How do I realize my simple yet amazing software idea?
October 31, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I need to know the right way to take my groundbreaking software concept from idea to reality.

I have an incredible idea (lets assume it is groundbreaking for the sake of this question). The idea is in the realm of personal budgeting and there is nothing like it.

I want to turn my idea into a simple and elegant iphone app and start an "on the side company" with the goal of it becoming a full time venture.

So that said, I am an idea person and have a vision but need (obviously) a programmer.

What should I do guys? My thoughts were to ideally find a programmer and make him/her a "co-founder" and 50/50 partner.

I know once I shared my idea and vision I could get any person on board with me but where do I find the talent? Craigslist?

Where can I get exposure to devs?

Or is that the wrong way to go?

I do not think this is a good idea but since I have this earthshattering concept and idea - should I approach an already established company with it (any ideas on one that would not steal it and boot me if so?)? One that is already in the related industry?

Assuming that whoever hears this idea will love it, what is the best path to take? And if the first, where can I find devs / get exposure to them so I can present this idea!!
posted by iz0rz to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sourcebits is well-respected as far as programming for hire goes. They're not cheap, but they will do the job right and leave the ownership 100% in your hands.

Keep in mind that your idea is probably not as groundbreaking as you think it is.
posted by modernserf at 8:53 AM on October 31, 2011

No competent programmer is going to work on your idea for free. And developing your app for equity in a company that doesn't really exist is the same thing as working for free.

If you want to go cheap, hit any of the freelance sites and find an offshore source to at least get you a working demo. If it really is that groundbreaking a working demo will help you attract some capital to pay for proper development.
posted by COD at 9:07 AM on October 31, 2011

I would read this article. Some good general tips but I especially approve of the prototyping step: you need it to flesh out your idea and it would sure help to communicate with your hired programmer/partner. There are some suggestions for how to prototype in that article. If you are looking for funding, the prototype is almost mandatory, and is probably a minimum requirement. I agree with modernserf that your idea might not be as groundbreaking as you think. And anybody doing software development to sell as a product has to be aware that a lot of software patents have been granted. You might like to use one of the patent search sites before you infringe.
Good luck.
posted by PickeringPete at 9:10 AM on October 31, 2011

I'm a programmer and I see literally dozens of requests for "just write my program in exchange for equity" each week. It's really hard to take anyone seriously who doesn't have a business plan, a user study, hasn't done any market research, examined the competitors, etc.

In my opinion, if you don't have enough capital to pay a programmer even a token amount upfront, you're probably not going to have the capital to run your business successfully and actually make any income. So asking for programmers for to work for equity alone is kind of insane.

Ideas are cheap -- every single human being has tons of ideas for Making Things Better. Execution is painful and expensive.
posted by miyabo at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2011 [28 favorites]

jon1270: "Previous questions about monetizing ideas"

Agreed, this question has ben asked many, many times. The answer is always the same: Do you have cash? Ideas have no value.

"simple yet amazing software idea"

I can absolutely guarantee you, if this were true someone would have done it. Your idea is almost certainly either (a) actually much harder than it seems, and/or (b) not a strong enough value proposition to enough people to be worth selling.

Do you have a business plan? Start with that. Identify your market. Figure out what your product is worth to them. Ballpark potential revenue figures, then cut them in half. Ballpark how long it will take you to reach that number, then double it. Do you have enough cash to float the development of this idea for that long?
posted by mkultra at 9:29 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

What should I do guys? My thoughts were to ideally find a programmer and make him/her a "co-founder" and 50/50 partner.

I know once I shared my idea and vision I could get any person on board with me but where do I find the talent? Craigslist?

