Welcome to Meet the Service, a newsletter by Fishburners, where we meet the expert operators and strategists who are scaling their impact across the ecosystem. In this series, we’ll be diving into their world as the experts of their chosen domains, hearing all about their experiences, valuable lessons and practical advice on the art of building, growing and operating startups.
Lightning Products: the Service Revolutionising Product Development for Early Stage Startups.
Meet Lightning Products, the no-code innovation studio that is revolutionising the way early-stage startups build software products. With a mission to break down the technical barriers that are preventing world-changing ideas from coming to life, Lightning Products not only makes building software accessible to non-technical founders but makes it vastly easier, cheaper and faster than ever before.
Kicking off our new series, Meet The Service, we met with David McManus, the Founder and Director of Lightning Products, to get a glimpse into the world of no-code development and the work he’s doing around the ecosystem to help founders bring their ideas to life without the need for large upfront investment.
In this newsletter, you’ll hear all about Dave’s experience building a startup in Silicon Valley, the lessons he learned as a founder and Product operator; and how that led him to start Lightning Products and help fellow founders build strong foundations for success through no-code development and strong Product practices.
You can connect with Dave and a suite of other experienced Startup Service Providers, 100% free via the Fishburners Service Hub. Get started now →
Hey Dave, thanks so much for joining us today. To kick off, could you tell us about your journey to starting Lightning Products and what sparked your interest in building with No Code software?
Great to be here! It all started for me when I built my first company Tuki Health. Tuki Health was a HIPAA-compliant software application that was built with custom code. I moved to Silicon Valley with a big vision to connect the food system with the medical system and use food as medicine. I spent a long time convincing software developers to join me, including my cofounder & CTO who was working at a highly funded Y Combinator startup.
I built this company over 3 years and had customers like Stanford Health, UCLA Hospital and Cornell Weill hospitals in NYC. What I learned from this experience was that the amount of time spent convincing developers to join my team, and trying to raise money from investors, could have been better spent actually building and selling my product.
After shutting down Tuki Health, I learned about NoCode. My mind was instantly blown. At first, I thought it was a gimmick. Surely you can’t build scalable high-quality applications without code? But as I read more and started to build my own applications, I quickly learned that this wasn’t a fad and this was the direction software development heading in the future. So, I began building out a ton of different applications and even started another startup in just two 2 weeks while I was locked in a hotel room during a Covid quarantine period!
Once I realised the impact and opportunities no code tools could bring. I became really motivated to share this impact across the ecosystem and help other founders avoid the mistakes I made while starting my first businesses. And hence, Lightning products was born!
We spoke a little earlier about Lightning Product’s superpower, and you mentioned you and your team’s experience as founders is what sets you apart from other product and software teams. How has your experience at Tuki Health (and your other startups) shaped the way you work with startup clients and position them for success?
The experience I had as a founder has had a huge influence on the way I operate today. During my time in the US, I was lucky to be mentored by some of the best startup founders in Silicon Valley (including some who sold their companies for $600M+). Having access to these people was invaluable for my development both personally and as a startup operator and I put in a big effort to ensure these are carried through to our startup clients through our work at Lightning.
One of the key things I learned was the importance of keeping things simple. I think most first-time founders try to build something very ambitious and they have a difficult time trying to execute because they don’t have the necessary tools yet.
If I had that time at Tuki Health again, I would start small and build something cash flow positive first so that I can more easily build and grow from there. There are many ways to do this, but it can be as simple as building a prototype and getting early customers to fund your development.
I built Lightning Products with the mission to help reduce the technical barriers that are preventing world-changing ideas from coming to light, and I think this is really central to my experience in Silicon Valley.
Keeping development costs low and getting products out to the world for validation and testing quickly, is the best way to ensure that you’re developing a customer-centric product that will generate revenue. It also means you can spend more of your time focusing on developing other important skills, such as selling, which are essential to creating a successful business. At the end of the day, the only real validation you need is seeing cash in your bank account (despite what other courses might tell you 🙂), and in my experience, using no-code tools is one of the best ways you can enable yourself to do this.
