Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

Should I Launch an MVP? Or Code it Myself?

3 min read

I’ve built a lot of websites that no one has ever visited.😭 I’ve seen clients spend $10,000 to build a website, and then afterward, never make an update! Without love, websites die. HTML ages like bread, not like wine.

In a previous episode of the Learn to Code Podcast, I discussed best practices for building a website. Today I want to discuss when NOT to build a website!

Here are three quick ways to validate your idea before you build a website and before anyone writes a single line of code.

When should you not build a website?

I teach a course called Programming for Non-programmers, where students learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. When someone learns how to code for the first time, they feel the urge to solve every problem they have programmatically!

No! This strategy reminds me of the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, then everything in the world looks like a nail.” With limited tools, you have a limited way of thinking. After someone learns how to code I often see them solving EVERY problem programmatically. Well, code is not always the easiest or most scalable option to all your product woes.

Now, what can you do? Well, don’t code!

I’m going to give you three examples of ways that you can launch a new web presence without building a website. Sometimes this is known as the MVP (minimum viable product) method.

MVP means doing the minimum amount needed to validate that you have a good product idea. The term was coined by Eric Ries who wrote The Lean Startup, and there’s a whole philosophy devoted to the practice.

1. Don’t code; Build a demo

Build a cheap and easy demo or prototype. It can be a video or a splash page. Just make a demo. I’ll give an example of Dropbox.

You know, Dropbox, right? Dropbox is a product that lets you back up your computer’s files.

This is how Dropbox launched:

In the video Drew Houston tells us:

‘’I’ll be showing you a quick tour of Dropbox, which is a new way to store and share files online. What makes Dropbox different is that it just works and there isn’t any complicated setup or interface to learn. Let’s get started.’’

If you were watching that video in 2007, you were thinking, “Holy sh*t. This is awesome.” Right? The biggest problem you had in 2007 was that you’d be working on an essay in Microsoft Word and your computer would crash before you were able to save it!

Dropbox made it so that you would always have a backup of things that you were working on. If you were watching this Dropbox demo back in 2007 you were thinking, “How do I get this product?!?”But, below the landing page, you couldn’t download Dropbox. That’s because Drew hadn’t actually built Dropbox yet! Drew Houston (now CEO of Dropbox)made this video as a demo. Viewers didn’t know that. We only knew we wanted Dropbox. Because of that video, tens of thousands of new users gave Drew their email address, and thus validated a market for his new idea.

2. Don’t code; Launch a Kickstarter

kickstarter screenshot

The second way that you can launch your website or your idea without actually coding out the website or coding out the app is to launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign.

If you can convince somebody to give you some money for something, that’s going to improve the odds of getting some validation for your idea. It’s a lot better than saying to your friend, “Hey, I’m thinking of doing this thing, should I do it?” And all your friends are going to be like, “Yeah. You should totally make like, I don’t know, an automatic dog pooper for dogs, like the Roomba for dog poopers,” right? That’s my idea, but you could have it. I’m not going to make that.

But you know, whatever you say to your friends they’re going to be like, “This is such a great idea.” However, it’s probably not a good idea unless they’re going to kind of preorder it, or prevalidated with some actual money. Kickstarter is a great way to do that. There have been some famous companies that started on Kickstarter that you might not know.

Oculus, creator of Oculus Rift, which sold to Facebook for two billion dollars, launched on Kickstarter — as did Pebble (a predecessor to the Apple Watch). There’s a whole list of companies that launched on Kickstarter, and you can too.

3. Don’t code; Start a Newsletter

Mailchimp: Don't code, start a newsletter

Number three would be to make a newsletter first. A newsletter is a website that you send to people every day or every week — no code required, only text.

There are a lot of great companies that grew just by building an email list and then sending updates on what that thing is. One company that comes to mind for me is The Skimm. The Skimm is a newsletter that helps explain the news in an easy to digest daily email. Since launching in 2012, the site has blown up. They did $28 million in funding last year!

If you’re considering a newsletter, I’d suggest you start with MailChimp. The starter plan is free.

Final Thoughts

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this post (with some added commentary) download the Learn to Code Podcast. On the podcast, I share more tips on building a website, finding work, and the best ways to learn how to code.  


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Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.