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Competent programmers are in high demand. You will not get a programmer who has any idea what he's doing to work on your idea for free.
posted by empath at 9:54 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the idea is so jaw droppingly amazing and groundbreaking, you should be able to approach any of the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, get them to infuse you with cash and tap their networks and credibility and business acumen to make the idea a reality. Those venture capital funds are pouring money into firms that have slim chance of succeeding, so your surefire, groundbreaking, epic software should attract venture capital investors like flies on poo. You're asking for a nightmare of incompetence at best, and intellectual property theft at worst, if you troll Craigslist looking for programmers to work for equity. You need to get people with money and business sense to back you.
posted by jayder at 10:14 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could try prototyping it out using something cheap and simple like Keynotopia, or a suitable alternative. Spend a lot of time working on flowcharts and usability. Get lots of feedback from people you respect. When you've spent a while working on it, and you still think it's earth-shattering, then maybe, just maybe, you might find an investor.

No programmer, artist, musician or whoever should work on producing material for a commercial for free, it's not right. So you're going to have to bring a lot more than just an idea to the table. You have to start a business, raise funds, hire good people, project manage, etc.
posted by Magnakai at 10:22 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why not learn to code yourself? You don't have to master the iphone, just make a prototype that you can use to demonstrate your idea to potential partners?
posted by Sauce Trough at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2011

Other people are clearly taking the time to whack at you over the "I have the idea, now I just need someone to design it, code it, debug it, release it..." concept.

But everyone deserves encouragement. Maybe you do have a good idea. So prove it.

Just because you can't code doesn't mean you can't design, at least well enough to try to demonstrate why it's a good idea. Sit down with a big stack of paper and start storyboarding.

Sketch up what the opening page is going to look like. Draw out & write down all the things that the user can do. Note all the things that happen behind the scene when this happens.

If your app does calculations, write em out. Does it need to get info from somewhere else? How does that happen?

Other people above are listing off the litany of things that really need to happen, but this sort of walkthrough should be step one for determining (a) if you really do have a good idea and (b) whether you're ever going to be able to convince anyone else of that.

too long, didn't read version: as said above, any idiot can come up with an idea and write it on a cocktail napkin. You need to be able to communicate a vision.
posted by phearlez at 10:37 AM on October 31, 2011

I'd like to have a dollar for every 'idea man' I ever met.

The devil is in the details. Further, he is only exorcised with money, work, or education.

Go get some of all three and a creator may consent to assist you.
posted by FauxScot at 10:40 AM on October 31, 2011

2nding Jayder here.

If you're right, and your idea is actually amazing and groundbreaking, come up with a pitch and go raise money.

More likely, your idea is less amazing and groundbreaking than you think it is, but could still potentially make money. If that's the case, you'll probably have to fund its development out of your own pocket.

People come up with self-described "amazing" and "ground-breaking" ideas millions of times a day. Ideas are cheap.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:42 AM on October 31, 2011

Response by poster: OK Thanks for all the responses. Let me clarify a few things.

I am asking hypothetically if my idea was groundbreaking. Please don't get caught up with giving me the "its not as good as you may think" from your soapbox speech.

So, given my idea is amazing, I should do what?

Also, I actually have a prototype though and I wrote it in VB.NET so I have it fleshed out pretty well.

Now what? Email Hire a freelancer to program it? Call [insert sweet company] and say HAI I HAVE AN IDEAZ?!
posted by iz0rz at 10:51 AM on October 31, 2011

So, given my idea is amazing, I should do what?

What Jayder said. Money first, then programmers.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:00 AM on October 31, 2011

If it's web accessible, how about posting the link in Projects so we can give you some feedback? Programming isn't free, but Mefites are never shy about giving an opinion ;)
posted by COD at 11:02 AM on October 31, 2011

Response by poster: If I post the idea in projects wouldn't that be making it a bit too public? I am not experienced with software development or anything so forgive my ignorance but wouldn't it be easy to just browse into that and take my idea? Don't chop my head off for asking this question please.
posted by iz0rz at 11:06 AM on October 31, 2011

You can patent it, if you're concerned about that. Chances are, someone already has, though.
posted by empath at 11:10 AM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: I know two non-technical people who are in the process of doing a tech startup with very little capital.

