From entrepreneur to developer: A journey
Hi, I am Chris Heuer. I’m a serial entrepreneur, an IBM® Futurist, and someone who can’t stop coming up with big ideas for technology companies. I’ve spent the last three years building a startup called Alynd, which pivoted to Will Someone last year and is now seeking to be acquired. Anything is possible! Except I can’t code. So today marks the beginning of my journey to solve that challenge by learning to code so that I can develop an app idea I have called Relyable using IBM Bluemix®.
I invite you to follow along this blog series, starting with this first post, as I transform myself from a creative, technically savvy business guy with an idea into a junior full stack engineer who built his first app. It’s very important to note that the way I am doing this will cost little to NO money. I am primarily leveraging an investment of my time along with free or low cost online and real world resources, provided by IBM programs or elsewhere as needed. I will journey from my idea (Relyable) to creating my app.
Long ago, I learned the biggest challenge most people face in choosing to build a startup was their self limiting beliefs, particularly about what they need to have. If only I had enough money… If only I had more connections… If only I knew how to code… It’s particularly tough when there is a degree of truth to the beliefs.
What I’ve learned is that if you are passionate enough, you will do whatever it takes. If the idea is strong enough, and your connection to the possibility of the idea becoming real keeps nagging at you, despite limitations real or perceived, you will find a way. You will have to find a way, it’s your only choice, it’s who you are regardless of your background, your education, your skills, or your age.
While I learned to program in junior high school through a special program at Miami Dade Community College back in 1982, I am not a programmer. Still, over the years, I’ve led teams that have built dozens of web applications, two content management systems, an enterprise grade collaboration platform, and (recently) a community collaboration app. I’ve learned to manage code repositories and the basics of running a web server. I taught myself HTML and I can read between the lines to make some basic front end text edits to production code in Ruby, Python, and PHP.
I’m a reasonably smart technologist and businessman, but for years, I put off learning to code to focus on my strengths. It always seemed too difficult. It always seemed like I shouldn’t need to learn it. While I still haven’t found the startup success I’ve been seeking, I keep trying. For the last several years, I’ve been working on a really big idea for a platform, what several people smarter than I have called a Linkedin killer. After investing all of our savings, taking out loans, maxing my credit cards, and getting a little angel money from friends and family to pay developers from around the world, I haven’t yet managed to build my MVP, and now I am out of runway. Though I’ve learned a lot…
Most notably, I learned that paying others to do the development for me put me at a disadvantage when trying to incorporate user feedback and other improvements. This slowed down the process a great deal, especially as money got tighter and I had to look everywhere to find more money to fund the changes that could have taken the idea from a prototype to an MVP. What’s the difference? Simply put, the MVP (minimum viable product) is the simplest thing you can build that has the unique features and benefits that will get people to use the product regularly. Given my resource and skill constraints, some of the changes I wanted to test out took months to incorporate into the product.
Why didn’t I find a technical cofounder or an engineer to build it for me? I tried. Perhaps not hard enough, but I went to all the cofounder meetups, I asked for help through my social networks, and I kept networking, but most of the amazing people I know are either engaged in their own really big startup or were in need of getting paid — often needing to be paid a lot. So I had to become the CTO who doesn’t code. We got it built. In fact, I managed to get a lot built for the money invested, but we never reached the product market fit, and I never hit the marketing gas pedal because I knew the key functionality and user experience wasn’t quite there.
Enough is enough
While I am now 46 years old, it’s still not too late to learn to code. So thanks to my friends at IBM and the amazing advancement in software development tools and server technology, I am embarking on a journey to learn to code on the Bluemix platform. I’ve joined IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Program, which provides tons of benefits for startups, including credits toward the Bluemix hosting platform, but which, most importantly for me, includes the sort of support that makes this journey to build Relyable possible.
I highly recommend taking some online classes on coding fundamentals or intro to coding. My friend, advisor, and angel investor Rob Underwood suggests “the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming” CS50 course from Harvard that is online for free. I also have been using Lynda.com’s course “Foundations of Programming: Fundamentals,” which you can take for free if you have a Linkedin Premium membership.
Over the next couple of months, I will share my journey to build my next prototype as I learn to code in the hopes that other noncoding entrepreneurs with a software idea might learn from my experience. If you’re interested in taking this journey too, I’d be happy for you to join me, not only here on the blog, but in my Facebook group Entrepreneurs Learning to Code. I will kick things off in earnest next week with my post on getting started, learning the IBM language, and navigating Bluemix.
The great thing about the world today is that if you want to do something, if you want to learn something, there is always a way. Often, it’s made available for free, or in partnership with a company such as IBM. You just have to be willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Are you willing to build it yourself? I am.
Let’s bring the “Build It Yourself” (BIY) concept to life.
Learn more about Bluemix
- The Bluemix developers community
- The Cloud Architecture Center
- API Explorer
- Bluemix quick-start demos and guides