So I've got this brilliant idea for a website....
April 17, 2015 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out the nitty-gritty of taking an idea for a website and making it a reality.

I have a B.S. in computer science but I got it in 1996 and I've been a lawyer for the past 10 years. In other words I am capable of thinking technically but my actual skills are completely out of date at this point.

Ideally, I'd like to hire someone to develop this idea (rather than teach myself web programming), but I suppose I could *try* to do it myself, there just seems to be a lot of extra barrier to that plan.

My current idea is to hire a designer from for the sole purpose of helping me flesh out the specs of the job, and then hire a developer off the same site to whip up a beta, based on those specs.

Then I'd see how it works in my local community, and if it seems to have merit, I'd go from there.

Does that make sense? And if so does anyone have advice as to what specifically I should advertise for?

I've had a lot of ideas and would really like to give one of them a go. The one I'm currently thinking of is, essentially, a new kind of dating site with a twist (people create profiles, email each other, there's a simple matching algorithm, that sort of thing). I don't think any of what I'd be seeking is rocket surgery, but I don't have the skills to make it happen.

My thought is to dip a toe into designing this, spend money but not an enormous amount, and then if it seems to have merit, consider putting in a larger investment of my time. (If it seems really great I'd go the whole "quit my day job, raise funding" route, but I obviously don't want to do that off the bat.)

Obviously I'd have to pay for the freelancers services. I'm not really sure what a reasonable expectation would be though. Any input on that would be helpful.

And, if anyone wants to just tell me "Nooooooooooooooo!" I suppose I'd appreciate hearing that too.
posted by rkriger to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What would your USP be for the dating site? What you describe is pretty much what all dating sites do.

There is no harm in throwing your own time at this if you think you have something unique to offer. The worst that can happen is that you waste your own time.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:23 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might consider contacting the webdev's of a few sites you find that are vaguely similar to your idea, to ask for tips or references toward finding someone that could develop what you're thinking about.

The registering, setting up space, and having emails from the site are not really much trouble to do, as many registering and hosting services do this kind of thing automatically via a web control panel with minimal (if any) service-ticket kinds of interactions/requests.

I use GoDaddy for ~3 sites and they have different kinds of pre-existing architectures already pre-built that you can have installed and customize to suit your needs (at no additional cost above the hosting/registration) without having to hire someone to code it all for you. Not sure they'd have a dating-site structure, but enough to at least get a feel for what you're sticking your toe in..
posted by Quarter Pincher at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2015

Best answer: You're going into this as a business (hiring contractors!), so think about it as a business first.

There are lots of things to do before, during and after the actual programming, most of which is about project management, and having a clear goal. The actual programming is so much easier if those two things get handled well.


* create marketing copy and narrow your focus. What is the unique selling point (USP above) of your site. Why would I use it versus any of the other hundred dating sites? Is it focused on an audience (think: FarmersOnly, that one Jewish one)? A different workflow? A better matching system? Etc. etc. Figure out how you'd pitch it to people, what the focus is, and generally how you want it to stand out. Actually write marketing text. Refine your pitch.
* Dating sites have a chicken and egg issue. They are only as valuable as the count of people on them... how are you planning on growing the set of people quickly? What's the carrot you're offering to early adopters?
* sketch a ton. What do the interactions actually look like? Pen & Paper will let you iterate quickly.
* write out and plan the minimum viable product. What is the smallest thing you could do in order to make this site work. Maybe make a trello board with tasks on it. "User stories" like "I want to be able to respond to messages", "I want to block an annoying person", "I want to see who I've responded to already", "I want to see my unread messages", etc, etc, etc. This will be driven by your sketches. Reorder these so the most important are up top.


* Be super active in testing and feedback. Refine the tasks list built up beforehand in the face of real information.
* Coordinate your several contractors well (design & code probably will be different people). Be available, communicate well, pay on time, etc. Be a good boss.
* Be sure to get everything working before narrowing in on specific features to tweak to death. There will be time for that later. Get launched.

After: there is no after. It's basically just continually looping on the during step....
posted by cschneid at 2:26 PM on April 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Are you looking for a one-off price, hourly pay, or equity deal?
posted by blue_beetle at 4:25 PM on April 17, 2015

+1 for @cschneid's answer. Building the site is the least of your concerns. You should focus on defining the business, figuring out your strategy to make money, and your strategy for attracting users. Once you have a clear idea of the business you are going to run building the application is much easier.
posted by askmehow at 7:07 PM on April 17, 2015

Best answer: You also don't get to just 'build a website' anymore. You build, at the least, a platform that serves your website and mobile apps. Plus a website/app requires more maintenance than you can imagine. There will be bugs/upgrades/security updates/hosting issues/moderation/customer service that all need to be taken care of all the time.

