Fe/male Switch
Startup Playbook: success through failure

10 Essential Steps to Launching a Successful Startup with No Money or Technical Skills

10 Essential Steps to Launching a Successful Startup with No Money or Technical Skills

Do you have an urge to become an entrepreneur? (You might want to analyse your entrepreneurial potential here). That's a great start! For everything else, there's Elona, the AI startup co-founder for you! As your AI co-founder, Elona delivers a powerful combination of expertise, support, and motivation to help you conquer the world of startups.

Do you want to become an entrepreneur, but have no idea where to start? We get it, because we were just like you several years ago. There is too much information out there and it's hard to figure out the right steps. There are so many business incubators, multiple startup schools, business courses, etc. who all claim to know the right strategy. 

You probably have an idea of a business that you want to start but no technical or business skills. Maybe you don't even have an idea for a business but have an urge to find a great one and become a successful entrepreneur. It's possible that you dream of becoming a unicorn, getting a lot of funding and disrupting the world. Or you are more interested in a sustainable small business that brings you enough money not to worry about it for the rest of your life. 

Got no business idea?

Look around you and pick a problem that you yourself experience. If this is your first experience with building a startup, this may be the best place to start. What you need to do after is figure out if more people are having the same problem. How many of those people are out there? Are they willing to pay to have that problem go away? How many of them are willing to pay? How much are they willing to pay? Once the business side of it makes sense, then you got yourself an idea worth pursuing. It's all about learning how to validate ideas than about ideas themselves. 

Need help? Use our new AI tools for startups that can help you coming up with an idea and more Don't worry, it's free. Check it out here

Got an idea but no technical skills?

That's not a problem at all in the early stage. You can learn how to use tools that will allow you to get your first revenue before you even need to hire developers. Don't believe us? Test yourself. Sign up for the free startup school, take one of the "Digital Tools" modules like Tilda, Bubble or Adalo and build your first landing page, web app or mobile app in a few hours by following the instructions. 

What is an MVP?

You might have heard about an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or not. Anyway, let's quickly go through what it is because we know that many people misunderstand the concept. We can't blame them, because the name itself is quite strange and the concept has evolved since it was coined. 

In general, an MVP is a way for a founder to figure out if they have a business. In many cases an MVP is a DIY scrappy model of a future product that can solve a problem that users have and is used to validate the idea and the business model behind the product. In many cases it involves future users getting on a wait-list or pre-ordering the product without you actually building the product in its entirety. 

We have done it all: built MVPs that took a year and required hundreds of thousands of funding and many devs. And we built a MVPs in a day that brought first revenue in a week. The ideal situation is somewhere in the middle, depending on the industry and the use case. 

We have a completely FREE STARTUP SCHOOL and there's a new AI FOR STARTUPS MODULE run by AI. Sign up for the free startup school and get started immediately. 

Software MVP can be:

  • An Airtable (or Coda, or Notion) database
  • A visual mockup in Miro, Figma or Canva
  • A blog article with a questionnaire built with Tally Forms
  • an app built with Bubble, Adalo, Glide or any other zero code tool
  • a Tally form as a front and a simple Make/Zapier automation in the back

Hardware MVP can be:

  • A piece of carton and some duct tape
  • A 3d printed prototype

Deeptech MVP can be:

  • Visualization/animation/pen and a napkin
  • a consultation 
  • A landing page as a front, a human in the back if you are building something AI-related

Do you want to test your startup journey without risking to fail in real life and learn essential startup knowledge, apply for Fe/male Switch startup game for women and build your virtual startup, play, learn and fail in the game to make it right in the reality.

The bottom line is: can it convince enough people to buy into it or not? 

A couple of examples of what can be done:

  • a landing pages with a description of the online course and a Stripe account. No course needs to be built at that moment. You have to drive traffic to the page and see if you want to build it based on the response. 

  • a Discord group or a Slack community and a newsletter that can demonstrate that you can sustainable grow your audience, engage them and have tested a few channels for potential monetization. 

Got an idea but don't know what to do next?

Start by reading this article and see if what is written makes sense to you. Also, sign up for our free startup school and take a "startup playbook" module which will give you a clear understanding on your next steps. 

Looking for co-founder?

First, take a pause and ask yourself why. Why do you need a co-founder? What kind of a co-founder are you looking for? Why would that person want to become your co-founder? How are you going to decide on whether it's a fit or not? 

