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Tackling the buy vs. build challenge in digital health

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Feb 18, 2020

5 min read

How to weigh cost, function, and compliance when building digital healthcare products

Startup founders often struggle with a fundamental product question: To code, or not to code? Building products from the ground up requires an investment of resources and a skilled technical team, which can make the MVP (minimum viable product) a daunting feat for early-stage companies.

In response to this common challenge, an avalanche of “no code” and “low code” tools and platforms have promised a more affordable, less technically challenging solution for lean teams. No code or low code platforms provide a visual development environment where non-technical users can drag and drop features or components to make up a website or application without writing or editing code. These platforms seek to meet common needs from e-commerce, to logistics, to publishing.

While no code and low code platforms can save time and money, they also come with limitations. For healthcare companies navigating the complicated landscape of HIPAA or FDA approval, these limitations may interfere with product efficacy or compliance. We’ve put together the following guidelines to help founding healthcare teams determine the best path to MVP.

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The HTD Approach

Though HTD offers full-service software design and development, we are not in the business of charging clients to build something that they could easily assemble with existing no code or low code tools. Our goal is to help excellent teams—from early-stage startups to large established companies—determine what product features and functions are required to demonstrate value that will unlock additional resources (e.g. a new customer segment, additional company buy-in, or a next round of funding).

When creating something new, the biggest hurdle is proving product-market fit: According to CB Insights, poor product-market fit is the number one reason why startups fail. In some cases, it may be advantageous to launch the most bare-bones version of a product to validate hypotheses before investing in a full product build. As Reid Hoffman famously stated, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

In healthcare, these stakes are often higher and any product that affects the health and well-being of a patient should not cut corners or be launched prematurely. But even—and perhaps especially—in healthcare, it’s worth asking three key questions:

  1. What goal or value are you hoping to provide with your product MVP?
  2. What outcomes or results would help unlock additional resources for your team?
  3. What product features or functions are crucial to achieving those desired outcomes?

Anything not listed in response to question 3 is a nice-to-have and should only be included if the budget allows.

Product Budget

Unfortunately, there is no magic number that dictates the “right amount” to spend, but if you are building an MVP in healthcare, you can expect to invest substantial resources. Our team often meets with healthcare entrepreneurs who are pursuing an important vision but have not raised funds to cover the cost of product design and development. Digital services groups handle this scenario differently, but at HTD we do not think that lack of resources should stand in the way of bringing an excellent product vision to life.

We believe in engaging with quality teams and entrepreneurs at all stages. For those without the resources to custom build a product MVP, we offer support in other ways:

  • Help teams create a marketing page to “stand up” a company and engage users before building a product
  • Offer technical guidance to help validate an MVP before paying for custom development
  • In special cases, co-create or co-found new ventures with exceptional founders

There are many ways to prove product-market fit that don’t necessarily require a fully developed app. For instance, rather than build a multi-page website, a simple Google Form may be sufficient to collect the email addresses of interested users. Or before building a custom content platform, a Medium blog or shared folder may do the trick. We point many entrepreneurs to no code and low code development that can be done on a shoestring budget.

Product Functionality

Depending on desired functionality, many no code or low code platforms can help cover the basics of a company website or even product MVP. The following list covers a few of our favorites. Mariam Hakobyan, CEO and co-founder of Softr, has also put together a more comprehensive Trello list of over 100 no code and low code resources for entrepreneurs.


  • Shopify is a popular no code or low-code (depending on your needs) solution for setting up an online store
  • Squarespace, another prominent low/no code resource for building websites, also advertises an out-of-the-box ecommerce feature set


  • WordPress is widely used to build content-focused websites and also has an extensive plugin ecosystem that makes it quite powerful—such as WooCommerce for eCommerce
  • Medium is also used by many small teams to build a community of interested readers

Customer surveys

  • Google Forms can be used to collect quantitative data from an existing community of users to test hypotheses and validate ideas
  • Survey Monkey also allows companies to customize surveys for a data-driven approach
  • Typeform advertises visually engaging forms and surveys for an engaging user experience

Landing Pages

  • Launch Rock’s marketing landing page templates can help starups build an online presence before launching a fully developed website
  • Carrd also offers free single-page sites for new products and companies


  • Air Table helps teams store and share resources and track workflows
  • Actiondesk offers a “spreadsheet with superpowers” which combines and refreshes data from multiple sources
  • Parabola also combines data across sources to automate routine data tasks

Web Apps

  • Microsoft Power Apps offers templates to help teams build and launch apps with limited developer hours

Mobile Apps

  • Thunkable allows teams to create a mobile app using drag-and-drop development features
  • GlideApps helps teams quickly convert google sheets into engaging mobile apps


  • Though most integrations require developer know-how, Zapier aims to streamline and simplify this process
  • Clay connects apps to build and automate workflows

Data Collection

  • FormStack helps gather data using custom forms and is easy to roll into a custom system once a product has matured to require a custom developed solution

No/Low Code Limitations

For those building products for healthcare, an important limitation to consider is data privacy and security. The majority of no/low code platforms do not meet HIPAA compliance requirements, but some offer “enterprise” plans that will allow them to store and process patient health information. While these enterprise plans can be expensive, the price tag might be worth it if they allow a healthcare company to launch and recognize revenue without writing a single line of code.

Final Thoughts

There is no perfect recipe for building a product MVP. Identifying the right solution requires weighing budget, product feature and function needs, and security and compliance considerations. For lean teams with limited resources, no code or low code tools may help validate a product before hiring a team of developers or contracting an agency to build custom software from scratch. If you’re working on a digital health or wellness product, reach out to info@‌ to discuss what solution may be right for you.

Zach is co-founder and CEO of HTD. With a background in software engineering, he has spent the last several years advising health and wellness companies on digital product strategy and development.

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