How do you start a social networking site when all you have is an idea?
September 3, 2014 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I have what I think is a really good idea for a social networking website, kind of along the lines of airbnb or meetup. If it was done right, I think it could be very popular. But the problem is that I have zero business knowledge and zero computer/coding/web design knowledge, and therefore I have no leverage with those I'd have to partner with. All I have is an idea.

I know a few people who have the requisite skills I lack and I think I could get some money up front to start with, but if I tell someone hey I've got this idea, what do you think?, and they like it and want to do it ... then that's it, I've offered all I can offer. They could go start the thing on their own. Even if they let me tag along, I imagine I wouldn't have much of a role and I wouldn't be getting a very big cut of the money. Is that the best I can do?
posted by early one morning to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you can't code, and don't have any business experience, you don't really have anything whatsoever. If you can't code, but were an entrepreneur, you could hire people to build your site (and solicit capital to fund it). But with no business experience, you're not in a great position to hire people and run the enterprise.

Ideas are pretty much worth nothing if you can't implement them. Either learn to code, or learn about running a start up, or give your idea away for free.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:28 AM on September 3, 2014 [19 favorites]

Yeah, with no business experience to know if it is even financially viable/can be monetised and no coding/tech experience to have any idea how much designing, making, supporting and hosting the idea would cost you really *do* have nothing.

An idea is just a cool idea. Without learning the basics of what it would take to make it, then run it, it has no value at all really. If you want a cut of the money, you need to research it, demonstrate it's viability to gain funding and then run it yourself. If you think that just having a non-fleshed out idea is worth any kind of monetary return, I'm afraid you're really being very optimistic and naive.

So you either need to keep your idea to yourself (to prevent losing it) and learn the business or the coding side (doesn't need to be both) to at least get part of the idea fleshed out, you just have a concept, which alone is worth bupkiss.
posted by Brockles at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Typically a startup needs three people to get off the ground:

a. The Business Guy (probably, but not always, the CEO)
b. The Tech Guy (probably, but not always, the CTO)
c. The Idea Guy (probably the VP of product development, may or may not be an executive)

Usually these three people have some connection and trust one another enough to enter into a risky business venture. You could be an Idea Guy, but you probably have to find your other two Guys first. You can't really hire somebody to found a startup.
posted by deathpanels at 7:13 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's easier to define by what not to do in your situation. cf: Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey.
posted by supercres at 7:54 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you want to learn how to start and run a company? The 25-year-old hotshots in Silickn Valley didn't start with much business knowledge either, but they learned. Buy "Lean Startup" and "The hard thing about hard things" and dip your toe in. Maybe you'll become the business guy.
posted by amaire at 7:55 AM on September 3, 2014

Don't undervalue what you have!

You have access to people with the necessary technology skills. Many wannabe founding CEOs don't have that and spend a lot if time looking for it.

You have access to money. Again, many wannabe founders spend a lot of their time and effort looking for money.

You have a great idea. Lots of founders don't.

What you need is some confidence and some business training. If you can organize the people, the resources, and the Vision, that's your job. You're the CEO.
posted by alms at 8:18 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every business person and coder I know is sitting on at least 4-5 great ideas that they don't have time for. Nthing everyone who is saying that ideas without execution are meaningless.

If you're interested in this for real invest time into becoming the kind of partner you'd want on your side if you were to continue down this path. I think you'd be surprised at how much you can learn in 3-6 months. You could even have a functional prototype, or your own business plan in that amount of time.

If coding is more your thing: there are a plethora of ways to learn. Everything from intensive bootcamps:

To online resources:

If business is more your thing: read a bunch of MBA books, and try your hand at buying/selling and see if you can steadily make some money on it. Check out point 6 on this article:
posted by beep-bop-robot at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2014

Sorry to burst your bubble ... I strongly suggest you read the articles mentioned by Jacqueline above. If you are still not convinced, ask the question on Hacker News a discussion site brimming with people interested in technological startups: you will be either completely ignored or made fun of. And, if you read that discussion forum for a couple of months, you might start to understand why your idea, on it own, is worthless.
posted by aroberge at 9:05 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who works in a small company with lots of great ideas and extremely-varied execution, I can say that ideas CAN indeed be powerful. I can also say that knowing how to run a business is VERY important. Even if you were a brilliant programmer right now, that doesn't mean you're on your way to success, because so much of running a small business has nothing to do with the content of the business. Hardest part of running a business? In my opinion, it's finding good people to work with and dealing with them and their idiosyncrasies and problems.