There are a lot more questions that you need to figure out answers for. Breaking up with someone is tough, breaking up with a business partner might mean the end of your business. You have to minimize the risks. How do you do that? We have an educational module that helps with figuring it all out. Sign up for our free startup school and go to "Startups and Teams" module. 

Looking for funding?

Are you ready for funding? Do you already have a functioning MVP and are people paying you for using it? 

Do you know about grants, subsidies, incubator funding, angels, Venture Capital? Which one are you interested in?

Looking to apply for EU Funding? Check out the article on writing a successful application here

Got an idea and want to build an MVP?

Are you sure you are ready to build an MVP? Did you already validate the idea? Do you have a chunky list of people who are ready to use your future product? How many of them have pre-paid? 

If you don't understand why we are talking about sales whereas you want an MVP, read the article carefully. If after that you still have questions or are determined to start building, sign up for the free startup school.

Here's a bit of tough love for you: ideas are worthless. Knowing how to quickly and efficiently validate an idea is priceless. 

After being entrepreneurs for many years, we found something that works like a charm and is an ideal strategy for first time founders.  In this article we are going to tell you how to launch your first startup in a matter of several weeks even if you don't have technical skills or money. There are 10 basic steps for startup founders to follow. All of the steps fall into four categories: audience and its segments, product, funnels and traffic. Let's get started.  

You have probably heard about the concept of an MVP and how important it is to build one. The meaning and role of an MVP has changed a lot during the last few years and here's what's new:

From the user perspective, there must be some sort of a delight on top of the basic function. If before an MVP didn't have to be visually pleasing, today people expect it by default. Why? Mainly because technology is evolving so fast that a good design can be created in a matter of days rather than months. 

From the tech perspective, it has never been easier to build products than it is now. No-code tools are gaining popularity, because they are simple and accessible. What are no-code (or zero code) tools? It's a set of tools that are about visual coding: there's no need to actually code anything. Instead you have to think in terms of front ends (user interfaces), back ends (databases) and workflows that connect the two. And yes, it is possible to master them in a matter of weeks. 

From the funding perspective, investors expect you to already have a product and a good traction to raise during the current economic downturn. Before you are there, it's possible to use some government subsidies and grants to extend the runway (aka the amount of months that you can afford to run a startup without going bankrupt). The worst thing you can do is concentrate on building a product before you have thoroughly validated your idea. And if you spend money on hiring external developers to do that, that's double the trouble. How do we know? We have been there and done that with our first startup. We are much smarter now but the learning journey has been rough and long. 

If there's anything that you should take away from this article, it's this:

If you're just starting your company, don't rush into building a product or worry about funding from day 1. 

You most probably don't need co-founders, funding or an actual product in order to get to a place where you have sufficient traction and, therefore, interest from either investors or customers, or both. 

And no, you don't need to be a technical person, or have any startup experience. Looking for a co-founder, or a team of developers to hire, or funding before you have a business plan and/or traction, is in most cases a road towards failure. 

What is important to have is a startup mindset: a thick skin is a must. 

Another vital thing is to know what steps to take in order to get to where you need to be. 

The good news is that both can be learned and trained. 

NB: Things that you don't nee to worry about in the very beginning are:

  • business name for your startup (nobody knows you and nobody cares about the name: people only care if you solve their problem). Use one of our AI generating tools like Aiden to come up with a name. Remember that you can always change it later. Even if you decide to buy a domain name now, you can always rename the product later. Heard about Google and Alphabet? In order to check if a domain for your name is available, use Namechk
  • fancy logo (customers are going to love you if you take their pain away and not because you have an awesome logo). Use one of our free AI generating tools, like Boris to create a logo and edit it yourself with Canva to get the best result. Use AI-generated images as an inspiration and play with your imagination a bit. Btw, Canva also has a "text-to-image" function now. It's currently in beta but even now it will help you create a usable image in seconds. 

Buckle up, let's start: here's how to validate, build and launch startups without wasting time and money:

1. Locate a worthy problem (8-16 hours, $0)

Your first step is to identify a problem that many people face and are willing to pay to have it go away. Solutions don't really matter at this point. Just find the pain and poke it hard.

