If you had a programmer for 6 months ... what would you do?
May 27, 2016 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I have a programmer with nothing to do for the next 6 months. He can build almost anything. What can I have him create that would could generate some passive income?

Hi! I'm an entrepreneur who owns a very tiny software company. We have just one programmer, an overseas subcontractor who has been working for us for years. He's very skilled and has a great work ethic. It's been a pleasure to work with him all these years.

However, we have reached a point where we've run out of projects. I really, *really* don't want to let him go ... for both selfish and altruistic reasons ... but we are (truly) barely scraping by so I can't justify paying him just to sit there in case we need him.

So ... what I'm looking for are ideas. I need a project to give to him. Some kind of good idea for a system or application for him to build that could, after 6 months or so of programming, generate some passive income ... say, $1000 per month.

He's skilled at LAMP (PHP/SQL) stuff, Javascript, Ajax, and eCommerce, and has some limited iOS/Android skills as well. He's a genius at scraping data and doing cool things with databases.

So ... any ideas? Some kind of Wordpress plugin perhaps? Some clever affiliate thing using, say, the Amazon product database? Some useful app like 37Signals' HighRise?

Thanks in advance for any ideas!
posted by dacoit to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I'd tell him that you're low on projects right now, that you'd like to hold him on retainer, and let him work on whatever he wants. Maybe that's a startup idea, maybe not. What I would give for six months to do or make or learn whatever I wanted.
posted by mcav at 10:39 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with mcav, but another option would be to improve and refactor existing code. Can you decrease your operating costs or make an improvement that a customer might pay for?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:43 PM on May 27, 2016

yes, improve and refactor, for the benefit of a paying customer. technical debt is pretty much neglected until a fire breaks out or...a time just like *now*.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:55 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, the three answers above me are all better, but I'll throw this in anyway - build a replacement for the WeatherSpark dashboard and monetize it better. As I understand it, they had a popular app with a devoted following that was killed only by its dependence on an expensive API.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:59 PM on May 27, 2016

Sorry, promise I won't threadsit, but just wanted to clarify: We have spent the last few months optimizing the code to the nth degree so that's pretty much done. And we're *tiny*, our gross revenues are under 100k per year and our net much less, so unfortunately we can't afford to just pay the programmer to experiment. We are just hoping for some kind of idea that could bring us a small additional income stream. Weatherspark's a good idea, thanks!
posted by dacoit at 11:00 PM on May 27, 2016

Have you asked your programmer for ideas? As long as it's done with the understanding that the idea needs to meet with your approval, it is very likely to be worthwhile. Most programmers I know have some sort of idea that they've got floating around in their back pocket, and if you go this route you get the benefit of putting them on a project they've either already done some work on, or have at least a general idea of how they'd go about doing it.
posted by Aleyn at 2:18 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't much about the software industry at all. But just thinking it through: I would be very surprised if there were a lot of opportunities to do something in six months that's an easy, low-risk bet to generate $1k/month in passive income. If there were, it would take just four years to get to $8k a month in passive income, which could be a pretty comfortable retirement for a lot of people. That just sounds a little too good to be true. I don't see a million of people out there making $100k in passive income from four years investment in some programming.

(Of course *some* people do that well, but there's presumably a high risk factor, where lots of people put in that time and get nothing. If your question, then, is "Is there a way to get a super-high return on my investment, with little if any risk", the answer is, always, no.)
posted by ManInSuit at 4:53 AM on May 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

There is a number of theden services already but maybe you can do it better.

Have him create a service to create landing pages. Customizable with all analytics and AB testing built in.

To monetize either charge or create a marketplace for themes, and take a cut.
posted by pyro979 at 4:54 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know what country he's in, but there may be more opportunities to invest there (a lot of apps we use aren't localized, and there are many country-specific needs like school guides or government form help). Why not invest 50/50 in the programmer to create a mini startup serving those needs?
posted by miyabo at 5:13 AM on May 28, 2016

We just moved. Went through a rough few weeks hunting for a rental. Some are only listed on Craigslist, some only on padmapper, some only on apartments.com, and many in multiple locations. I spent a few hours looking for an app/website to allow easy comparisons and notes etc. I could not find anything good out there. Ended up using a Google sheet and form.
Things like put in the address, and it should automatically check via Google maps (or Bing etc) how far/time commute it is from work. Fields for noting mass transit locations/distance. School district.
Needs to be usable from both desktop and smartphone. Needs to allow multiple users so all partners can be working off same info. Would be nice if app can use smartphone camera to add photos of the places. Also if your driving by, and see a "for rent/sale" sign, take a geotagged pic, and create a new entry based on the ocr of the sign.