So, by educating founders and facilitating the development and growth of quality no-code products, I’m proud to say that we’re bridging the gaps that existed in my experience as a founder, and in turn, are helping other entrepreneurs set a stronger foundation for their success as well.
Known for their rapid pace and swift decision-making, startups embody a very dynamic working style. What does Lightning Products do to facilitate the necessary flexibility and growth needed by their startup clients?
Aside from all the benefits a no-code stack offers when trying to maintain flexibility and agility as a startup, we also use the mantra “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” (taken from Navy Seals). We help founders build a strong foundation for growth by setting them up with the tools they need to articulate what they are trying to build. A big part of this process is prototyping, using Figma or other user-friendly tools like Google Slides. This helps ensure you can quickly and cheaply test assumptions and products before investing in expensive builds and software.
User testing is really central to our work at Lightning and it’s something we place a lot of importance on, making sure it’s embedded directly within all of our dev-ops. While it can seem like a blocker when you’re trying to rapidly ship products and get to market, user testing is one of the best investments you can make to reduce errors and save money and time in the long term.
Similarly, being able to effectively communicate with developers and project management is a key skill we teach founders as they move along in their journey. This is one of the many reasons we offer all our clients the support of a full product team; to help you build this practice with a skilled team behind you.
Being able to articulate your vision and communicate effectively with a team, is one of those investments that’ll continue to pay dividends for years to come. Without it, you’ll find it really hard to pivot and grow in the way you need.
What are some common challenges you see founders face as they develop software products? And, what measures do you implement into your own work at Lightning Products to ensure your clients don’t meet the same obstacles?
Again, one of the key obstacles we see is when founders or teams haven’t properly user-tested their product and are just running off assumptions. At Lightning Products we have a set methodology of how we run user testing and allow clients to run this with their potential customers.
Another common challenge we see is a lack of funding, and the advice we give here is to encourage founders to get on the tools and start building themselves. Employing someone to build your software can get very expensive, very quickly. So, it’s best to save this capital to build something once you’ve hit product market fit or gathered enough validation to prove your concept. Fortunately, with no-code tools, you can learn the basics fairly quickly and get started building early versions of your product yourself, ironing out assumptions and learning from your users/customers early.
Even if the product you build is far from what you envision your end product to be, getting started and building yourself will open up doors to begin building revenue and raising capital so you can afford to pay someone to build your long-term, quality software. This is actually the reason why we’ve launched Lightning Education, our 8-week no-code boot camps, so that we can help empower founders to build their own no-code products quickly and easily, with experts they can lean on for support.
You can get started with our boot camp or inquire with us directly by visiting our listing on the Fishburners Service Hub here.
Lastly, for those who are currently building, or looking to start building their software products, what piece of advice would you share?
Speak to customers daily! Try to sell as much as you can, as this indicates what is truly a problem for them.
Don’t skip user testing! Always do it even if you are in a rush to launch something. You will regret it if you skip it 😀
If you’re not technical and have limited funds. Consider learning to build it yourself using NoCode tools. If you join a program like Lightning Education you will learn how to do it yourself and become self-sufficient. If a customer asks you for a feature then you’ll quickly be able to edit your product and improve it meaning faster iterations.
Psychological runway is real! Starting a startup is really hard. People talk about financial runway all the time, but what they don’t talk about is that you have a limited psychological runway. At some point, you will hit the wall and want to quit. This great article by one of my mentors Ned Dwyer explains it perfectly.
Startups are a momentum game. Linked to your psychological runway and your ability to build products yourself, if you’re not selling and bringing on new customers or increasing usage/stickiness of existing customers consistently, then you’re going to run out of steam eventually. You need to make sure you’re constantly making progress, otherwise, you will lose motivation eventually and burn out.