How do you bring an idea to fruition when you lack the technical skill necessary to do so? And keep credit?
April 30, 2012 10:25 AM   Subscribe

How do you bring an idea to fruition when you lack the technical skill necessary to do so? And keep credit?

The obvious answer would be to hire someone, or seek outside counsel, but-

If I get someone else to execute the idea, how do I keep from being booted out of the project? Ideas are essentially valueless. You can't copyright them, and if the idea is seen as worthwhile, there's nothing to stop the people I contact from saying, "Hey, this is a pretty nice plan. We'll take it," and then showing me the door. I don't think I have any claim to a concept if I'm getting someone else to execute it...right?

I'm being vague out of (most likely meaningless) paranoia, but the idea that I'm talking about is basically a concept for an interactive website.

Are there any avenues that I can go down where I could pitch a website idea, but still be involved with it's development? And...dare I suggest...possibly get some form of credit?

If I were to pitch it to an organization, the types of organizations that I would approach about it would probably be museums or city governments. Possibly even already established websites like Google or Wikipedia (though I think the idea of getting them to listen to me is low).

So, basically, I have no idea of how to get what I want out of this. Help would be muy bueno.
posted by jumelle to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you can't build this idea, but you want to remain involved in its development, in all likelihood, you'll just need to hire someone to do it for you. When you hire them, you get them to sign a non-compete agreement and a non-disclosure agreement, in each case, drafted by a lawyer in your jurisdiction. Your agreements with the person doing the work should say you own all the code used in the project, etc., and you should file any patents and register any trademarks/servicemarks, etc.

Find a lawyer with tech startup experience in your jurisdiction and explain what you're looking to do, and then start hiring. This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:33 AM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The truth is that no one cares about website ideas. They're valueless, as you said. Coming up with a million-dollar-idea for a site is easy. It's the execution that's hard.

Until you build it and demonstrate its value, no one is going to take on any risk to give you help to build it.
posted by Jairus at 10:33 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are many stories on the internet from the developers point of view, telling of people with lots of enthusiasm for their million dollar idea, but with absolutely no clue how to build it. And generally, developers are not going to be interested. The problem is that the idea for a website is just a tiny tip of a huge iceberg. There are many, many things which will come up as it is being developed. An experienced developer might be able to anticipate some of these, but the most experienced person out there can't see everything that will come up. That is just the nature of development. Most of the "idea" does not exist yet.
I would suggest giving up your feeling of ownership, because a great idea could be a tremendous spark to get someone started, and if you found the right person, they would probably be quite willing to accept your inputs as they developed it. I assume you have some sort of knowledge of the domain this would be in?
If you love this idea, set it free. That is the only way it will ever happen in the real world.
posted by bitslayer at 10:46 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: "It's the execution that's hard. Until you build it and demonstrate its value, no one is going to take on any risk to give you help to build it."

So, unless you're already a website developer, you have to be a time traveler in order to get anything built? o:

But that's the reason why I wanted to pitch the idea, so that I can convince people that the execution is feasible and that there's a market and purpose for what I'm trying to construct. Most ideas are pitched before they are built and manage to prove their value, right? Or do things work differently when it comes to websites? Not trying to be rude, but I am confused by what you're saying. Sorry.

I can't produce code, but I am capable of creating the basic structure of it and specifically what it will do. Nothing that I want included with this thing is anything that I haven't seen programmed in other places before. It's just the combination of elements and their purpose that I want to get down.

Maybe it'd just be easier to learn to program it myself. O:

"There are many stories on the internet from the developers point of view, telling of people with lots of enthusiasm for their million dollar idea, but with absolutely no clue how to build it. And generally, developers are not going to be interested."

I'm not really interested in soliciting developers, but more-so in outright hiring them, or in soliciting people who would be interested in commissioning developers, if that makes any sense.
posted by jumelle at 11:13 AM on April 30, 2012


The question to ask yourself is, "If the execution is feasable, and there's an [existing] market and purpose for it, why hasn't someone done it already? Why isn't that market being exploited?" Are there any comparable sites out there to what you're thinking of?
posted by rhizome at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: "The question to ask yourself is, "If the execution is feasable, and there's an [existing] market and purpose for it, why hasn't someone done it already? Why isn't that market being exploited?"

