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Software community lab?
Sorry, this is a long post. Please bear with me. I'm a software developer with 30+ years of experience. I'm reading all of these questions about how people can find a "tech" or "software" person as a co-founder, and want to cringe. Terminology is a big problem here, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding about software developers. I'd like to address that briefly, then describe an idea I just came up with to help solve the bigger problem and get your feedback on it.
Experienced software people come in two flavors: (1) people who program for a living and won't work for free; and (2) people who are very creative, have enough ideas of their own to work on for three lifetimes, and may be having trouble paying their bills. You won't get either one to partner with you for 100% equity! The first group just won't do it. The second group can't afford to, and even if they could, you're fooling yourself if you think you can convince them to invest a bunch of time and resources in YOUR idea (in which they have zero control) rather than invest the same time and resources in one of their OWN ideas (in which they have 100% control).
As an aside, these are the same people you're worried about stealing your ideas. Even if they did, they wouldn't be able to do anything with them. They're generally harmless in this respect. (We think, "My ideas are FAR BETTER than yours, anyway!" However this statement occurs to you, it's a big impediment to us stealing your ideas.)
What's left for you to choose from is retirees; near-retirees; unemployed people who are broke; and young turks who have very little overhead (they may be living with their parents), very little experience, and very little ability to advise you about the breadth of technical issues your idea may encounter. So they're not going to be good candidates to act as a "business partner" or "co-founder". Maybe a "coder".
Anyway, what I find most folks need is not a co-founder, but a rapid prototype of their software that acts as a proof-of-concept and moves them further down the road.
So I came up with this idea for creating some kind of "Software Development Lab" that operates like the model used by Tech Shop. However, instead of having a bunch of expensive mechanical tools there for use by the community, there would be a small staff of software experts who can help you flesh out your idea, write up design documents, and whip out functional prototypes in a matter of days or a week.
The Lab is "Community funded" somehow, and the staff is paid a modest amount to be available to consult with members who need help, as well as create software. (The staff would also be available for direct hire on an hourly basis.) The software they build isn't like full products that take months to build; rather, it's quick-turn proof-of-concept prototypes that are semi-functional -- enough to look and work ok, but not production quality.
The work itself is done on a kind of "pay it forward" basis where there's an expectation that any immediate funding you get will include some monies to reimburse the Lab, as well as some equity the Lab gets to benefit from your future growth.
This is different from most incubators in that the Lab isn't being "incubated". It's a resource for startups to use BEFORE they get to the incubation stage. And the Lab isn't helping with the startup in an end-to-end sense; rather, it's just helping the non-techie founders explore the technical side of their product in far greater depth than they could get from kids with little real-life experience, as well as get access to quick-turn prototypes built by experts.
So what do you guys think of such a service? Would it fit for your needs (as opposed to other things you may have considered).
The pink elephant in the room, of course, is how does this get funded? We'd be looking at around $400k per year for a staff of 4-6 people per Lab, plus office space. Startups cannot pay for these services at this point in their evolution. After a year or so, I'd expect that there would be enough startups that got enough funding to start repaying their costs, so it could become self-sustaining. But what parties would have enough of an interest to provide initial funding?
George Lambert Advisor
Interim CTO - CTO's for Hire
Hello Fellow Delphi Person. Don't see enough of those. We have been looking at some similar ideas. For a new company there are complicated choices, and a big reality check.
#1) Is your idea going to be worth your effort?
#2) Is there a real market or monetization strategy out there?
#3) What is the minimum energy you will need to expend to get a prototype to test the idea?
#4) What will it take to move from that prototype to a finished shipping revenue positive solution?
Software Startup Rule #1. Most software companies do not fail for lack of technological expertise, the fail for lack of understanding the market. (If you don't do the software -- then that is YOUR JOB)
Software Startup Rule #2. Get help with building a plan. Every dollar you spend building a great plan will return to you in missed headaches.
Software Startup Rule #3. Everybody has a great idea on how to change your idea a little, but will they sign a contact with a deposit to get you to do it? If not, think long and hard, does it distract you from your focus?
Software Startup Rule #4. Software Development is Easier in Photoshop and on a whiteboard, so use them to test your idea. Prototype with pictures and powerpoint. Get a Technical Needs Analysis done AFTER you know what you are building.
I have managed the design, build, deployment and maintenance of software that has been used by millions of users a month, but we never shipped a product until it was ready, and we never started a product with a commitment that we were going to have some level of revenue stream or market advantage from it.
We have build products that failed, but not for engineering reasons, for marketing reasons.
The reason for mentioning this is the idea of how to get things launched is a great topic for this forum.
I have been working with someone I did a startup with that grew for under 10 to 90 people from Feb 95 to Dec 95, just before the internet boom. I left to do internet stuff, and recently he has reached out to me and said,
"There is no simple solution."
* Local teams take time and money to build.
* Remote teams will try to build the exact spec you send them - without any of your insite but will take all of your money giving you something that looks like what you want. (Oh - I know this one too well)
* What you should want is to partner to manage your project from cradle to grave.
The people who write your prototype are not the right people to scale it to the size you want to make your investors happy.
Lets keep moving this discussion forward / since we are all very good at what we do, and all have opinions lets put our heads together and find a way to make startups happen.
