by Zach Johnson
I wrote my first line of code just shy of 20 years ago. I wasn’t especially early to the game of computing by anyone’s definition but I was ready with a small set of skills in 1997 when the first dot com boom boomed. At that time I knew enough to meaningfully contribute to some pretty ground-breaking stuff and saw the launch and growth (and, in some cases, the subsequent crash) of some very cool products, projects and companies. Through formal classroom instruction, a stack of O’Reilly books and Lynda.com, I gained sufficient chops to write some decent code but never really got much beyond scripting and into the realm of engineering software.
Fast forward to 2016 — several jobs, companies, countries and continents later and I’m still arguably capable of writing some very mediocre code. The difference now, however, is that my marginal skills combined with a plethora of platforms, services, libraries, utilities and SaaS products can produce some remarkable results approaching commercial grade software. This was really driven home for me by recent experience dabbling with Slack integrations and bots in particular. Products like Botkit represent near layman-level starting point to do some incredibly interesting things via a set of tools that also allow non-developers to build things relatively easily — the Slack API.
Early experimentation with these tools and with other products like Squarespace have led me to the conclusion that words are the new code. Not for everyone of course. For software engineers code is king (duh!) but for the average startup founder, businesses can be launched, ideas validated, product market fit tested and traction gained using some very sophisticated tools, none of which require the writing of any code. Which leaves words.
Customer experience, of both brand and product have mostly been via the written word for ages and today, with the exciting resurgence/emergence of the Conversational UI, words are the most important element of many products and, in fact, for some such as Clara Labs, x.ai, Howdy, Assist, Operator and others, words are the product.
We’re not all capable of creating our very own Jarvis as a side project but many of us are more than capable of serving up compelling functionality in the interfaces we’re already using and focusing on the text-based interaction we have with our customers and colleagues. Combine this with the power of content marketing to generate buzz and you can launch products faster and with less money today then ever before. What does this mean for today’s digital entrepreneurs faced with creating an MVP without a technical cofounder? If you want to attract customers more quickly while delivering deeper engagement, use your words.