When Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, decided to test out his idea for Product Hunt, he did not build out an entire site from the ground up, instead, he experimented with what I am going to call a ‘Low Tech Prototype’.
Ryan started Product Hunt as a mailing list for sharing exciting new products with product enthusiasts. A select list of product enthusiast submitted links to Ryan, and each day subscribers received an email containing new and interesting products submitted by the PH mailing list community.
In under two weeks, after he realized that there was a really high community interest in product discovery via the mailing list he created, he decided that the time was right to build out an actual website that would be more interactive and scale better than the original mailing list.
Now, the Product Hunt website is probably the best location to discover new products on the web, and Ryan has raised over $7 million dollars from accredited VCs including Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) to continue building Product Hunt — keep in mind that it has not been up to a year since Ryan began testing his idea for PH via the PH mailing list.
Why Is Ryan’s Story Important?
These are interesting times for the startup world.
There are probably more ideas floating around than there are capable developers willing to execute on them. Any non-technical person who has ever tried to find a developer to work on an idea with them has seen first-hand how painfully difficult it is to get technical people to drop whatever side projects they are working on to help them execute on their ideas.
Most good developers are typically working on one project or the other at any given time and usually have a dozen or so friends every month that pitch ‘the next big thing’ to them.
As a non-technical idea person, you could and probably should learn to code using freely available resources like Codecademy but, this is of course one of those things that is much easier said than done, as in reality it could easily take months for non-technical people to get their skills polished up to the point where they can build a barely passable minimum viable product.
Quickest Method From Idea To Product?
One alternative which is not spoken about very often is what I call ‘The Low Tech Prototype’. This is basically the simplest offline simulation of your proposed product that is needed get sufficient feedback from an initial target customer base.
The low tech prototype ideally shouldn’t require any code, and more often than not is going to exist in a form that does not scale — which is perfectly fine.
For example, Ryan wasn’t the most technical person, but when he had proven that there was demand for his idea using his low tech prototype (the mailing list), he reached out to a developer friend of his, Nathan Bradshaw, for advice.
Notice from the email interaction below how easy it was to get Nathan to volunteer to help Ryan build out Product Hunt, most non-technical people who have tried to pitch ideas without running semi-successful low tech simulations know that it is never this simple to get a developer friend to volunteer to help build out an idea for the next big thing.
Depending on the idea, a low tech prototype could come in many forms. I’ve seen people do simple simulations of their ideas via text or email like Ryan did, I have also seen more complicated simulations like a founder simulating a marketplace by creating simple Wordpress forms for buyers and sellers and manually matching the buyers to sellers via email.
Of course if you are a star developer who can whip up a fully functional rails site in one weekend, that might be simpler that simulating a low tech prototype. If you can’t whip up websites that easily, it might be useful to figure out the simplest way to simulate a low tech prototype to test out the feasibility of an idea before trying to go to the big leagues with a fully blown website or mobile application.
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