Killer app. Now what?
February 2, 2015 8:02 PM   Subscribe

If you had a concept for a truly useful app, but not the technical skills to create it yourself, what would you do next?

Sure, you can find techs – but what’s to stop them from stealing your idea? (Best answer gets 1% of net.)
posted by LonnieK to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The typical path is to find a technical co-founder to split it with. Basically you build mockups of every screen you can to describe the app, and you show it to technical people you trust not to steal your stuff (or if you're interviewing random engineers, have them sign a NDA promising they won't steal your idea).

The hope is you convince someone that can code apps that you have a great idea they want to build, and you split the work and build the app, and go on to fame and fortune. That's the hope anyway.
posted by mathowie at 8:06 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would Google "App Inventor" "MIT" and make the app myself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:13 PM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is a common situation. Google "technical co-founder." Also try following hacker news for a while to get a sense of the start-up scene. HN is rather Silicon Valley focused, but this is a sufficiently catholic issue that the lessons you learn will be broadly applicable. Sorry to break it to you, but there are a lot of people in your shoes.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:29 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you had a concept for a truly useful app, but not the technical skills to create it yourself, what would you do next?

The most common things to do next are "nothing" followed by "talk to friends about it and then do nothing." Another common thing to do next is to search for apps that already do this and find that there are several dozen out there that you've never heard of, because marketing apps and generating awareness among potential customers is actually much harder than the coding.

I say this as someone who got into iOS app development in the very early days and built a moderately successful small business. For the first few years (less now, though it still happens) I had a steady stream of friends coming to me with brilliant ideas for apps that already existed.

But let's assume that you've actually done your homework and the app doesn't exist. Then you need to decide what how serious you are about pursuing it. Do you want to start a company? Do you to raise money? Do you want to spend your own money? How much of your own money?

Also, do you know anything about marketing or are you prepared to pay someone who knows something about marketing and invest in a marketing budget so the app sells once you've built it? The days of coding something and throwing it up into the app store are long past.

So those are some of the broader considerations.

But maybe you're asking a simpler question. If you just want to get it coded, you have a few options. You could look for a reputable independent app developer -- a solo developer, say, but one with a track record and references. Or you could go with a firm, the equivalent of a web design firm, but one that does app development. They have client management people, they have design people, they have UI/UX people, and they have coders.

It is very unlikely that any of these people are going to steal your idea. They already have their own idea and their own business. It is called consulting and contract work. They know that brilliant ideas are a dime a dozen, and that even development is getting to be down to about twenty five cents a dozen. They know that publishing is a different skill from what they do. So you'll interview those people, they'll present you with proposals that will cost between $5,000 and $50,000 to build your app, and then you'll decide who should build it for you and whether you want to proceed.

That's the general idea. I'd be happy to talk with you about this further if you'd like. You can memail me.
posted by alms at 8:32 PM on February 2, 2015 [39 favorites]

I'd develop the skills.

That's how most people do it.

Ideas are cheap. Implementation is the difference.

Start learning now, and when the next cheap idea emerges, you may be ready.
posted by FauxScot at 8:33 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I might try to sell the idea.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:42 PM on February 2, 2015

I might try to sell the idea.

Yeah, see, that's the thing: the going rate for ideas is US$0.00833 per.
posted by rhizome at 9:22 PM on February 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

The general consensus is, from the tech side at least, that ideas are worthless. CS students (in the US, in my experience) are taught specifically to beware of business students/graduates bearing ideas, for they'll expect the tech to do all the work while getting a minority stake of the result.

In other words, you're going to be driving people away from the start, and anyone who isn't driven away you should be careful of.

In doubly-other words, if you do want to bring someone in to develop the idea, you'll need to be different. If you start talking about NDAs and concerns about people stealing your idea, that's an immediate red flag. Hacker News is a good point of concentration for developers and startups. Look through the archives there. Here's a recent thread on finding technical co-founders. Here's an article on what to do to get technical cofounders' attentions.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:30 PM on February 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm an iOS developer. What you think is useful likely already exists on some platform. Your next step is to do your research and trawl through the category this app of yours would belong in to make sure it's truly as original and as useful as you think. If what exists is crappy, well, you gotta build a better mousetrap and be prepared for the litigation that could follow depending on what kind of a utility you're hoping to make.