First, they both have business degrees. They put together a very comprehensive business plan, analyzing the market space, competition, etc. They surveyed dozens of potential users, and networked like crazy to get free advice from experienced people. They also got some "anchor tenants" who were willing to work closely with them in exchange for free use of the final product.

Then they spent $3,000 of their own money to get a convincing prototype done by a Web development firm in India. The prototype is pretty flashy and has the basic functionality implemented, but it's nowhere near stable enough to sell. (They knew this going in.)

They put the prototype out for free online and sought input from everyone they knew.

At that point they were able to shop the idea around to programmers. They interviewed several dozen people, most of whom turned them down when they found out they weren't yet funded. Finally they found a fresh college graduate who was willing to work with them.

This all took them about 6 months. They took the whole package to a venture capitalist, who gave them around $10,000 to pursue the idea further in exchange for equity. The VC also provided them with an office, computers, software, etc. That's where they are now.

I'm not certain they'll be successful, but that's pretty much the right way to do things.
posted by miyabo at 11:15 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

OK, since you've asked for realistic options, you've got three:

1. Learn to code it yourself. Unlikely, as you would have done this already.
2. Get some money together and pay someone to build your app. This probably involves writing up a business plan and getting a loan. Completely offhand, I'd estimate your budget in the tens of thousands of dollars.
3. Sucker some poor young programmer into building your app for nothing. Luckily for you, most programmers learn that programming-for-equity is a bum deal the hard way. You're not going to get anyone who's very good at their job, though. At best you'll get someone who is highly talented but very inexperienced.

Look at it from the programmer's perspective. They can take a flier and work for you for several months for probably-nothing, or they could just as easily get some contract work and make twenty or thirty grand over that same time period.
posted by Nahum Tate at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2011

You are still not getting the point that your idea is not special. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters. There were MP3 players before the iPod, tablets before the IPad, etc. I'd launch as soon as I had anything worthwhile to show, then constantly iterate based on whatever feedback I'm getting. You can't get feedback if you hide the app from the potential users. If your app really is that great, the reaction to it may help you raise capital to build it out correctly, or maybe even find a development partner that sees value in your idea.
posted by COD at 11:25 AM on October 31, 2011

I am asking hypothetically if my idea was groundbreaking. Please don't get caught up with giving me the "its not as good as you may think" from your soapbox speech.

So, given my idea is amazing, I should do what?

Let's say you have a great idea for a restaurant. The best ever idea for a restaurant, perfect location, perfect ideas for the menu, perfect design for the interior. Now let's say you need a building in which to run this perfect restaurant. Do you call up a company renting commercial property and say "Hey, I have this great idea for a restaurant, would you let me rent out your building for free in exchange for 50% ownership?" No, you don't, because obviously nobody who owns valuable property is going to give it to you for free in exchange for a chance to possibly make money in the restaurant business. Instead, you have to somehow come up with enough money to pay for the startup costs of your business, and use some of that money to pay rent. You take the risk by putting your money on the line to pay for the costs of your business, that's just how it works.

Even though software development might seem like it can easily be done without needing to pay anyone since it doesn't involve things like physically building something, it still costs money. Your question is basically "How can I get this thing that costs money for free?", because an equity share in a non-existent company is by definition worth next to nothing. If you absolutely have no way of getting money for this business, then I would say try to learn the skills to write the app yourself, just like you would have to learn how to build a house yourself if you couldn't afford to pay someone to do it. Otherwise if you aren't going to do it yourself and you can't pay someone, then it's like trying to get someone to do it for free. Do you know anyone who would do it for free? Can you somehow find someone to do it for free? That is why it's so difficult to get a project like this done without money.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:30 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Speaking as a programmer, 50% equity would not be adequate compensation if all you are doing is providing the idea. You'd be better off offering some cash in advance, then royalties.

Keep in mind a decent programmer in north american will run about $10k/month. You could probably find students to do it for significantly less.

