How can you turn an idea into a business:
- if you don’t have a “technical” skill (i.e. you’re not an engineer or programmer)?
- if you don’t have a lot of money (nor do you want to spend a lot of money to get the idea started)?
- if you want to get it up and running without going all in and putting your life (or credit) on the line for it?
That’s what Jon Nastor, ex-punk rocker turned entrepreneur and founder of Velocitypage.com, wanted to know.
And for the past 12 years, Jon has been actively answering this question.
Here’s a direct quote from Jon’s Clarity.fm consulting page:
I have been an entrepreneur for 12 years and full-time online for 3. I have built, from the ground up, 6 different SaaS products — all with zero technical ability. I have built multiple businesses from zero to $45k/month+ recurring revenues, with no debt and no financing.
How is this possible, though?
Conventional wisdom tells us we need to master the skill or trade we want to make a profession out of, or that we need lots of money or financing to build something profitably.
But here’s Jon, a person who self admits to having “zero” technical ability, yet he’s started multiple businesses with no debt or financing.
What is Jon doing differently that allows him to succeed where so many others fail?
That’s the question I wanted to know, so I hopped on a call with him last week to interview him about his most recent business: VelocityPage.com.
How to Start a Business – No Tech Skills Required
The story behind Jon Nastor’s most recent startup, VelocityPage.com, is eye-opening.
As I mentioned previously, Jon has no programming / engineering / technical skills to speak of, yet he bootstrapped a profitable tech company from scratch in less than two years (with close to 500 customers at the time of this writing).
Here’s the exact process he used:
Step 1: Identify a Need in the Marketplace
Jon started with his own problem: creating pages on Wordpess is a pain.
WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) that millions of bloggers, writers, and companies use to publish their content online (I’m using it right now).
The problem with WordPress: it’s a difficult, time-consuming process to edit and publish pages because you have to do everything from the backend of WordPress.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way?
What if there were a simple “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) interface that allowed you to edit directly from the front end of a WordPress site?
So the idea for VelocityPage.com was born…
Step 2: Write Down Your “Back of Napkin” Business Plan
Really, Jon didn’t even bother with a business plan.
Instead, he opened up a notepad and wrote down 8 sentences about the product, how it would work, who needs it, and why it matters.
Just to reiterate, because this is important:
Jon did NOT spend weeks or months researching whether this was technically possible, or what he should price the product at, or what he should call the business, or setting up legal entities, or trademarking whatever…
He simply wrote out the general idea on a piece of paper and that was enough to proceed.
Because according to Jon: “the best products die a slow death.”
In other words: the moment you have an idea for something that might work is the time to act on it. Now, not later.
Step 3: Assemble the Team
At this point, Jon had an idea, he knew where he would fit into the equation (sales and product development), but he was still missing an essential element of the business:
A developer to bring his idea to life.
There are a multitude of strategies out there for getting someone on board to build your idea, but I’ll highlight the best options for bootstrappers here:
1. Hire talent
The simplest solution: hire a programmer.
Jon was looking for a programmer, which means he would probably have to scour through odesk.com or elance.com to find the right freelancer for the job.
- lots of choices
- you can generally find some decent programmers…if you’re willing to pay the right price
- lots of choices
- costs money…
- good programmers cost even more money…
Jon didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money developing this idea before he could validate it, so this option was out.
2. Find a collaborative partner through friends, forums, meetups, or other groups
Because Jon didn’t possess the technical skills to build VelecityPage.com from scratch, nor did he want to pump a lot of money into the project to get it started, his best option was to find a collaborative partner.
One of the ways to find a collaborator is to go through networks that you’re already a part of to source someone with the abilities that you need and that compliment your skillset (and personality).
- inexpensive solution to get something up and running (no investment needed if the partner agrees to equity or revenue share)
- better results because of skin in the game (people always deliver better results when something on the line – in this case: return on investment for their time and energy)
- can this person truly deliver, on time and on target?
- this doesn’t validate the idea
Sadly, the people who are closest to us are rarely the best fit for an idea. Further, someone you are close to is more likely to be motivated by the idea because you’re motivated by it, which means there’s no real opportunity to indifferently judge the merits of the idea (which is a dangerous road to go down).
In either case, if it’s not a good fit, this can delay the launch of the product or kill it slowly over months.
Jon couldn’t afford either situation, so he chose the only option that was left:
3. Find the best in the world – join forces
Instead of putting time or money into the idea, Jon cut straight to the point.
He was already familiar with the WordPress platform and in particular the brains behind it. So Jon reached out to a lead developer of WordPress, Mark Jacquith, to pitch his idea.