Without concrete information on this, an infinite number of reasons can be hypothesized.

"Are there any comparable sites out there to what you're thinking of?"

I kind of have trouble answering questions like this without seeming pedantic. Everything is comparable to anything, so I suppose that the answer to what you're asking is inevitably 'yes.'

There are websites related to what I want to produce in existence. There are websites that include one or two elements of what I want to construct, but I haven't seen any that contain all, most, or 50% of the conceptually significant elements in tandem. In other words, I haven't seen the concept anywhere else.

I'd be really surprised if the idea I'm interested in isn't eventually executed by someone else in the future. I haven't seen it anywhere else before, but I do think it's a pretty obvious one.
posted by jumelle at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2012


So, unless you're already a website developer, you have to be a time traveler in order to get anything built? o:

Well, everyone has to start somewhere. Great sites start with someone having an idea, and then executing it. I think that you will have to learn how to program, or that you should try to hire someone. You're either going to have to do it yourself, or pay someone else to do it for you. Be aware that paying someone else usually means that they're better at doing it than you would be, so you'll probably have to listen to them when they say that certain things can't be done, or that they can't be done the way you want them to be done.

Every project like this has constraints: cost, time, and quality [Wikipedia]. I'd suggest that you think about what you want to get out of this project at the end and which of the things you're willing to sacrifice.
posted by k8lin at 12:04 PM on April 30, 2012


If you have the money, you can hire designers, coders, lawyers to put the nondisclosure, noncompete contracts in place, and get your project done, just like any other production. I'm designing a website structured like that right now. The person with the idea is investing a couple of hundred thousand dollars just as startup funding, but it's a very large project. It can be done for significantly less, depending on the idea. if you don't have money to hire the people who will design and code the site for you, then you are unlikely to find anyone to work on spec. Then you have to think about and budget for marketing.
posted by ljshapiro at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not really interested in soliciting developers, but more-so in outright hiring them.

If you are the boss, you can't get booted off the project, but if you hired the wrong person they could "take your idea" and start their own competition, like the way Faceboy Zuckerberg allegedly did. So the question is how do you not get Winklevossed. I would say the key would be momentum... move fast.
posted by bitslayer at 12:44 PM on April 30, 2012


Before you get all sold on your idea and ask for NDAs when speaking to partners and/or subcontractors, Read This.

Long story short: forget the NDA.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm seconding JoeZydeco here, on avoiding NDAs, which I view as a special kind of evil. It is not true that an idea is valueless, but it is definitely possible to put undue importance in it. There is something of a cult of the creator in business, a perception which is furthered by the current state of the patent system (business methods? really?), while the importance of long, hard work and persistence are downplayed. All ideas are the result of combining and permuting other ideas, so no idea really completely belongs to a single person anyway.

To respond to bitslayer's Facebook example, I'd say its success are probably due to due to its initial audience, its implementation characteristics, and some amount of plain luck giving it enough of a lead over its competition that it was the first to attain the minimum critical mass in what turned out to be a winner-take-all scenario. It's difficult to say this for sure of course, but it's not inconceivable that the Winkelvosses without Zuckerberg would have failed to beat one of the several other up-and-coming social sites that were coming up around that time.

But to respond properly to the question: it's probably best to find trustworthy, knowledgeable people to talk the idea out with, to get some idea of what is needed to implement it. That will help you to see what the next step should be in its realization. It is possible to be so worried about being cheated out of an idea that you never do anything with it. Ultimately you have to trust someone -- so, put effort into figuring out who you can trust.
posted by JHarris at 4:09 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I’ve been doing this over the last 20 years - generating ideas, developing them, bringing them to market, and then selling them off. Projects have primarily been either technical or creative. Each project takes about two years, and most of them have been moderate successes. Two of them have been huge successes that will fund all of my foreseeable future projects. There’s no “right” way to do it, but I can tell you how I do it.