Maybe you should approach a local technical college, they often need small 1 semester projects for their 2nd year students to work on as a co-op/capstone project.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:16 PM on October 31, 2011

Related: What is an app idea worth?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:18 PM on October 31, 2011

Response by poster: Man you guys are awesome and I truly appreciate your responses.

Another note on the whole do it for equity thing, I am not trying to force or trick any programmer to do something they don't think would work. I was just hoping there would be a magical board were I could post my idea and some dev would say hey that sounds like something interesting and has a lot of potential - I am going to look into this as a possible side project.

Not like "HEY THIS IS MY [GREAT IDEA] I GIVE U 50% FER UR HELP." It would be "Hey if you like the idea and think its good lets talk - here is my Alpha and what I have so far"

If there is no where to do this out side of cornering devs in RL at 711 when they get their mt. dew 2-liters then thats cool.....

I just want to know if that is a possibility or something I could look into before going to a freelancer.
posted by iz0rz at 12:31 PM on October 31, 2011

On the point of keeping the idea confidential:

Eventually, you're going to want to let customers buy it. At that point, the idea is going to be public. If it truly is a great idea, someone else is going to mimic it and you won't be able to stop them. You can stop them from copying the look and feel, or anything patent-able, but an idea itself can't be protected. And the competitor is going to have the advantage of seeing your already existing execution, so will be able produce their version in less time. And, because your idea was awesome, they'll have no trouble getting funding.

Keeping an awesome secret does the following:

It prevents you from getting useful feedback from many sources.
It scares away potential developers.
It prevents you from getting VC.

So consider if delaying competition is worth the added difficulties in getting your idea off the ground.
posted by justkevin at 1:33 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's really no simple path from "amazing idea" to "filthy rich", the hard part is still in front of you. Ideas are cheap and easy. Everyone has them. Lots of people have really good ones.

You have to get the application made. If you think that your idea is so good that a competent programmer is going to shoulder virtually all of the risk for only half of the company, go find that idiot guy.

A better option is this one: find some money to hire a competent programmer (or two).

The fact that you're struggling with everything but the idea leads me to believe that you'd probably be better off going with VC which will take a giant portion of ownership and, in so doing, also impose a lot of organization and structure (basically, they can load you down with MBA grads) to handle the business side of things that you might not be experienced with. That would take care of both coding and management and would leave you as part-owner and maybe product designer.

So, yeah, there's no magic trick here: now the real work has to be done by somebody.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2011

If you want to take the 50/50 equity path, you need to figure out how you can do 50% of the work. (The great idea doesn't count towards the 50%, because you're not the only one offering a great idea.)

There are a lot of ways you can do this, depending on what skills and resources you have, and which skills and resources you are prepared to acquire for this project. But you should go ahead figuring that either you fund this, or you do you share of the work.

It might also pay to ask around and find out if you already know someone who can do this, or someone with a mutual friend who thinks you should totally meet each other about it.

It will be beneficial to find someone physically nearby, so you can have meetings in person. Collaboration is more difficult with distance, and the fewer obstacles to success, the better.

A partnership with someone you already know may also get off the ground easier. Doing business with friends can be fraught, but that can only happen if you are both successful in at least getting something off the ground, so from where you stand now, it may be a problem that would be good to have :)

I would keep a lid on the idea for now while you figure out your options (eg, have people sign a boilerplate NDA. It's maybe kind of an eye-roll thing to do, but if nothing else, the physical act of putting pen to paper firmly establishes that there are behavioural expectations "hey - this is confidential, please don't blab it everywhere").
posted by -harlequin- at 3:48 PM on October 31, 2011

You clearly have some programming skills to be able to do it in VB. Why not learn a new programming language and do it yourself?

