How to Test Startup Ideas With No Code (And No Cash)

Tristan Watson
February 7, 2019

So you’ve got an amazing startup idea but can’t code. You start looking around for a technical co-founder, or cashing in your savings to pay an agency to build your ‘MVP’.


I’ve met far too many founders who gave up 50% equity and/or a large chunk of their life savings to get a product built without even knowing if it was their customers really needed.

This is true for founders who can code too – there’s no point in spending months building a fully featured app before you know what people really want.

“I even started coding Buffer before I’d tested the viability of the business. As soon as I realised that, I stopped, took a deep breath and told myself: do it the right way this time. It was time to test whether people wanted this product “ -Joel Gascoigne, CEO, Buffer

I think all first time founders (and some second time ones) are guilty of worrying too much about the solution they want to build rather than focusing on the problem they’re trying to solve.

I speak from Experience

When I was working on LoveYourLarder (an artisan food marketplace) it took me 9 months to go from the idea to launch (and cost me 50% equity to find a technical co-founder), but looking back I can see how I could (and should) have done it with no code in 30 minutes! Just think of the customer feedback I could have got in those 9 months (and the equity I would have saved) if I’d done that, rather than spending all that time trying to make something that had all the features I thought we needed!

When we launched LarderBox (a subscription box spin off from LYL) it only took us 2 days to go from idea to launch, and it was significantly more successful. Rather than worrying about the features we thought we needed, we focused on what was needed to solve the problem for the customer – in our case it was a single page site with a paypal at the bottom. We took £20,000 in sales through that system before we bothered to start adding new features (and no one ever complained about the lack of functionality).

The lesson this taught me was that it was far better to quickly test ideas using the simplest possible tools to hand, rather than worrying about creating an elegant solution.

If someone is thirsty then they don’t care whether you’re giving them the water in a stone bowl or a cut glass tumbler.

The biggest hurdle for any founder or startup is figuring out whether you’re solving a real problem for anyone (and ideally one that they’ll pay to have solved). However many customers you talk to, the only true test is to see if people will use what you build for them.

What’s the quickest way to test a startup idea?

The first rule is not to write any code. This is really hard to hear for technical founders, but the constraints of testing an idea without writing any code really help with the discipline required to move quickly.

The second is to question what format your solution needs to take? Everyone defaults to an app/website, but what about email, text or call based? Make sure you’re focused what will be simplest for your customer, not on what you think is going to be most scalable/investable.

“One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale.” Paul Graham

Thirdly make sure you know what a successful outcome looks like before you start testing. How could you measure customer satisfaction — will it be how often they login, or is there a better metric for your company? Focus on making the customer happy, not on vanity numbers like number of downloads.


Before getting into the how and what of testing your idea, take a moment to get inspired by how others have taken the no code approach to test their startup ideas:

Building Buffer with a Landing Page

Joel Gascoigne was one of the early evangelists for the lean startup methodology, and after several failures he tested his idea for Buffer using a two-step landing page. The company now does $1.5M in MRR, so it doesn’t matter how you start — it’s what you do next that counts. Link

Building an MVP in 24 Hours

Great example of how to use simple tools like Airtable, Carrd and Zapier to build a quick MVP, including all the steps they used to get it built and live. Link

Launching Product Hunt as an Email

From being created and launched in 20 minutes, to selling to Angellist for $20m, Product Hunt is an amazing story of what’s possible when you focus on a real problem. Read the full story here.


One of the hardest parts of the no code approach is deciding what and how to test your idea. There’s a number of different approaches, some of the best ones I’ve listed below.

Email First Startups

One of the quickest ways to start testing ideas without absolutely zero code is the email first approach. This post, written by Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt fame, goes into the benefits, plus you can read below about how he used this approach to launch PH. Link

Wizard of Oz Prototype

Customers don’t really care about what’s in your tech stack, they just care that the problem’s being solved. The Wizard of Oz prototype takes this idea to it’s extreme – behind a web or email interface is a person who carries out any complicated tasks and then sends the results back to the user. Very hard to scale, but a great place to start testing with customers as you really get to understand what’s important. Link


A lot of people struggle with what an MVP should be, whereas this post focuses on the idea of a RAT (Riskiest Assumption Test). Rather than worrying about what features to include in your MVP, think what is the quickest way to test the biggest assumptions you’ve made. Link


Now you know what you’re going to launch all you need is to get something hacked together! There’s loads of great products out there now like Airtable, Zapier and Carrd, and the sites below list some of the best combinations to get you up and running.

The No-Code Toolkit

Great list of tools and hacks broken down by front end, back end and payments. Put together by Andrey Azimov who was the Product Hunt’s Maker of the Year — so he knows a thing or two about building products! Link


Ben Tossell has created a series of tutorials and resources that make it incredibly easy to get started with your idea. Tutorials cover using different tools, plus there’s the opportunity to get one-to-one advice from Ben on your idea. Link

Rise of No Code

Another post from Ryan Hoover, this one listing some of the best tools for making quick and easy prototypes. Some of these are paid for if you want to get the full functionality, but there’s plenty of free trials to start with. Link

Time to Launch

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

Now you’ve got no more excuses. Whether you can or can’t code, and whatever your experience, we live in an age where you can have an idea today and test it with thousands of people tomorrow.

Don’t worry about finding the perfect idea to start with (we tend to have very poor judgement of our own ideas), instead find interesting problems and start trying solutions. Eventually you’ll strike gold.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on!