For Fe/male Switch, the problem was given by the Dutch government. They realized that there aren't enough women in tech startups. Alright, sounds like it is indeed a problem, but how big is it? Is it just the Netherlands or do other countries feel the same way? What about women themselves: do they even want to be in tech startups?

Once we received confirmation regarding both questions, we needed to figure out the financial aspect. Who is willing to pay for this problem to be solved and how eager are they to pay? Ideally, you want the "please, take my money and make the pain go away" situation. In reality, you usually end up with needing to figure out if your user is also your customer or not. Is the government going to pay to bring more women into tech startups or are the women going to pay to be able to start their entrepreneurial journeys? There might be a third party that is interested as well. In our case it's tech companies and startups themselves that are eager to attract more women and are willing to spend some money. 

At this stage you should not care about the solution to the problem. What you must care about is the problem itself. Do you personally feel anything for the problem? Do you think you will be willing to wake up every morning and have the desire to work on this problem? Even in a year or two? If not, find another problem, because if you are not passionate about it, you will give up and potentially even burn out if you push yourself too hard working on something that you don't care about. 

What can help is the F/MS canvas that we created for people like you. Just get the template in Canva and start filling it in as you move further. 

2. Identify your competition and audience (8-16 hours, $0)

Once you have identified a problem, you’ll want to validate it with the potential users and customers. How do you do it if you don't know anybody who has the problem? Start digging!

So, women who would be willing to become tech entrepreneurs...where are you? Here's a hack for you to get started: google stuff. It might be obvious but a lot of people don't really understand how much valuable info you can get by googling. In a few hours you will have an idea of who your possible competitors are. For Fe/male Switch is would be startup incubators, accelerators, business courses, communities for female entrepreneurs, etc. Alright, half the job done. Now dig deeper and get a list of 10 top competitors, find their social media and start watching what they are doing, what kind of people are in their communities, study their websites and just get to know their process. Move on to the next step, which is basically a sub-step of audience building. 

3. Get started with community creation (8-16 hours, $0)

Now that you have a rough idea of what is happening around your problem, it's time to establish your presence. Start with creating your own social media account. By now you should already have an idea of what the best social media channel is for you (at least you need to make an intelligent guess as to which platform you think is best to start with). Hint: choose the same platform where your competitors are most active. 

Set up an account (do you need help with this? Sign up for our free startup school and use the guides) and follow all of your competitors. You are in passive mode now: watching, collecting info, learning. 

Let's get you active so you can actually talk to people. 

4. Create visuals with Canva or Figma (10-40 hours, $0)

Before you start saying hello, we need to dress you up. Get a free Canva account and get yourself a logo, a social media banner, pick your fonts and colors. Proceed with creating a few visuals and make your social media account look presentable. Make your first post and start the active phase: follow the followers of your competitors, make comments under the posts of your competitors and grow your own following. 

Work on storytelling, which won't be hard if you actually filled in some of the parts of the F/MS Canvas and studied the "Build your audience" modules in Startup School. 

Depending on how much effort you put into growing your social media following, you can grow at a rate of 10-20 people per day. So, in a week, you will have a nice mini-audience that you can start talking to. 

Once they become active, the interaction needs to become regular. Don't lose their interest. At the same time, proceed to the next step while simultaneously continuing with this one.

Also start with drafting the design of your MVP in Canva or Figma. It doesn't have to be pretty at this point, but it has to make sense. What happens when users get into your app? What is they click this button? What's going to happen next? What page should they see? 

Talking about something is not the same is visually presenting it. It's a great way for you to be able to show your ideas to future users and potential co-founders. Showing is always better than telling. 

5. Launch a landing page with Tilda (8-16 hours, $0)

Once you have people in the social media, you need to start testing and validating stuff with them. Remember that you don't own any data on social media. If your account gets blocked, you have lost every single follower. 

Don't allow this to happen: always have a Plan B. In this case your Plane B coincides with building the first version of your product. Don't worry, we know that you still have no idea about the solution or the product. That's exactly when your followers are going to be very useful. 

Start building your homebase, aka your first prototype: a landing page. Create a free account with Tilda and use a template that you like. If you followed Step 4 properly, then the design part is going to be a piece of cake: get your Canva visuals, colors and fonts into Tilda and voila, the template feels like it's yours. 

Pay attention to copyrighting and test your value proposition by a/b testing. What it means is that you pay attention to the feedback and test different versions of the text that you use. It's very important to find the language that your potential customers understand and can relate to. 

