So You’re Starting an App (or Fill-in-the-Blank Tech Company)? Six Do’s and Don’ts to Save You Time, Money, and Headaches

When she graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor's in art, Tara Reed did not expect that she would become an app designer or technological entrepreneur. What Reed lacked in coding knowledge, she made up for in experience, insight, hard work, and the right resources. Today, Tara Reed is the non-technical founder of Kollecto, an art-buying app.  Lately, Tara has been featured on entrepreneur.com, learnstartup.com, TED, and she currently runs a how-to blog for building an app without coding experience.

Based on Tara’s story, we’ve come up with six rules we wish we all knew before launching a tech company or app:

          1. Forget the notion that you can’t do it

If Tara’s story teaches anything, it’s that anyone can learn how to code. As an art major, Tara explained in an interview with Diva Tech Talk that she “fell into technology by accident” after taking an internship at Google. The tech field thrives because it is made up of diverse, dynamic people with varied skills and interests.

          2. Get experience in the tech field

At her internship at Google, Tara learned about the startup scene and the ups and downs of the tech world. She then went on to work at the close-knit atmosphere of Four Square and the larger corporate setting at Microsoft. Her differing experiences at both companies showed her the various work environments of the tech world and allowed her to decide what model she would later adapt for her own business. She worked with mentors who inspired her to continue to work in the field by forcing her to “think about what a career inside of technology could look like” (Diva Talk Tech). While working at Microsoft, Tara began a side project that would later evolve into her own business.

          3. Combine your passions

Tara’s first love was always art. So it was natural for her to use her knowledge of the art world and her experience in technology to formulate an idea to provide an important service that the art world was missing. Just like other apps that recommend and purchase movies, music, and books, Tara wanted to develop an app that would allow people to get recommendations for collecting art. The app connects people with art buyers who match them with art based on the user's taste. With Kollecto, Tara created an easy and innovative way to update art collecting with modern technology.

          4. It’s ok if you don’t know how to code-- there are plenty of tools out there

Tara had the idea and the drive, but the only thing she was missing was a knowledge of coding. Despite her initial doubts, Tara was able to find the best resources to  build her app. She first attended a boot camp program called Orbital. There, she created a landing page to test how much potential customers knew about art, how much help they would need acquiring art, and how much they would pay for it. This allowed her to test the user demand and interest for her service and future products.

In 2014, Tara left Microsoft to officially launch Kollecto. At this early stage of her business, Tara was using various tools to build an MVP without needing to hire engineers. She used Strikingly to build her website, Typeform to build taste profiles for users, email for communication between advisers and clients, and Plaso, Stripe, and Paypal for payment. Although it was a lot of work, it was less burdensome and less expensive than hiring a development team.

When Kollecto was accepted into the 500 Startups Accelerator, the app already has 400 active users and around $30,000 in art sales. At this point, Tara continued to refine the code-free tools she used, adding Zapier, Google Spreadsheets, and SurveyGizmo.

However, with thousands of users, it became increasingly difficult to rely on human labor to match customers with advisers on the survey-based app. Tara decided to rebuild the app using Bubble and AirDev to help create an art-matching algorithm. Now, everything Tara needed to manage-- from website builders to form generators-- was on a single platform. While she still used art advisers to categorize art using the internal taxonomy, the core function of Kollecto was the art-matching algorithm that would have been impossible to integrate without code before Bubble.

          5. Don’t worry about making your app perfect right away

Tara says that when creating a new product or business, one should “build a service first” because it encourages dialogue with possible users. By doing this for Kollecto, she was able to build the first application based on conversations with interested prospects (Diva Tech Talk). In the early stages of Kollecto’s development, Tara wanted to release MVPs and iterate quickly to get user feedback and determine if Kollecto was a product that customers, advisers, and galleries would want. Although it might seem a little hectic the beginning, this tactic really pays off in the long run.

          6. Don’t forget the power of social media spreading

As if everyone didn’t already know, building a social media presence is essential when starting a new business. Tara used several social media tools to expand her client base and grow Kollecto. One tool was Socedo.com which targets potential users based on their Twitter comments. Tara also uses social media to engage in useful dialogue and debates that have helped her better organize her company and promote growth (Diva Tech Talk).

Samantha Sheppe