PS: Not Sure I know what I'm talking about? Look at my linked-in profile. http://www.linkedin.com/in/podjacker
PPS: Send me an email and I will send you an electronic copy of the book I wrote for friends and students who were doing small ventures in the mid 2004. subject: "CashCowMarketingPlan Please"
gnf .dk Entrepreneur
Software development - Noah ITAM/DCIM
I, for one, could have used a setup like this 8 years ago ;-) And the help in getting started - both with Noah and with the company.
I would like to very much participate in such a"Software Development Lab" and help others with starting up the best way - or just stop right there!
Adam Darrow Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur, CPA, Lifestyle Support Specialist
I think this is a good start, and I appreciate your concern for us non-techies and the time you already put into this idea! The one really concerning part is the assumption that these start ups will get funded somehow with no team, no revenue, just a prototype (unless I'm missing something). Even if the non-techie inventor has a great understanding of the market, from everything I've heard, the bar has been raised - you need a team, and in most cases traction and some revenue before you will be considered "investable". Of course there are exceptions, but the message has been very clear and consistent. Not sure how to accomplish this, but I think there needs to be a quirky.com for software ideas whereby a community votes up/down to bring an idea to market. Thanks again for starting the discussion! AD
Adam Darrow Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur, CPA, Lifestyle Support Specialist
By the way, an experienced database developer approached me because my idea appealed to her so much. So now I have a very capable developer on board with many years of experience. Now I'm looking for a couple more developers who share the same passion for solving the problem I'm focused on. Also, on another co-founder matching platform, there are developers who have a status of "Looking to join a start up". I picked a few profiles and they all seem to be very experienced with many years in the field, and in some cases already having launched and exited multiple times. This would seem to contradict what you said about experienced software people coming in two flavors. I'm confused and hoping you can explain the apparent contradiction. Thanks, AD
Tarek Hassan Entrepreneur
Sales and Business Development
David I think you hit on something affecting many non tech entrepreneurs like myself and I would definitely work with a service like this. In fact I believe there is a demand for this - please let me know once you pursue
Tamas Kalman Entrepreneur
Consultant at Squidcode & Co-Founder at Tryp
Sounds like an MVP lab - interesting idea, I wonder if there is a market for it.
MVPs are usually top secret, everyone is trying to keep their prototypes down before they release the final version after dozens of iterations.
Jeff Kuchak Entrepreneur
Owner/Artis at Storm Spoons
What a great idea. I was/am looking for a "business in a box". Where I could order modules of different business software that would fit together to create a customized business. For example have premade databases, forums, software packages that will work together.
Starting out you could charge a % of equity in the business for the software to make sure your funded in the future and also charge for tech support.
Its a service that I would use, especially after trying to teach myself programming. I am afraid that my idea will never become a business due to my lack of technical programming skills.
Karen Leventhal Entrepreneur
Founder & CEO at SE Rising
As a nontechnical founder, I really like the concept of pooling resources. In trying to navigate this territory for a bit of time, I have to be honest and say that overall assumptions of the field sometimes bewilder me. Basically, most institutional or angel funders do not want to invest in product development. But that's where you often need the most help. There is a lot of discussion on these feeds about upping the return rates of starts ups. Most startups will not be the next Facebook, and the truth is that most incubators/angels/vc might not even know the next Facebook when they see it. I'm in agreement with Peter Theil, the next Facebook will not be a social network. Which is a imitator, essentially. It will be something untested, with few comparables in the field, and incubators etc may not even be able to spot it.... but I digress... if the goal is to spawn a thousand facebooks, with huge exits or IPO's it won't happen, but if the goal is to spawn more functional profitable businesses that may be able to be achieved. That is a worthy outcome in my humble opinion.
To give some details, I need a platform built. The 'co-founder dilemma' has absolutely come up in my process and I understand your point. I don't have a lot of funds...but I do have some funds. If someone could create something that would understand the needs of starts up and be able to turn out solid MVPs, by working with outsourced or younger developers (because that is not my skill set), and in that way lower the cost of production, I would definitely be interested. Ive said for a long time- as a nontechnical founder-- my experience of the technical world is that it is the wild west. I can ask for bids on the same project and get bids that differ by hundreds of thousands of dollar, from $10,000 to $400,000. If someone can find a way to consistently produce good results, and start to standardize the pricing process and make it easier for small businesses or start ups to know what they are getting-- that person will be a bizillionaire in my opinion.
Mike Moyer Entrepreneur • Advisor
Managing Director at Lake Shark Ventures, LLC
This is great. Why not take it up a notch and allow MVP developers to share equity in the startup? My model, Slicing Pie, will allow you to determine exactly how much they should get for their work:http://founderdating.com/formula-for-the-perfect-cofounder-equity-split/
I've been doing this on a smaller scale with my company, Lake Shark Ventures, LLC. Frustrated with a lack of technical cofounders, I hired an over seas team to work on MVP tech projects for my own ideas and I take equity in other startups. It works well on a small scale.
Joanne M. Frederick Entrepreneur • Advisor
Healthy people. Effective healthcare.
I love the idea and was going to suggest the Slicing Pie concept as well, but the Mike just beat me to it.
The other thing I would offer is that the service is built around Agile methodology so everyone would be happy at the end.
I'm ready to do it now... Where do I sign up?
Best of luck!
Best of luck!
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