million-dollar Online Platforms. And You Can Too.

How These Non-Technical Founders Built Million-dollar Online Platforms. And You Can Too

Many entrepreneurs know about the extreme profit potential of platforms, but few business founders have the technical chops necessary to build one. Luckily, a lack of coding skill doesn’t need to stop you from starting your own platform business.

In the following video, Arum Kang talks about how she built her online dating platform as a completely non-technical founder. Her company, Coffee Meets Bagel, is famous for turning down a $30 million offer on the TV show Shark Tank. Here’s her story:

Key points from the video:

  • First, she tried hiring a cheap freelance developer on UpWork to build her Minimal Viable Product (MVP). She had some initial success with this, but he eventually just disappeared.
    Unfortunately, this is very common occurrence when hiring casual developers who are paid by the hour.
  • She eventually found someone who could work with her full-time and dedicate himself to her project. He became her Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
    If you’re a non-technical founder, having a developer fully dedicated to your project is essential, and is one of the huge benefits of hiring a CTO.
  • She mentions a very common mistake that I’ve seen so many founders make; they put too many features into their MVPs.
    Keep it simple! A good CTO can help you simplify your requirements, which will keep your costs down.
  • She emphasizes that it’s easier to attract the right people to work with you if you already have a product to show them. This includes investors and early employees.
    Get your prototype or MVP working right away.

Who else has done it?

Arum is not alone. Many non-technical founders have started their own platforms without knowing anything about coding.

Jessica Scorpio, co-founder of Getaround

Getaround is a peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace that lets drivers rent cars from car owners. Here’s a brief presentation she gave, where she talks about her startup journey:

How did she do it?

  • The first thing she did was test out her idea on real people. She asked 10 people at university to share their cars. Over a 1 month period, 100 people paid to borrow these cars for short trips. Attracting these early users was a completely manual process for her (no coding involved).
    This proved that her idea could work, and gave her leverage to attract a developer, and get media attention.
  • She focused on building the supply-side of her marketplace, by introducing a service to help car owners manage their rentals.
    Having a strong supply side helped build demand. Targeting one side of the market is among the many strategies platform founders use to kick-start platform growth.
  • Once the business was more established, she killed any features that distracted from her main revenue maker.
    This kept the small company focused, and increased their revenue.

Danae Ringlemann, co-founder of Indiegogo

Indiegogo is a crowdfunding marketplace with over $50 million in funding. Indiegogo has hosted over 500,000 campaigns in over 230 countries, and helped distribute more than $850 million worldwide. Danae experienced the frustration of trying to find funding for a play she wanted to produce, so she decided to create Indiegogo.

How did she do it?

  • Originally, Indiegogo was a completely offline venture. It wasn’t until she met her technical co-founders that she put it online.
    Save time and money by testing your idea offline. Bring it online once you’ve validated the idea.

We’ve seen how these founders managed to get their ideas to take flight. But how can you do it too?

How to build your platform

  • Contribute more value than just an idea.
    All of these founders had something to bring to the table other than just an idea. They hustled and built a viable business. If you have a lot of money, you can pay people with skills to help you. But if you don’t have big pockets, you need to have something else to offer.
  • Fund development yourself, at least initially.
    These founders worked regular jobs, and saved their money. Some also had family and friends contribute money. This gave them some cash to pay their CTOs to turn their ideas into a real product.
  • Test your idea, before you build.
    Building a platform or marketplace can be a costly venture, so you should be reasonably sure you have a viable business before you invest your precious money and time. Test your idea manually, before hiring a coder.
  • Once you’re ready to build, hire a CTO.
    A Chief Technology Officer will take your validated idea, help you build your first prototype or MVP, and then help your launch it. A good CTO will dedicate themselves exclusively to your project, and provide guidance on where you can save money or avoid potential issues. If you’re really strapped for cash, consider a part-time Virtual CTO.

Are you ready to get started?

As you can see, it takes a combination of a killer idea, the hustle to build a real business, and the help of a talented CTO to bring a platform or marketplace to life.

But before you invest all your time and money building your business, it's important to be prepared for all of the obstacles you will face.

To help, I've written a free guide to show you how to avoid the #1 mistake non-technical founders make when building a platform startup.