Learning to code for iphone will be much easier than convincing a decent programmer to do your work for free.
posted by shovel_mage at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2011

There's this phenomenon where some non-technical people have this idea that technical people are all like, "Damn, I have all these skills but no clue what I could work on with them. If only someone would come along with an idea for a thing that I could do"

Every great developer that I know already has many great ideas that they don't have time to work on. I am not a great developer yet but I am a good one, and I too have many great ideas that I don't have time to work on.
posted by Kwine at 7:31 PM on October 31, 2011

miyabo describes one good way to do this, which is to really plan out the details (including things like figuring out what your market is, what your costs would be at scale, how you're going to promote it, etc), and then assuming things work out and this is a viable idea, hiring a company to do it for you. He cites India, but Eastern Europe and Russia are also good options. Once you get this far, you probably have a sort of crappy, but functional app that you can either attempt to sell, or shop around to VCs/angel investors. As miyabo mentions, you can do this quite cheaply, but again, the quality is going to be low. I don't have experience with this, but miyabo says his friends ended up with a demo-able, but unstable app for $3000, which is mighty cheap.

Another route would be to hire a local company that does applications. When you go this route, expect to spend much much more money, but get a much much higher quality product out of it. Going this route, you want to find a company that is going to work with you to understand your needs and build a long-term relationship with. To find these people, Google "your city iphone developers" or something like that, and then look through the results. Meet with several of these companies and get a feel for them. Are they focussing on ow they're the cheapest option, or nickel-and-diming you, or are they more interested in helping you refine your business model and understanding your requirements? You want the latter. It's going to cost more, but again, you're going long-term here. If you do it this way, I would expect to spend anywhere from $20,000 on up ($20,000 is probably enough to get you exactly one of the 5-10 features you want, to give you some perspective.) The product you get here should be solid and ready to launch.

Particularly in the second case, I can't emphasize enough that you really need to do your research on how you're going to get people to buy and/or use this thing. You're focusing on how great of an idea this is, but history is full of stories where the superior product lost out, simply because it came out just slightly too late, or was marketed badly, or was built on the wrong platform, etc, etc etc.

If there is no where to do this out side of cornering devs in RL at 711 when they get their mt. dew 2-liters then thats cool.....

This is a really negative and offensive stereotype about software people.
posted by !Jim at 8:10 PM on October 31, 2011

"Hey, I've come up with an idea that involves a satellite that can read the electromagnetic emanations of brain waves of a person from geosynchronous orbit, decode them to determine the intentions of the person, and then, if they hate freedom and liberty, direct a constellation of high-power solid-state lasers to obliterate them in a puff of smoke.

All I need a Dev guy to implement this, and sure you'll get 50% of the equity! I mean, it's my idea, so 50% sounds about right."
I was just hoping there would be a magical board were I could post my idea and some dev would say hey that sounds like something interesting and has a lot of potential - I am going to look into this as a possible side project.
Do such magical boards exist for architects, lawyers, doctors, plumbers, or carpenters? If not, why not? Why can't professionals be reasonable and work for free in exchange for a future promise of payment? Surely the world is run on the power of ideas, and not execution?

No offense, but I can smell your type a mile away. All your references to "some dev" and Mountain Dew reveal your bigoted attitude towards people who have dedicated their lives to mastering a profession and craft. You consider people with such skills to essentially be cogs, homogenous components of an abstract production process that require an idea, coffee, and some token incentive to get them spinning along in their hamster wheel.

Do I sound bitter? Sorry, it's not you, it's me. I'm option 3 in Nahum Tate's earlier post. I'm glad I was still young when I learnt my lesson though.
posted by asymptotic at 6:05 AM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: Guys i was totally kidding about the whole mt. dew and i apologize for any offense. I am a nerd and i program sort of and drink mt dew nonstop so it was not serious. I am working on my CPA and dont have the time now to learn new languages or else i would.

i am not looking for anything easy but just making sure there was not some great path unbenounced to me
posted by iz0rz at 8:30 AM on November 1, 2011

As previously stated, if you're looking for a 50/50 split, you need to do 50% of the work. Making a business plan, searching for VC, meeting with potential clients, etc. You need to spend as much time on the business side as your programmer is on the programming side.

If you don't have the time now to learn a new language, how will you have the time to do that much work?
posted by shovel_mage at 9:16 AM on November 1, 2011

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