Ah, or what Alms said.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:36 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've found that even developers who have pretty good ideas for apps don't really know how to connect with the appropriate user base (or involve them before the app is built). Some of them even realize that.

So, your idea, well, it still isn't worth much even if you find a programmer to work with, if one of you can't figure out how to connect with your audience. You should work on that, while looking for developers who will recognize the value of not just the basic idea, but the plan for doing what is often the hardest part of the job: getting enough users to make it worth while.
posted by Good Brain at 10:08 PM on February 2, 2015

I've been involved with start-ups for the majority of my career. I second the advice to learn how to build it yourself. In start-ups there are bad problems to have and there are good ones. "My software is so popular that it needs a rewrite by serious professionals" is a good problem to have.

Additionally, as others have said ideas themselves are worthless, but a functional prototype, even if it's full of bugs and security holes and would never work in the real world, does put you and your potential product/company on the next level as compared to someone with just an idea.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:13 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

My brother is a long time professional app developer. I've an awesome idea for an app approx once per week but he is too busy with paid work to build any of them. Like anything, you have to do it yourself or pay someone.

Although one of my ideas that he politely ignored was thought of by someone else a year later who subsequently made several millionty dollars off it. I am never letting that one go
posted by fshgrl at 12:20 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

or if you're interviewing random engineers, have them sign a NDA promising they won't steal your idea

Quick note: do not do this. I develop for iOS for a living, a lot of my friends are developers, and for a bunch of reasons I won't go in to here a non-engineer asking an engineer to sign an NDA is basically an immediate signal to nope the fuck out. Doing this will significantly limit the number of Devs willing to talk to you, and will likely preclude some of the best ones.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

In some ways, ideas are the easy part. Think about medicine- if person A said, I have a great idea, let's make a vaccine that can prevent cancer, and persons B, C, D, E, and F actually made it, who in that equation do you think did the heavy lifting? Ideas are important but execution is everything. I had a colleague who repeatedly talked about wanting to find people with strong quantitative skills to do data analysis to back up his big ideas but it was actually really hard to find people like that, because there are more people who have ideas than people who can do the work. Doing the work, and doing it well, is the hard part.

That said, if you're serious, I'd look for something like General Assembly in your town. They have a lot of workshops that you might find helpful like Intro to App Development for Non-Programmers and Mobile Development for Non-Programmers. I don't see them on the schedule now but they have had workshops on finding a technical co-founder though again, the number of people with ideas exceeds the number of those with technical skills interested in working on someone's idea. A lot of people with technical skills have their own ideas. And do your research so you can demonstrate that your idea is actually new.
posted by kat518 at 7:11 AM on February 3, 2015

The "your idea is worthless without execution" angle has been pretty well covered here, but there is a ton of work you can/should be doing:
- Do you understand your market? How big is it?
- How do you plan on growing your user base? Acquisition is a lot harder and more expensive than most people think.
- Is your service something people will realistically pay for? If not, what's your revenue model?
- Have you identified the user basic workflows and sketched out some screens?
posted by mkultra at 9:12 AM on February 3, 2015

Building on what I said earlier, and mkultra added to, and pretty much everyone else is ignoring is that there is a lot more to strong execution than just writing code.

You could learn to code well enough to create a prototype, but maybe there is something else you could do sooner, and which might help you persuade a developer to join you by demonstrating the idea has an audience, that you know how to reach, and that what the developer ends up building is the right thing to reach that audience.
posted by Good Brain at 1:39 PM on February 3, 2015

Hi LonnieK, I know nothing about this field myself, but I was trawling through the list of courses at EdX last night and noticed MIT have one just begun this week in Building Mobile Experiences. You might find it useful to audit the course, even if you don't have the technical knowledge to complete the practical side.
posted by valetta at 5:03 PM on February 3, 2015

At least with iOS, the App store search is pretty much broken. People seem to find apps by referrals, until a magical critical mass is reached and the app works its way to the top of search results. What this means is, the most critical part of an app's success is publicity. In the absence of successful publicity your sales go nowhere and someone else copies your idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:30 PM on February 3, 2015

« Older What's a good solution for cyclic tasks, ones that...   |   Help me find more information on this bayonet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.