Help Me Write a Business Plan for Software? I think?
June 26, 2012 7:09 AM   Subscribe

So I have an idea for software related to my industry. I've thought about it, sketched it out, looked at existing/similar products and talked to some friends in the same line of work -- and I still think it's a good idea. Next step is ...?

I'm not a programmer. Where do I go or what resources are there to test whether I should take the next step, or at least to figure out how much this might cost? (I assume at some point this would involve hiring a programmer). The end-result of my dreams would be this: I develop (cause to have developed) this piece of software that I could market and sell myself to this niche I'm a part of. Has anyone done anything similar? Read anything relevant?
posted by Buffaload to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This comes up a lot in ask me, and the answers mix around 1) ideas are worthless 2) finding a programmer (jobs.metafilter) ain't trivial (evaluate ability, pay, etc) and 3) learn to do it (program) yourself because of 1.

Just having 1 and $5 will get you a latte.
posted by k5.user at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well -- glad I came here for some advice then.
posted by Buffaload at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2012

There is no way to test an idea in software other than making a prototype and testing it out (on yourself, friends/family, or on "beta" users).

Read up on freelance sites like or Write up a proposal, get bids, interview possible candidates, then pay to get a prototype done.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2012

I think the very first thing you should do, before you even consider hiring a programmer, is write out a software design document: a detailed specification of every function, menu, and button you'd put on the finished product. If you can think it through that far, it may be worthwhile to hire a programmer to help you implement it, although you'd be surprised at how quickly you can learn very basic web programming.
posted by Oktober at 7:31 AM on June 26, 2012

And don't bother with NDAs and all of that crap. Execution of the idea counts more than the legal protection of said idea.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:31 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

One thing I'd be careful about is your relationship with your current employer (if you have one), with regards to IP. Depending on your work contract and what your proposed product does, they could have an ownership claim, or at least the ability to give you a huge headache.

As for building the product, you need to talk to a developer you trust. It doesn't need to be someone you want to build it, just someone who trust to give you:

- An objective sniff test. Is your product actually buildable, or are you handwaving away a lot of key complexities?

- A general cost scope. What kind of technologies should you be looking at? Is it a 1-month or a 6-month project? Is it going to be more like $10k or $100k?
posted by mkultra at 7:32 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to administer a program that provided assistance to technology entrepreneurs (although I never provided any business advice; my skills are generally at securing the money to run the program).

Anyway, in my experience anyone with a reasonable hope of starting a technology company needed 2 of the following attributes:

1) Money (bootstrapping + friends/family)
2) Deep technological know-how
3) Proven business ability in a startup/high-growth environment + a wide circle of contacts

Without two of these attributes, it will be impossible to commercialize an idea.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Here is a blog post about this from a programmer's perspective. It is worth reading the comments.
posted by procrastination at 7:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also echoing that NDA's at this stage provide little more than comic relief to whoever you are talking to about your idea.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you just want to test the viability of the idea you could build a simple "coming soon" web page with a form to be notified when the product goes into beta. Then buy the relevant keywords on Google, let it run for a month, and see what kind of conversion rate you get on people wanting to be notified about the beta. If 5% or better of the people that click on the ad want to know more, it's a positive sign, assuming a sufficiently large market.
posted by COD at 8:02 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

While I was semi snarky, the points raised in the blog that procrastination points out are seen everywhere. I believe it was on the blue I saw the UPenn business school getting slagged for not understanding that ideas are worthless in the tech world, it's all about the implementation.
posted by k5.user at 8:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, depending on your current position and employee agreements (didn't find anything in your history that indicated what you currently work at) the software idea may belong to your company.

Are you going to develop it in-house for your company? A version for everyone? What kind of marketspace are you infiltrating? How would your software be different from competitors, be an improvement they can't make or easily make? How would you handle data coming over from the competitor's format to your own?
posted by tilde at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2012

Response by poster: k5 -- no sweat.

Tilde -- I have a day job but I don't have contract of any kind. I'm not concerned about my employer being interested in my IP.

I started a company once by myself, and I'm involved with a second startup as well (I don't want to flog my own projects too specifically here in the Green). I have a day job on top of this as New Startup gets off the ground (New Startup is not a tech company and I'm not doing the heavy lifting). I've implemented successfully before and I'm not concerend about follow-through.

My background is media, education, and project management. I know just enough about computers to be dangerously ignorant :) .

So my goal would be to develop it independently for myself. I asked my question because I needed ideas on how to proceed with seeing if this is a good idea and how much it would cost to develop. Those are good, challening questions you asked.
posted by Buffaload at 8:26 AM on June 26, 2012

I want to elaborate on what COD said above. Before you invest too much in your idea, you should create the Minimum Viable Product to validate it. This doesn't necessarily involve any coding. I'm not clear on whether you've already done this, but unless you have, don't waste your time and money hiring a freelance programmer or writing a formal project spec.

Here are some articles you might find useful:

Read these examples from Dropbox, Spool, and others.

Then read about MVP on Quora and consider asking questions there. It's the authoritative place to talk to people who work on software startups.
posted by tantivy at 12:58 PM on June 26, 2012

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