1. Great Idea 4. Profit! Help with 2 and 3, please.
February 29, 2008 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I've been playing with a promising idea for a website for a while, and I feel I'm ready to get things moving. I've got a fairly clear idea of what I want, who would use it, and why it would take off. Income would be ad-generated, in an area where I believe prospects are good. The problem is, there's no out-of-the-box software that does what I need it to do, and programming the site is beyond my capabilities.

Now, I realize that none of my precious ideas are worth anything until I've got at least a prototype up, and I'm not sure how to get there from here. From what I read, I could either try and find a partner with tech skills who is equally psyched about the idea, or I could find angel investors to fund development of a prototype for hire. But I'm not even sure where I would find a programmer -- or how much I could safely tell them in order to price the job. (I know there are places where freelancers bid on projects, but do I really want to post details there?) How difficult will it be to add features later if I hire a programmer for the prototype? If I work with a partner, does that mean I'll have to get lawyers involved?

I'd like to grow this slowly -- an invite-only beta, limited initial investment, and so forth. But I think there's a lot of potential, and I'd like to do things right from the start. In short: what's the smart way to proceed? Thank you.
posted by muckster to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm in the same situation and I went with the partner approach. I'm working with a friend who is a developer to build the web app. I had the vision, he has the tech skills, and then I'll be doing the PR / marketing to drive users to the site. If you are web savvy enough to have the idea I imagine you must know some people with web dev skills. Get the site live and use the first $150 or so (depending on where you live) of revenue to pay for the LLC paperwork to form a corp with you two as 50/50 shareholders. If it never makes that much, then neither of you is really out anything other than time.

Digg was developed for a couple of thousand bucks by farming it out on one of the rent a coder sites, so that is certainly a viable option if you want to go that route.
posted by COD at 9:12 AM on February 29, 2008

Rent-a-coder many of these bids may actually come from offshore but can be reasonable.

Get people to bid on building your idea (This is how digg started). You can try things like craigslist but you're going to find yourself wading in crap.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:13 AM on February 29, 2008

How difficult it will be to add features depends largely on how good the original programmer was and somewhat on how good the next programmer is (combined with how many times you change the specification and how much pressure you apply for fast results.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:18 AM on February 29, 2008

If you don't have the cash to hire a programmer, do you have anything you could barter? I'm a web developer and have bartered several times; three weeks in the Virgin Islands, accounting services and a lifetime supply of car washes, for example. Craigslist's barter section is good for this sort of thing.
posted by deepscene at 9:50 AM on February 29, 2008

First, you have to stop treating your idea like a precious snowflake - its not. The chances of it being a truly unique idea that no-one has ever thought before is slim. Ideas are 10 a penny. The idea is only a tiny fraction of the equation that makes a successful website. 99.9% of developers are not remotely interested in stealing your idea. You need more than a good idea and the skill to implement it to make a really successful website (particularly if its funded by ads)

At some point you're going to have to share your idea, in full, with someone. The more you share with a potential developer, the better/more accurate the quote will be.

If you're serious about this project, I'd steer clear of places like rent-a-coder/scriptlance, there are a lot of cowboys who will ditch you for more profitable projects. Sure there are good people there and not all 'foreign' developers are useless but its hard to tell them apart. Almost my entire client-base is made up of people who've used cheap outsourced developers and been burned by the experience. The code is largely shoddy and difficult to maintain, no thought has been given to security or best practice and in the end it costs the client more long-term when so much has to be re-written when they want to make small changes.

You'd be better off looking at places like codingforums.com or programmermeetdesigner.com, you'll get less responses but they'll probably be of better quality - less 'i can do this. $50' type responses. You're also more likely to find someone who will work with you long-term and you can count on to do changes when you need them.
posted by missmagenta at 10:03 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a nearby developer. Email is in my profile.
posted by bastionofsanity at 10:10 AM on February 29, 2008

missmagenta is right on. The main things you need to keep in mind are:

1. Nobody cares about your idea. Nobody wants to steal it, and most people probably don't want to waste time having you explain it to them in detail. The only way you can turn your idea into reality is if you do a lot of work, or if you pay a lot of money. Most people other than you won't like your idea enough to want to do either of those.

2. If you've never managed a software project before, you're probably going to make some major mistakes on your first one. If you hire someone on rentacoder, don't be surprised if they do a horrible job and don't end up delivering something you can use. If you find some guy in real life who wants to help you, don't be surprised if he bails in the middle of the project.

