Do I need to pay a developer to build my startup MVP, or can I use a site builder?
The Web Developer’s Take
If you ask some developers this question, you’ll hear that you absolutely must hire someone to build a custom site from scratch if you want anyone to take you seriously and if you want to provide the best experience to users. The idea that every startup needs a custom web app is a self-serving position for developers to take. As with most advice, this doesn’t apply across the board.
Analyze Your Startup’s Needs
If your app absolutely must do something, and there are no existing tools you can use to do it, build a custom app. If you must do it in a particular way that no tools can support, build a custom app. (Also, does your business really need this, or is it just the most fun direction for you to go right now?) Outside these cases, you should build your MVP using existing tools where possible. Hire a developer only if you can’t get there any other way. Spend as little as possible to build an MVP that will start testing your assumptions and guide you which direction to proceed from here.
Which Tools Do I Use?
If your site just needs content and maybe a way to sell items, Wix, WordPress.com, and Squarespace are all great solutions. Of those, I lean toward Squarespace because it’s easy to use, looks great, and offers some additional flexibility that might allow you to get deeper into your startup without changing platforms. (You could hire a developer to add some custom functionality to your Squarespace site.) Use their two-week trial to start building your site and make sure the platform will do anything you need.
If your startup isn’t about content or selling products, look for other existing tools that can get you 80-90% of the way there. Even these easy-to-use platforms may be more than you need. Derek Sivers talks about meeting someone who wanted to build a music suggestion service and needed $2 million to get started. Check out his advice in the embedded video. (Skip to 25 minutes in.)
If you can test the viability of your business by talking to some people or building a prototype on paper and showing it to people, by all means do that before you go trying to spend your own money or get funded for your idea.
Won’t Investors/Customers Laugh at Me?
Investors care about your tech, but it’s not the thing they care about most. If you have a million users or solid revenue, you will be able to get someone to invest. If you can convince 100,000 people per day to each drop a dollar into a shoebox, you’ll have investors if you need them to help you scale it even though the most advanced tech you have is the shoebox.
Users are even easier to please than investors. If you build something that solves a problem for people, they really don’t care what platform or technology you’re built on. Make their lives better, and you’re on your way to a successful startup whether or not you have a fancy custom app.
Cheap and Fast; Good Comes Later
Building the smallest MVP you can the cheapest and fastest way possible. Remember: you want to spend as little money as possible and get going as quickly as possible. Hiring a developer to build a custom app is the exact wrong way to get there. Use whatever existing tools you can find that allow you to get close, and start talking to your users!