Most of what’s been said already is true, whether you want it to be or not. Ideas are almost the least important part of the entire enterprise. It’s about execution. Google wasn’t the first search engine. Windows wasn’t the first operating system. Apple wasn’t the first personal computer company. The iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone. Amazon wasn’t the first e-commerce site. There is money to be made if you’re first to market, but that money’s fleeting. In the software world, you have about three months when you’re the only player. After that, you have to be the best player. (Or, be the first and sell as quickly as possible.) I’ve been there. It’s sweet, but it’s over much faster than you think could ever be possible.

That’s not to say that the person with the idea is of no value. Often that person is the most important person to the project because they have knowledge that no one else has. For example, you’re a pharmaceutical rep out in the field. While doing your job, you realize that if there was an iPhone app that had particular information organized in a particular way, it would make your job much easier. You look on the app store and there’s nothing like it. You don’t know how to program apps, but you’re sure that it’s a great idea and every pharma rep would buy it, and maybe one of the big pharma companies would buy the app from you and you’d cash out with a nice check and points on the back ed. You don’t need every developer you talk with to sign an NDA, because what you have is the business knowledge of how the problem needs to be solved. That’s what makes you invaluable, despite the fact that you “just” had the idea.

So think about your project. If you can communicate everything you know about the topic to a developer in ten minutes, you’re not the right person to lead the project because you don’t know enough about the context of the product. Every product has a context, and if you’re not the expert, the product doesn’t need you.
"But that's the reason why I wanted to pitch the idea, so that I can convince people that the execution is feasible and that there's a market and purpose for what I'm trying to construct. Most ideas are pitched before they are built and manage to prove their value, right?"
No, this is not the way biz-dev works. There are two ways to get someone to pay you for your idea: 1) build it and sell them the final product, or 2) sell your reputation and offer investment. The first method is the one I choose because the second is a pain in the ass and you immediately lose control over the product. With the first method, you can stay in control and hope that your choices will be right. With the second method, your investors will want approval at every stage and will mandate changes throughout.

But, to even get to the second method, you have to have a reputation for success. You need to show that you’ve done this before. You need to prove that you’re the hottest thing around, and you’re willing to let them know you. Then, you need to show who your team is and lay out your business plan and financials. No one waltzes in with an idea.

Unless you’ve already done this a dozen times, you’re going to have to build it. And unless you are uniquely suited to bring the project to success, you’re not the right person to build it. Save your time and money for a project that’s a better fit for you.

If you are the right person, full steam ahead! Good luck.
posted by ericc at 8:05 PM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ideas are almost the least important part of the entire enterprise. It’s about execution. Google wasn’t the first search engine. Windows wasn’t the first operating system. Apple wasn’t the first personal computer company. The iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone. Amazon wasn’t the first e-commerce site.

With respect to ericc's comment, who has far more experience in this area than I have (which is to say, any at all)....

Google was not the first search engine, but the other search engines had problems that often made them give unhelpful results. Google fixed this with two primary innovations: 1, it didn't treat the web as a simple full-text search, but used other mechanisms to assign relevance, and 2. it didn't accept unmarked paid placement in their listings. It may not have been the first search engine, but without those ideas it wouldn't have succeeded, and so it wasn't just hard work. The ideas that helped the company were not of the creation of a search engine, but implementation details. So it is difficult for me to accept that ideas are the least important part of Google's enterprise. The same goes for Apple (the Apple II's engineering expertise, and the Mac's interface and overall system design, and the iPhone's treatment of smartphone as platform and App Store, were themselves novel).

In Microsoft's and Amazon's cases, it seems likely that it was other forces that put them at the top of their respective heaps. So, this isn't to discount ericc's statement -- just to note that a different perspective will give one a different answer to what is most important.
posted by JHarris at 2:04 PM on May 6, 2012


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