3. Even if you do find someone to build it, and everything goes perfectly, there's a fairly large chance that the website will be a failure. Most startups in general fail. Even the pros have a lot of failures. Look at Google, they have some of the best software developers working there, and many of their projects have been relatively unsuccessful.

With that said, I still think get this site built if you are really serious about it. My advice would be spend $0 on it until it's actually finished and hosted. That means that you either need to build it yourself or (more likely) find someone who will build it for free for a cut of the ad revenue. In any case, it won't be easy.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:12 AM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: I think it's kind of entertaining that someone would recommend rent-a-coder while warning that other places will leave you wading through crap. Avoid. There are many more reputable jobs boards for freelance web people out there, but you might be better off asking around locally if at all possible; a personal recommendation is worth a lot more than a post on a jobs board.

Working with a developer you've never met or don't know well can work, but it's not a good way to start your first venture -- there are a lot of indicators of whether the person on the other end of the line knows what they're doing or not, which you're just not going to be equipped to recognize without a little experience. (Sorry, I don't mean to be discouraging, but...)

missmagenta is dead on; the idea is the easy part, and it's exceedingly unlikely that a developer is going to steal your idea and run with it. If you're really concerned, you can describe the idea in very general terms when finding people, then you can ask applicants to sign a NDA (but not a non-compete) before you give them the full scoop.

How difficult will it be to add features later if I hire a programmer for the prototype?

Depends on the skill of the developer you hire, and on how carefully you've thought through the idea before beginning development (so you know ahead of time where you might need room to expand), and on the idea itself: sometimes, if the idea involves new, unproven concepts, it may make sense to build a prototype purely as a testing ground for the idea to be thrown away before building the real thing. If the idea is more a hybrid of existing sites, you can probably skip the prototype stage and go straight to development.

(Bear in mind, too, that a developer is only half of what you need; arguably, finding a great designer is more important than a great coder. Most web applications, the actual code part is relatively simple stuff; the interface (both in terms of look-and-feel and of usability) is what makes or breaks the application.)

If I work with a partner, does that mean I'll have to get lawyers involved?

Yes. You probably will want a good lawyer even if you don't have a partner, to help you through the tax and liability stuff (which is complex but unavoidable.)

But don't even think about partnering up with anybody at this point unless you're absolutely sure they're someone you want to be working with for years to come. (If you do find that person, then excellent; you're in great shape.)

Angel investing is likely to come after a working first version (and a solid business plan, and a lot of uphill-battle salesmanship on your part), not before. You're most likely to be self-funded for the first round, or more (which many people would argue is the best approach anyway: you're taking all the risk, but also get all the rewards... and investors hate the slow-build approach you describe; there will be pressure to move faster so they can get their money back.)

If this were my project, (and if I wasn't already a designer and developer :) here's what I'd do:
1) Pare the idea down to the absolute bare minimum set of features. Keep the bells and whistles in mind for later, but for now focus only on the parts that make the idea unique.
2) hire the best UI designer I can afford, freelance, and work with them to sketch out a solid (non-functioning) prototype of the front end.
3) hire a reasonably good developer, also freelance, to fill in enough of the back end to get it running.
4) Do the closed alpha. If nobody likes it, either go back to step 1 or call it a good learning experience and move on.
5) If it starts to catch on, open it up to the public, put the ads on, and keep iterating over the design and the back-end code as needed to fill in some of the stuff that was trimmed back in step 1, using either the same people from steps 2 and 3 if they were any good, or others if they weren't. Listen to the users; they'll probably ask for things I didn't think of, or not care about things I did.
6) If any of the people I've hired so far seem to be smarter than I am, try to hire them fulltime. If not, don't.
7) If it's self-supporting by this point, I win. If not, and I think the reason is that it needs to be bigger, seek investors.
posted by ook at 11:49 AM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Spend $75 and post it on Authentic Jobs. That site reaches a bunch of the best web developers and designers.
posted by letitrain at 2:47 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just noticed that ook beat me to it.
posted by letitrain at 5:37 PM on February 29, 2008

With RAC, you can make any site for about $300. You just need to micromanage constantly. The other sites are expensive.
posted by markovich at 6:35 PM on February 29, 2008

You get what you pay for.
posted by ook at 9:31 AM on March 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all, this has been really helpful. bastionofsanity, email is on the way...
posted by muckster at 12:44 PM on March 1, 2008

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