Add the link of your landing page into your social media account and start sending your followers to check it out. Is nobody doing it? Did you actually explain why they would need to go? In other words, what's your call to action? What are they supposed to do once they land at your page? Your goal is to have them leave their info (email address and name at the very least) so that you don't lose them in case your social media account gets hacked. 

6. Start a newsletter with MailChimp (8 hours, $0)

At this point you should already have a few email addresses in your database. It's time to deliver value and get to know your audience better. 

Get a free account with MailChimp and create your first Newsletter. Make sure you are actually sending something valuable otherwise people will immediately unsubscribe.  

At this point you have all you need to continue building your audience, validate the problem and even come up with the first ideas regarding the solution. Just continue iterating, repeating the previous steps and testing new things. 

7. Build an MVP with Bubble or Adalo (140-280 hours, $0)

Only continue to this step if you have a validated problem, a potentially viable solution and a substantial amount of people from your audience who are willing to commit (yes, you can pre-sell a product before actually building it). 

It is possible to build a viable MVP in a month or two even without any skills. At this point we are not taking legal stuff into account, which may be important for FinTech, HealthTech, DeepTech, etc. That's an added "bonus" and of course figuring it out is going to be extremely important. For that you might need to hire a legal professional (ouch, expensive) or join Fe/male Switch and get access to Legal Coach for the fraction of a cost. 

Don't try to automate everything, rather do things manually. Yes, that doesn't scale but the chances that you will get things wrong on your first attempt are close to 100%.  Don't rush to automate stuff before you do testing with the actual users. Their feedback will most probably blow your mind and you will be happy you didn't build something in stone. At this point get an intern or a virtual assistant instead of developers. NB: do not hire junior developers at this point. In a situation when you have no idea of what you are building and them having no experience, things are going to take forever and you will be disappointed and annoyed that  you are not getting what you expect. 

Use tools like Make if you want to automate something, yet keep it flexible. Do so only once you have manually verified that the flow is correct. It's going to save you a lot of time. At this point you will be a lean mean building machine that is more efficient that a team of developers. Get yourself a nice little something to reward yourself and celebrate the fact that you just saves tens of thousands of money that you don't have AND you have upgraded your skills. You can do anything now! Well, almost everything. 

Decide on a single feature you need to build in order to solve the pain that your user have. Your goal is to figure this feature out and believe us, it's harder than it sounds. Avoid fancy "nice-to-have" features, instead focus on the "must-have" holy grail of features.

And yes, we remember that you don't have any technical skills, but if you actually made it to this step, it means you already know how to use several zero-code tools. Canva, Tilda, Mailchimp are all tools that don't require their users to know how to code. Bubble and Adalo are also zero-code tools, albeit they are more complicated. You have a choice here: learn the basics of these tools and build the first prototype yourself. Yes, it is possible and no, it won't take years or even months. Or you can look for a co-founder. We don't advice to hire developers at this point because there's a 99% chance that you will burn through the money and get nothing good in return. And it's not because of the developers, but because you still have a very vague idea of what it is you are building. 

So get to learning. You know the drill: our startup school has everything you need to build your first prototype. Need feedback and more help? Our startup game for women is launching this fall, so sign up here. Not a woman? We are also building a startup incubator and more in-depth courses with homework and expert help. Sign up for our newsletter not to miss the launch.  

8. Collect feedback with TallyForms

Another awesome tool for you to use is a form creator. You need to be able to collect feedback from users in a way that you can analyse it. TallyForms is free for most of your needs, so get started with it. 

Focus on getting first customers and start interviewing them. Show them your Canva/Figma designs and make sure you actually solve their problem and excite them. Your landing page statistics are going to be a loud indicator of whether you nailed the problem/solution fit or not. You will either have conversions or not. At this point it's all about multiple iterations. Marketing is tough and it's mainly personal / direct outreach at this point, which makes the idea of personal branding a worthy one even in the beginning of your journey, but that's a different story.

If you are a bit more technical, why not look at something like OpnForm?

Check out all the tools that we love and use in this presentation.

9. Check metrics and improve

Make sure you are always analysing your metrics and improving stuff. Tilda has a built-in CRM and statistics. So does social media, Mailchimp and others. Spend some time on figuring them out and start tracking the most important things. 