I would have gladly paid $20 or $30 for something really comprehensive and customizable. And most importantly, something that can create entries from listing services without a ton of copy paste.
posted by Sophont at 9:36 AM on May 28, 2016

I wouldn't just pick a random one-off orphan project that you weren't committed to as a company. Is this question really "what should our company do next"? Because that's how you should see it.

Another idea is to have him streamline some overhead stuff like recruiting tools, training (would a domain-specific Khan Academy and Anki SRS material help?), billing, accounting, etc. Lots of people focus on the product while making their admin people suffer with ancient tools.
posted by ctmf at 10:38 AM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just guessing, I bet the big win would be a smartphone or tablet app. Best result would be a huge success like Tetris, but even a simple me-too app with nothing to differentiate it from the rest except a cute name and logo could be worthwhile. I would consider whether it would be easier to make money in the highly competitive Apple/Google world, or in the less competitive Windows world where the ceiling is lower. Chances are the app library for Surface still has some big holes in it.

I can think off the top of my of two sorts of apps to think about. One is a basic utility such as a program to change file from one format to another, or report disk space in detail, etc. You might think of some facility of Windows XT or 7 than is not included in Windows 10. Or many you can create a reader for some sort of data that is available on the internet. (For example, there are navigation programs than display charts downloaded from a government website. Weather apps are another.)

The other possibility is a program for hobby or recreation. There are boating apps, music apps, gardening apps, and every other kind of app. I think there may be the chance to charge a bit more here. It's hard to see paying more than $1 or so for a simple game, but $10 is not too much for something more specialized.

I don't know what is already out there, but I think there is a lot of space for apps that would run in real time during a baseball or football game that would give a running updated probability of each team winning, so you could seen exactly how much a score can change a team's chances. Or the effect of time/innings going by.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:12 AM on May 28, 2016

It's hard to make much money from Android apps, to a large extent just because it's so hard to get noticed. But there are a lot of small developers who have Windows programs or iOS apps, who already have an audience, and who don't have the resources to develop Android versions. Maybe you could contact some of them, and see if anyone would like to have an Android version of their product made, and would be willing to share the revenue from it.

I'm always frustrated when I see iOS game recommendation requests on AskMe, and find there's not an Android version. It's pretty easy for any developer to get me to pay a few dollars to remove ads from any games I like. And I'd pay serious money for a cut-down Android version of Ultra Recall, though I don't suppose that's a six-month project for any one person.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:20 PM on May 28, 2016

Pick 2 popular saas based application, and build a service that coordinates between the two, in a self serve manner - then market that. Random idea: a bot that gives you salesforce info in slack in an actionable way. Something that links Google analytics of a user and their support tickets. Etc.
Something that intelligently manages availability across multiple google calendars for one person.
posted by motdiem2 at 2:26 AM on May 29, 2016

At a basic level, you're asking how to invest and get a huge return. Mefi is littered with such questions. The answer is usually "you can't." A passive income stream of 1k is worth quite a bit of money -- if you assume an 11 percent discount rate, you're looking at something worth about $100k.

37Signals started off as a software developer consultancy, and basecamp was a way for them to both advertise their services, and put consultants to use between contracts, making software that helps them become more effective. You have one programmer, who's okayish, but only has himself and six months. Software as a service is probably going to be difficult for a two person shop.

The usual answer for programmers is to find a new platform land rush. Previously it was mobile apps, right now it's Occulus and VR in general. I'm on the fence on whether this will actually take off like smartphones, or remain a nerd hobby tech.

So think about the assets you currently have. You have a small business (software company?) You've tried optimizing the code. Usually this means optimzing bandwidth costs or performance / load times whatever. What about optimizing your business? Think about how you acquire customers, and how you might acquire more. If you don't use AdWords, it's worth an experiment to find out how many sales you can drive with click thru advertising. There's plenty of programmerish type tasks here, between creating landing pages, measuring results and A/B testing your entire sales funnel.
posted by pwnguin at 4:09 PM on May 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the ideas everyone! Not sure if any of these are quite the right fit for us, but you have certainly got me thinking.
posted by dacoit at 9:48 AM on May 30, 2016

« Older How do you digitial art?   |   Help make my game awesome Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.