Lately I’ve been attending more entrepreneurial or startup events in the Boston and Cambridge scene. It’s striking to me how many people are walking around with what they believe to be a good idea and they aren’t acting on it because they want a “technical cofounder”. It seems like it’s a topic that gets an inordinate amount of attention… every time.
I guess I don’t blame people for getting so stuck on it. They’re usually on the ‘business side’ of things and they desperately want to get something going, they think they have a great idea, AND they have no technical skills… and that’s fine. I also hear people say things like “well y-combinator won’t even take you if you’re solo”…. yawwwwnnnn… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I got rich when I IPO’d and that the way I’m doing it is right, but I’ll tell you this you’re probably not getting into Y-combinator, and SO WHAT. Is that really your goal? Do you want a good story a bunch of VC and no control. What I want to know is – Why do you want to build your idea, this piece of software (or ‘app’ or ‘site’)? What is the driving force? What is the reason that you feel you need to do this? Is it to ‘get funded’? Is it to IPO? Ugh, then you probably want to stop reading right here.
I built my first software product because I wanted a reliable, recurring income that paid at least my health insurance and ideally my base expenses (mortgage, cars, etc). Not a very sexy goal but it seemed totally attainable to me and I wanted it desperately. I wanted a business that was scalable, that had good margins, little overhead, and that was a product and NOT a service.
In real estate the money can be huge and then… nada. It’s a constant cycle of boom and bust and I was at the front end of a spectacular real estate implosion where no matter how hard I worked or how many deals I put up on the board nothing, nothing, nothing was closing… and I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old and a wife at home. Talk about uncomfortable. We’d have years when I made a lot more than most followed by a year where my gross was as much as I had paid in taxes the year prior. Holy shit that sucks. So I
wanted needed a new business model. I landed on software, a subscription web application specifically.
I probably started thinking about what I wanted to offer (and not just that I wanted to make something) shortly before my son was born in the spring of 2009. I had kicked around with some WordPress websites or whatever for a couple of years before that but I wasn’t serious. In July of 2009 I got really really serious. Like do or die serious. I just had some major deal implosion which left me with nothing on the horizon in terms of income (did I mention the baby, the toddler, the wife and the mortgage?). I was on my way to a 3-day conference (not at all tech related) and I had just read the 4 Hour Work Week over vacation (I know it’s kind of cliche I guess but it’s the truth). I decided that I’d load the iPod with business podcasts for the long drive and just let the subconscious run and before I came home I would settle on an idea. That was the end of July 2009. I released my first software product (soft launch) in October of the same year. I made money starting the first month and every month since. By the way I had almost zero technical skills when I launched and I had no technical cofounder.
I’m not going to tell you the first round was pretty, it was decidedly not pretty, but I still had people signing up at $97 per month and I was getting good feedback (by the way I’ve spent probably a grand total of maybe $500 on advertising in what’s now almost 2 years and income continues to grow).
Since releasing my first ‘alpha version’ (the nicest way I can think to refer to it) I released a rebuilt “Version 2.0” that is vastly superior to the first . In addition to these I have a new product in a totally unrelated space that I’m releasing very soon.
I’ve had friends ask me over the last year or so about how they’d go about developing their own products and now, as I’m moving around the startup scene, I’m seeing that there’s a real need for some basic info or at least a path. For now on this blog I’m going to focus on laying out everything I’ve learned as I’ve built these products and grown my business and that I’ve learned from the bumps and bruises of ‘solopreneurship’. My plan is to layout a working model of best practices for a non-technical person to get started with producing his or her own software, app, website, or pick-you-nomenclature. I’m going to focus on how to make a real product, not an affiliate website or an eBook or an Adsense site or whatever else, I know little to nothing about those topics except insofar as they relate to promoting a web app. I want to help you with getting your idea out the door and then maybe I’l talk about getting it found. If you want to learn about whether or not you should even pursue your idea, well that’s a whole topic and one that some other people know a whole lot more about than I.