Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #18

Inventing Internet search, giving up on your startup dreams, and how to find a software developer to building your brilliant idea

This week, I had an opportunity to speak with Internet royalty, and it was incredible. His name is Alan Emtage, and he’s the person who invented Internet search. As-in… at some point, you couldn’t search for things online, and someone — Alan — had to figure out how to solve that problem. How cool is that? So if you haven’t listened to an episode of Web Masters yet, be sure to check out this one. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.

Also in this issue, I answer a question I get a lot from struggling entrepreneurs: How do I build my idea for a piece of software if I don’t know how to code?

If you’ve got questions of your own, just reply to this email and ask. And if you find anything useful in here, please forward it to someone who might appreciate it, too.



Is It Time to Give Up On Your Startup Dreams?

Starting a startup is hard. But knowing when to quit is even harder. So what's the best way to know when it's time to waive the white flag of defeat?

The Pack Rat Who Invented Internet Search

When you need to find something online, you open Google and enter a search query. But that wasn't always possible. Early in Internet history, search engines didn't exist, and you couldn't search for things. That all changed thanks to Alan Emtage, the man who invented Internet search.

Get the full story from Web Masters via:

…or just search “Web Masters” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Why Did the Founder of the World’s First Internet Startup Sacrifice a Multi-Billion Dollar Patent?

Success and failure in startups is usually determined by money. But what happens when an entrepreneur turns down enormous amounts of money in order for the startup to provide more value to more people and, as a result, the startup runs out of money but the technology flourishes? Is that a success?

Office Hours Q&A



If I have an idea for a software but I don’t know how to code, would you recommend learning to build it myself or finding a developer? I’ve also been reading a lot recently about the “No Code” movement where you basically just drag and drop to create software. Would that really work?

I’m really anxious to launch my idea, but I’m struggling to find a developer and don’t have the money to hire someone. Any advice you can give here would be really helpful. How can I learn to code? Would you recommend taking any sorts of classes? Etc.




I’ll start this answer off with a callback to an article I published a while ago called “Learning to Code Was the Worst Decision I Made as an Entrepreneur.” The gist of the article is that at one point I was just like you: I was a guy with an idea for a software, but I didn’t know the first thing about coding. Since I couldn’t find someone to build the site for me, I taught myself.

The idea I thought was so brilliant at the time didn’t end up working out, but I discovered I enjoyed coding, and I kept experimenting and learning until I became capable of developing complex Web apps in a variety of programming languages, and now I can build just about anything I want.

Sounds great, right?

Not quite. A funny thing happens when you’re an entrepreneur who learns to code: you start building all your ideas yourself. That probably sounds great to you right now because it seems like it would solve your biggest problem. But it ignores one crucial fact: your job isn’t to build a product; your job is to build a company. Every minute you spend coding is a minute you probably should have spent doing something else.

This is what happened to me. I got in a nasty habit of building software nobody wanted or that I couldn’t figure out how to sell because I spent all my time coding rather than finding potential customers. 

Instead of learning to code, spend your time validating your market opportunity by talking with potential customers/users and figuring out how you’re going to sell whatever ultimately gets built. Once you’ve done that (or maybe you already have?), find some way of developing a proof-of-concept version that doesn’t require a developer, and sell that.

In your question, you pointed to something that’s a good choice: the “no code” solutions. Yes... go spend a few bucks on a no-code service and create a prototype in an afternoon. It won’t be pretty, but you don’t need your solution to be perfect. Or maybe you can replicate the core value proposition of what you’re selling with existing products, in which case you can sell your version of the product as a service you do for other people prior to having a software that can do it for you.

Whatever path you choose, if you’ve hit on a genuine market need, some portion of potential consumers will be so desperate for a solution that they’ll happily use whatever crummy version of a product or service you develop even if it only delivers a fraction of the value they’re looking for. That’s OK… we all have to start somewhere.

Focus on getting enough of these early, desperate customers, and you’ll have validated your market opportunity enough to justify finding/hiring a developer for a custom solution. You might even have some cash flow to pay and/or enough traction to raise a little capital.

The bottom line is that there’s someone in the world who can build whatever software idea you have. In fact, there are surely thousands of people… maybe even millions. Yes, you could learn to build it yourself, but then you’re not doing what you should be doing, which is building the business.

Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!