I wouldn't discount your idea because it's just an idea right now, but I would definitely make sure you bring something unique to the market; don't try to compete directly with established companies. Look at all the companies that were making Android phones when Android first came out (dozens and dozens) and look how many survived just a few years later (Samsung, with minor, almost inconsequential, competition from a few others, at least in the US.) I would not reveal your idea to people with which you don't have complete trust or a legally confidential relationship, because those people might be ready take it and run with it. If you have some money to spend exploring, I'd probably contact a business lawyer, explain your situation, and try to get some good non-disclosure and potentially non-compete agreements figured out before you go looking for people to assist you. The lawyer will be expensive, but they should be confidential and also probably not interested in stealing your idea. Have an agenda to talk about when you contact one, so you have an efficient conversation; again, they're not cheap.

There are also business consultants out there, but in my experience, many of them are extremely general, but still not cheap, so it's entirely to possible to sink money into one and get nothing particularly brilliant. There are specialists like HR specialists that definitely could be worth checking out for setting up employee manuals and standards of conduct and other policies, but I would check with your lawyer first about how much you can safely communicate to consultants and others about your idea, especially when you're interviewing people that you don't eventually hire or contract.

Also, while I don't think you HAVE to know EVERYTHING about setting up a business or programming a website, I think you should try to learn as much as possible about both on your own. You want to be able to communicate on enough of a level with your employees or business partners so that you decently understand what they're talking about, even if they're the "experts," and you're not. If you don't understand anything about what people you pay are doing, the ONLY thing you can rely is sheer trust of those people. Unless you have the keenest sense for picking good people (and I'd wager way less than 1% of the population comes even in the ballpark of that skill), your idea could be totally ruined by blindly trusting people who are not at the competency or trust level you need, but you can't actually evaluate them with your lack of knowledge. Learn as much as you can about everything, so you don't have to rely on blind trust. That's the easiest way, in my opinion, to get screwed constantly.

As I've said, you need to learn everything you reasonably can about your business. And you quite likely will need the assistance of others mentioned earlier like a programmer/designer and maybe a business manager. However, my last piece of advice is just personal plea based on tooooooo much experience: hire people that you KNOW YOU NEED, not people that you THINK you need or people that you WANT to have. Seriously, don't try to build a team ahead of time with the assumption they'll all always have something to keep them busy and will take care of themselves. EVERY person you hire will be a necessary additional drain on your time, some more than others. And there is just nothing worse than having someone on payroll that doesn't have enough to do, because your job goes from "What do I have today to move the business forward?" to "What do I need to pull out of my ass to keep so-and-so busy?" That is the way to grind things to a halt. Do as much as you can with as few people as possible, and when it finally gets to be too much and you have a nice definition and long list of where you NEED help, only THEN should you go hire a person to fill the need that you've defined. I can say this with authority, because my boss has done the exact opposite for years: "Oh, I think we'll need this many engineers to handle the work. *hires three engineers simultaneously*" a) Having to get three people up to speed at once is a nightmare, so staggering them would have been better. b) We NEVER could keep them all fully busy at all times. Grow like a cicada or lobster that shed their shells only when they get too big for them. Don't be a hermit crab that finds a gigantic shell and tries to lug that thing around until it's the right size for him.

Also, simply because this is a trait I'm still working on and know I need: be ready and willing to fire people or let them go whenever it becomes apparent that your need to. If you don't have the willpower to do that (and it's not easy), they will drag your entire company down. You MUST develop that willpower.

In summary, you're not talking about starting a social networking site; you're talking about starting a business that runs a social networking site. Approach it from that angle, and really make sure you have a product in mind that is a winner even in the midst of all the other sites out there. You want to move forward step-by-step, not run around in circles, because there's no opening for you to step through.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ditto what KinoAndHermes said about hiring people you NEED not people you think you might need probably assuming X and Y and Z within the next year. In addition to being practical advice for running a company, it is only fair to your employees.

I have been on the employee side of that situation, and it sucked. My dumb boss from a few years ago hired a bunch of people, costing probably over a million dollars per year in salary, with the assumption that his dumb project would be successful and we'd all become part of a new core team. Well, within six months that project went belly up and every single person he hired either got farmed out to some other team in a vain attempt to find them work, or else they left the company in frustration.
posted by deathpanels at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your advice. And thanks for both the discouragement and the encouragement. I needed both. Probably especially the discouragement. Maybe I'll dig in and try to learn stuff for a few months and see how I feel. Thanks again. ; )
posted by early one morning at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Step 1 is finding out if it already exists (which it likely does), and in how many incarnations.
posted by rhizome at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2014

« Older Bathroom related transit anxiety   |   Cheap car rental Albuquerque, NM? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.