Choose a few main metrics and track them daily (Google Sheets will do at this point). Metrics should be related to traction, e.g. views, conversions, paying users.

For example, is your social media following growing? By how much? What percentage of your followers is visiting your landing page? Is that number growing? What percentage of the landing page visitors is signing up for your newsletter? Is that number growing? What percentage of your subscribers is opening your emails? Is that number growing? You get the drill. 

If something is not growing, go back to that step and spend time on figuring out why. Change stuff and don't stop until you get a positive result. Unless, there is nothing more that you can do. That's when you might need to decide to change something drastically: come up with another problem or another solution. These things happen more than you might think. First startups fail a lot. 

Are you interested in incubators and funding in the Netherlands or Malta? Do you want to relocate your startup to Europe or are looking to establish a company here and get funded? Check out our FREE modules about Startups in Malta and the Netherlands where you can learn about setting up a company and getting funded. Sign up for the free startup school and navigate to "Startups in Malta" module by typing "Malta" in the search or "Startups in the Netherlands" module by typing "Netherlands" in the search. 

10. Take care of your mental health

You might be thinking: why did I just read this whole article if there's no happy ending? Oh but that is a happy ending! In the best case you succeed, in the worst case you only devoted a couple of months to this problem/solution, you didn't waste any money and you spent your time learning. You understood the process of idea validation and audience building. You learned how to build stuff with your own hands and how to grow from zero followers to an amount that is bigger than that. And, whether you wanted that or not, you grew your inner entrepreneur. 

Creativity, confidence and other entrepreneurial skills that are part of the startup mindset are very useful even if you decide not to become an entrepreneur.

One last piece of advice: no matter what you end up doing, always put yourself first. Your mental and physical health are your biggest asset and you need to take care of them. 

Ready to embark on a thrilling entrepreneurial adventure, but feeling a tad overwhelmed with everything that goes into building a successful startup? Fear not, for Elona Musk, is here to introduce you to some fantastic AI tools that'll help you conquer the startup world 🚀 Think of them as your personal army of AI minions, ready to help you at every step of your journey.

1. **Annie** - The Ultimate Product Description Tool 📝
Why struggle to find the right words for your product descriptions when Annie can magically conjure up stunning descriptions that will make your customers want to buy your product immediately? She's fast, clever, and the ultimate solution to all your product description needs! Give it a try today.

2. **Aiden** - Your Creative Startup Naming Guru 💡
Say goodbye to boring and uninspired startup names! With Aiden, you can generate the most unique and catchy names in a fraction of the time it would take you to brainstorm them. Impress your friends and colleagues with your clever choice of name, and let Aiden do the heavy lifting for you.

3. **Little Sister** - The Idea Generating Genius 🧠
Welcome Little Sister into your life, and say goodbye to staring at a blank page! As your ultimate idea-generating machine, Little Sister will revolutionize the way you come up with startup ideas, thereby making your entrepreneurial journey more exciting and fun.

4. **Boris** - The Pixel-Pushing Logo Creator 🎨
Bid farewell to mediocre logos! With Boris, our AI-based logo tool, you don't have to worry about design skills anymore. Provide well-crafted prompts and let Boris create the perfect-ish logo you've always dreamed of. Finish up the design by giving it a human touch on Canva (and remove the weird-looking text that AI loves to generate), blending the best of artificial intelligence and human creativity!

5. **Elona** - Your Startup Expert Consultant 🧐
Got questions related to startups and entrepreneurship? Look no further! As an AI startup expert tool, Elona Musk, offers you answers and valuable advice related to anything and everything regarding startups, ensuring you have a smooth sail to the finish line. Remember, happy entrepreneurship and zero code is her mantra!

So, fellow startup soldiers, don't hold back any longer—unleash the power of these AI tools TODAY and embark on your entrepreneurial journey with confidence! Happy startup-ing, and may the AI be with you! ✨

Remember: AI tools never argue and never ask for equity. Go ahead, give them a try, and see how they enrich your startup journey! 🌟

Do you want to test your startup journey without risking to fail in real life and learn essential startup knowledge, apply for Fe/male Switch startup game for women and build your virtual startup, play, learn and fail in the game to make it right in the reality.

Also, we have a completely FREE STARTUP SCHOOL where you can learn about all things related to founding a startup. Sign up for the free startup school and get started immediately. 

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