An Experiment

A couple times a month, someone approaches me with an idea for an app that could be worth millions or perhaps even billions. If you are a professional software developer, you probably experience the same. Usually, these individuals try to convince me to make the app for a share of profits or an equity position in the company they hope to start. Rarely do they offer cash and if they do, it is generally far below market value ($90 to $150 per hour in NYC).

The thing is, some of these ideas are good and some of the people impressive. They are just not in a position to pay. For example, last December, two doctoral students approached me with a solid idea and wanted me to make an iOS app as an equity member of their team. Being students, they could not afford my rates and I had to turn them down but their background was clearly impressive. Another individual from the world of finance asked me to join him to make an app in the health care space but was not willing to pay upwards of $10,000 to validate his market hypotheses. That’s fair enough but I certainly will not commit 100 hours my time to validate his ideas either. So once again, no partnership.

For those like the two aforementioned examples, I am testing an idea that I hope will bridge the gap between ideas and execution. For now, I am calling it the “MVP Program” (Minimum Viable Product) which is more of a working title. The MVP Program will develop an iOS mimimum viable product for a team with no technical founder (at least no mobile engineer). We will review app proposals and evaluate them based on the feasibility of creating a prototype within a four week period. Each proposal will carry a $25 application fee. Once we receive 200 proposals, we guarantee to select one and develop it during the ensuing month at no additional cost. Here is a full break down of how it will work.

This experiment is meant to find a middle ground between professional engineers and the much maligned “idea guys.” To get sense of how idea guys are perceived by engineers, take a quick look at this Reddit thread. The fact is, good engineers are usually balancing projects or full time offers that pay well. Taking a project for equity with an unproven founder is downright reckless and will almost always lead to tens of thousands of dollars in forgone wages. So when an idea guy comes to us with the next Instagram, Pinterest, or other billion dollar idea, we usually decline.

On the flip side, not all ideas and idea guys are destined to fail. Some of them will put it together and create great companies but just need the initial boost to get started. That boost generally means securing a technical co-founder and/or seed capital. Both of those are very tall orders if you have an idea and nothing else. With a prototype, your chances of finding an engineer and raising funding are significantly improved. The MVP Program can provide that boost. Even if your project is not selected, we will respond with a comprehensive analysis of your its potential costs, timeframe, and technical challenges. I am occasionally asked to consult with founders regarding these matters at a rate of $100 per hour so at the very least, you will receive similar insight for the $25.00 application fee.

So that’s the experiment. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. We hope to iterate this program in response to user feedback.

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3 thoughts on “An Experiment

      • Sounds good Dan, I think I am a member of your meet up already but I wasn’t sure if it was still active, will definitely stop by.

        Here’s my $0.02. Looks like you have several Kickstarter-like problems on your idea, even though I like it. First, there’s not a lot of incentive for people to get off their butts and submit ideas until you make considerable progress on getting close to the goal of 200 people, but can’t get there until people submit the ideas.

        Another issue I can see is that there is no fixed end date for the contest. I’ve run two failed kickstarter campaigns and the random people I didn’t have any connection with all backed me during the first day when I was “new” and during the last few days when I was “ending soon”. Just human nature to respond to the “ending soon act fast” message.

        I believe I understand the economics of why you set it up the way you did, but by setting it up that way your potential submitters lost some key incentives to submit NOW rather than procrastinate IMO.

        The last issue that might be coming up is around exactly *who* reads your blog and comes to your meetups. Only you have some idea of that, but if they are all developers themselves then probably not the correct crowd to generate entries for your contest!

        Talk soon,

        Sean

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