What you describe sounds more like a prototype stage to me than actually running an actual website. Might worth doing just to see if your idea is feasible for you at the programming level but don't expect it to be a web business and expect to throw it away once/if you decide to do the real thing.
posted by srboisvert at 9:04 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since you aren't getting a whole lot of replies, I will add my 2 cents worth:

If you have not done so already, you could go to Hacker News and either make an account and participate in the community or even just use the search function to try to find previous discussions and articles about this topic. I will tell you ahead of time that it is a community dominated by coders and I believe the most common piece of advice you are likely to run into is that you really should code it yourself, if at all possible.

I will add that I am not much of a coder and I largely agree with that advice. I have some backburner projects that may or may not eventually get developed. In order to develop them, I likely need to learn more code than I currently know. I have other projects that are being developed, in part because coding is helpful but not central to developing them (because they are in other niches, basically).

Part of what you get out of doing it yourself is personal development. Another thing you get out of doing it yourself is a deeper understanding of the problem space. This is critical if you are going to make a profitable business. If just dreaming up some off the cuff idea and hiring a coder worked well and consistently to become a profitable business, we would all be rich. Making profitable business is far more complicated than that.

An oft repeated saying on Hacker News is to the effect that "ideas are worthless, execution is everything." I think that misses something important: Execution often expresses assumptions (ie ideas) you did not know you had. So one of the benefits of writing the code yourself is that there is a relationship there between what you think and what you code and it runs both ways. So as you develop the thing, your understanding of it evolves. And as your understanding of it evolves, it changes the development in critical ways. When you skip that step, you have two problems: 1) You have less opportunity for your own understanding to evolve as the project evolves and 2) even if, by some magic, your understanding keeps up, it can be impossible to adequately convey ALL of your understanding to someone simply hired to code.

Another thing you will need is audience development. Rolling your own positions you to do audience development in a way that hiring a coder does not. If you don't have "paying customers" (or people using the product plus some means to monetize it, even if "paying customers" is not literally true), then you do not have a business. At best, you have a hobby. Until it is making money, it is not a business. Making money is, as best I can tell, deeply rooted in someone at the center having deep understanding of the problem space and also a significant relationship in some way to the folks who use it and the folks who somehow pay the bills.

There are lots of people who have, for example, hobbies where they get X thing done and do it well. There are also lots of people who have a strong understanding of a particular problem space and may even have well developed ideas of how to get useful things done which help reduce those problems. But a lot of that expertise does not lead to money. In fact, a lot of leads to personal expenses (for hobby supplies, for example). So business does not happen just because you have a good idea or a skill set or a good understanding of a particular problem space. You somehow have to know how to get money out of doing that thing as well as how to do that thing adequately well.

Another category of discussions you might look for while on Hacker News is "how to find a cofounder" (aka business partner who knows how to code). If you are serious about making a go of this, based on what I have read over the years, that has some hope of working better than hiring a coder for a one off project as the basis of a new business.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for some really great insight. To respond to some of the comments, yes my idea is, as far as I can tell, unique and solves a number of problems currently existing in the dating website space.

I think that, based on this feedback, the next step for me to do would be to really thing through all the implications and sketch up a draft of the site plus a business plan, and while doing that perhaps start teaching myself to code (again). Honestly that's probably the most daunting part of this idea, but I do see the wisdom of getting my hands dirty and understanding the underlying technology.

Now I just need to figure out how best to get my skills up to speed...
posted by rkriger at 6:53 AM on April 20, 2015

Now I just need to figure out how best to get my skills up to speed...

The mantra on Hacker News is "find a project." You have a project. So that helps. :-)

Another oft repeated bit of advice is "contribute to open source." Because it is a project but you can just do a little piece of it, as you feel like. (Working on a project matters because it enforces a standard of "Does the thing actually work?" rather than being an academic exercise. There is a reason we have the expression "It's academic" and use it to mean "it's not relevant.")

And, of course, the Internet has a jillion sources of advice and resources for learning to code.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2015

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