The first email Jon sent received no response.
So Jon sent another email.
Jon reached out through Twitter to let Mark know he had emailed him an idea. Mark responded and said he’d take a look.
Jon didn’t expect a quick response – Mark is a busy guy.
To Jon’s surprise, Mark reached out to him to set up a call almost immediately.
The VelocityPage.com team was born.
Why Teaming Up With the Best in the World Works
There are a few reasons teaming up with the best in the world is a powerful (and oftentimes – best) business solution.
1. Teaming up with the best in the world leverages Pareto’s Principle
Pareto’s Principle – or the 80/20 rule – is a concept that says 80% of our results come from 20% of effort.
Now it’s not always a direct ratio; oftentimes it can be even more extreme 1% of the work could yield 90% of the results or more.
In the case of building a company from scratch, joining forces with the best in the world in any particular industry slingshots you ahead of the competition.
For example, because Mark is so well known in the WordPress community, when VelocityPage.com did their first launch, the promotion of which consisted of a single tweet from Mark to his Twitter followers, they sold almost 50 licenses immediately.
That’s several thousand $ from a single Tweet.
That’s the power of Pareto’s Principle and the power of teaming up with the best in the world
2. Teaming up with the best in the world is (initial) validation
No, just because someone successful or famous likes your idea doesn’t mean it will succeed.
But it’s a better indicator than your mom, stylist, or bartender, isn’t it?
And it’s an even better indicator when they say “yes, I’ll work on this with you for equity.”
Note: for Jon and Mark to officially validate VelocityPage.com, they had to build a working prototype and sell licenses (for money). This development process took 14 months from idea to launch – much longer than Jon would have liked, but this was a collaborative side-project for both of them (had this had been their primary focus, Jon says they could have had something ready in a few months).
As of the time of this writing, VelocityPage.com has close to 500 customers and they are actually looking to scale.
(and if you do the math, that means in less than one year after launch, the team has sold anywhere from $50,000 – $120,000 in licenses, based on their current pricing)
3. Because you can’t go it alone
Not if you want to multiply your efforts and create a bigger impact.
As a solopreneur or solo-operator, you are the weakest link in your business. When you work solo, everything needs to go through you – you become the funnel for every decision, every action, and all progress made…
But let’s say you’re capable of creating initial success, of getting the prototype functioning and operational; let’s say you even get orders of your new software almost from the beginning…
How can you possibly expand and grow if you’re working alone? Handling the engineering, product development, and marketing and sales simultaneously?
It can work….
For a time.
But there will come a time when you burn out or hit a plateau you can’t scale out of (no matter what technology you have at your disposal).
Virtual assistants are great if you just want to maintain what you’re doing by optimizing and systematizing your processes, but they’re a terrible solution if you want real growth (i.e. new customers, new clients, new sales – and the ability to scale).
Teaming up with someone – even if he or she is not the best in the world in that particular area – is the ONLY way to build a business that can grow, scale, and ultimately: operate without you.
Note: it doesn’t have to start with an official partnership or by finding a co-founder…
What You Need to Do to Replicate These Results
Now to clarify a very important part of this post:
Jon wasn’t a programmer, he wasn’t a designer, and he had only been working online for a few years…
But what he lacked in technical skills (and financing and other resources), he made up for by adding incredible value in another way:
Jon took the lead on sales. He told Mark if they can build it, he can sell it.
While Jon had prior experience in sales, it’s important to realize that you don’t NEED experience in sales to start a venture if you’re willing to LEARN how to sell. And anyone in the world can learn to sell. If these two girls from Indonesia can’t prove that to you, nothing can.
So if there’s a major takeaway from this article, I hope its this:
You don’t need money, or technical skills, or connections to build a business from scratch. But you must be a “value-add.”
And if you’re not bringing money, connections or an audience to the table, you better bring hustle.
More Examples of Successful Collaboration
There are dozens of collaborative projects that start as basic ideas and grow into massively successful ventures.
Here are just a few examples:
- Chris Guillebeau and his collaborative venture: The World Domination Summit
- Corbett Barr and how he collaborated on and built Fizzle.co – a leading business training membership site
- Jason Spencer’s idea for The Flight Formula that turned into a $41,000 collaborative launch
- AJ Leon and Misfit-Inc. (which now operates a half-dozen collaborative ventures, from charitable projects, to web design and creative projects, to publishing projects)
There are many more, but these are just a few of the people I’ve interviewed about their collaborative ventures in the past couple months.
Now it’s Your Turn
What are you working on solo that could be improved if you teamed up with the right person?
Or if you’re already working on a collaborative project, what have you learned from the experience?
Leave a comment below!