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Advice From A Non-Technical Founder

Document, Timeline & Communication Method

As an African American entrepreneur I have my fair share of challenges if I want to build a mobile application. For starters I can’t code, I don’t have a technical co-founder, and I don’t have personal connections with any software developers.  Yet, I still wanted to develop my mobile application to assist people with food allergies and dietary restrictions.

I started off with a simple strategy and a little bit of advice.  

“You don’t try to build a wall, you don’t set out to build a wall, you don’t start there, you say “I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid” and you do that every single day and soon you have a wall.”  ~ Will Smith 

Instead of focusing on how to build a wall I started with a task: Mobile App Flow.

Document Project 

I needed to perfectly describe my mobile application concept.  I decided to create a mockup of the app design flow.  In the past I’ve enrolled in an online course that taught Figma.  *Figma is a free online design tool that allows users to see prototypes of Android and iOS apps in real time.  However, I quickly realized that I would need a lot more instruction and hands-on training.  I decided to use a platform that I already used many times.

CANVA

I researched the dimensions of a mobile phone application and I used the custom dimension feature on Canva.  Canva allows users to create designs using a drag and drop feature.  To create the mobile app screenshot designs I didn’t focus on colors, size or graphics.  Instead I created a generic layout of each screen.

COOLORS

I needed to pick a color palette for the developers to use as the primary and secondary app color.  Coolors allows users to generate various color combinations. You can use a photo to create a color palette or browse popular color combos that other artist have created. I used Coolors because it’s simple to use and you can download a pdf version of your palette.  *Canva also allows you to create a color palette for projects.

STYLE GUIDE

I created a style guide in Canva as well that provided the developers with information about the mobile app.  The most important information I provided was the mobile app purpose(mission statement), color scheme, font/image guidelines. *I used Google developer best practices for the font and image recommendations*  In total the style guide was fourteen pages with the last page consisting of my contact and social media information.

I was finally ready to find a software developer and begin the next task: Mobile App Development.

UPWORK

I researched similar projects on UpWork, I read their job descriptions and what they required (proposals) from developers.  Using the advice I mentioned before I decided to create a job posting for the screenshots.  Plus, I figured if I liked the company/individual that I chose then we could move forward with the project, but if I didn’t then at least I had other options. Five months ago I posted the job description below:

I am currently looking for an app developer/IT who can create a flow chart diagram and wireframe mockup for my mobile application using Figma.  The developer will source/create: stock images, illustrations, and or icons for the project and once complete will provide research/links from sourced materials. 

The developer will be able to use a style guideline and a rough sketch to determine the capabilities of the app and will be able to take this information to create a Flow Chart diagram, detailing data sequence simulating how the user would move within the app. The project will ultimately be used to develop/publish a mobile application.

You will be asked to answer the following questions when submitting a proposal:

Describe your recent experience with similar projects

Include a link to your profile and/or website    

Contract

The developer provided a contract that included the scope of the project, price, and timeline.  The most important items that I believe should be included:  

  • Employer and or individual owns all code + designs 
  • Developer will provide Code Library upon completion
  • The developer will provide their tax I.D., address, Contact info(Phone/Email) 
  • Timeline: Approx. dates for frontend, backend & testing
  • Project Requirements: Google developer account, cloud computing, email delivery service, dedicated email, etc.  
  • Payment Method – (i.e. Bank Transfer, Check, PayPal, etc. & Due Dates)
  • Signature (Print, Sign & Date)

*Before informing the developer in detail about your mobile app concept don’t forget to create and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Timeline

I selected a company on Upwork and we moved forward with the project. Using the screenshot designs I created using Canva the wireframes(screenshots) were completed.  I decided to continue working with the same company and we began developing the mobile application. 

The first week of October was set as the first deadline.  We had weekly check-ins to discuss what was needed to move the project forward.  After finalizing a logo design, the developers began developing the back/frontend of the app.  This was the hardest part of the process so far.  I had to trust someone else with my vision and learn to manage my expectations.    

While the developers worked on coding and creating the images/graphics I worked with the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program.  My small business counselor has been there on both the good and bad days.  On the days when I trusted the process and on the days when I thought I was in over my head and I wanted to throw in the towel.

Our initial timeline has been pushed back nearly two months.  I’ve learned a lot through the process, whether it was trying to connect with Korean food manufacturers, or speaking with the Ministry Of Food and Drug Safety.  But I always remember “brick by brick” and focus on tasks that I can complete.  Some of those tasks included: virtually attending webinars/conferences, volunteering, and connecting with other black entrepreneurs.

Communication Method

ZOOM

I’ve become proficient at scheduling and attending virtual zoom sessions.  I find that it’s easier than going back and forth via email when you’re trying to communicate mobile app issues.  Zoom has been the fly on the wall as we submitted the mobile app for testing on both Android and iOS.

DEDICATED EMAIL

Create a new email specifically for the mobile app project.  If your resources permit it’s better to buy a business email such as Google Workspace and use it for all communications concerning the app.  

PROJECT REQUIREMENTS

Before the developer begins work on your mobile app it’s important to clearly understand the software and platforms the developer will use to build the app.  This step can be a little confusing at times creating, and assigning administrator roles.  

However, it’s important to gauge the full price of developing the mobile app.  Ask for the price of each software requirement and initially try to use as many free versions as possible.  *Create each account and have the developer use the accounts you created*  This is important because eventually you might decide to scale your business.  Possible choices include hiring a dedicated software engineer or partnering with a technical co-founder.  Whichever path you choose for the next phase of your product growth they will need full access.      

We’re in the final stages of developing and publishing the mobile app.  I can’t wait to share with everyone what I’ve been working on.  These are just some of the initial obstacles I faced in the development process.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Any advice for non-technical founders?

If so, please share your comments below, and what valuable lessons you learned as a non-technical founder who built a mobile application or developed a product.  I plan to continue sharing my experience with additional posts after I’ve published the Korean Convenience app.

Additionally, I would love to hear what you found in the post the most helpful and why?

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