Simple advice for acting on your software ideas

Post ImageJustice decided to play the “hypothetical situation” game today, with a post asking what you should do if a great idea hits you. I started out writing a comment, but it got ridiculously long, so here’s a post instead. First, I’ll answer the questions Justice included in his post, then I’ll suggest some of my own questions. Not that you need to be reminded, but I’ll say it anyway – I’m not an expert on these matters, so take this advice with a grain (or jug) of salt!

Okay, so you’ve got a great world-changing idea for a software application/business. What now?

Do you even tell *anyone*?
Yes! This is the easiest of the questions to answer. I think you have to tell someone, preferrably many people. You might think your idea is amazing, and maybe it is, but you won’t know until you get someone else’s opinion. Be prepared though, an honest opinion from someone can have you hitting the ground hard.

If/when this occurs to you, what do you do?
Well, tell someone first. Get another opinion. After that, decide if you really want to proceed. I don’t like doing things half-assed, and I’m sure you don’t either, so this is really an “am I all in or not” kind of decision. It’s not quite the point of no return, but once you commit, you had better follow through.

How do you get started?
In the case of software (or most things of a technical nature), you need to help people visualize your idea. That means getting a prototype or mockup or something going as quickly as possible. It’ll help you refine the idea, and it’ll make it easier to attract help later on. If you don’t know any programming languages, I guess you should learn one of those first 😉

Do you quit your job immediately and begin laboring intensely to bring this to fruition?
This is a difficult question to answer. It comes down to opportunity cost I suppose. It really depends on your individual situation. If you can quit your job and still manage to keep a roof over your head and coke, er, food on the table while working on your idea, I say go for it. Be prepared to give up any social life you might have however!

One caveat is to make sure you have something else going on in your life. If all you do is work on your idea, you’re going to burn out. You need to be able to take a break every now and then.

Do you immediately rush out and try to gather every talented and qualified person you know to begin building what you understand will eventually end up altering the world for the better?
In short, no. First, get that prototype/mockup going. Once that’s done, you can think about adding to the team. Here are some of the things you need to consider:

  • A large team can actually slow you down!
  • Waiting too long to bring in other developers may mean they spend all their time learning what you’ve already done before they can become productive.
  • Make sure you’re ready to share the glory if you decide not to go it alone.
  • A small number of people with specialized, complementary skills can be excellent for development.
  • How will you pay everyone?

What other questions should you be asking?
Well, there’s a bunch. Here are some that came to mind for me:

  • What problem am I solving? This one you need to be able to answer right away.
  • Do I want to be rich or do I want to change the world? This will have an impact on how you decide to pursue the idea. If you’re lucky, you’ll get both.
  • If you decide to go for it, will you get a Pareto efficient outcome? Of course it won’t be perfectly Pareto optimal, but that should be the goal. If your family has to suffer greatly for this to work, maybe reconsider.
  • How much is this going to cost me? In dollars, time, etc.
  • Are you prepared to hear “no”? Because you will, a lot.
  • Do you value sleep? You’ll get less and less if you go after your idea.
  • If this becomes a real business, are you ready to give up control one day? You’ll likely need to bring in outside help, investors, etc.

There’s dozens of other potential questions you could ask. Most of them don’t need to be asked right away, however.

So, what now?
I really believe you need to do two things: create a visualization of your idea, and get as many opinions as you can. After you’ve done those two things, you’ll have a better handle on the idea, and you’ll be in a much better position to answer any questions.

Read: Gray’s Matter

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