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I have an idea but can't code.
29 points by blastoffering on July 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments
I've spent a few hours looking at previous questions like this here. There's a camp that says GO LEARN, another that says GO LEARN A LITTLE, AT LEAST, then find a technical co-founder. A few say other.

I would love to learn, and have dabbled (albeit slightly) in it. I mean, I've done very basic stuff. Very foundational stuff, but nothing close to even close to sufficient. I'll still keep going.

Here's the thing. I'm going to law school. I start in a few months. There's literally no way I'm going to have the time to learn anything of value while in law school. I don't think having the idea itself is worthless but I understand offering my idea to the company isn't good enough, and isn't good enough to have staying power, either. I could have something of value to offer as a lawyer, but I'm not there yet and won't be for 3 years.

I don't want to sit on this idea for too long, it's pretty simple by nature, convenient but easy for big, already established companies to replicate it in a heartbeat, especially with the man power, smarts, and data that they have.

What should I do?!

I'll add that because of the caliber of law school I'm attending (and the institution's business and other associated schools), I'll meet some entrepreneurial/coding/etc. individuals, with connections, I'm just not sure I 1. actually will 2. If this even makes sense to bank on? 3. Is this my best bet at this point? Finding a classmate/colleague?

Any other suggestions appreciated.

I searched the whole page and I don't see the word "validate" anywhere. Is there no-one to tell this poor guy to throw up a landing page and buy ads to see if anyone cares?

Blastoffering - don't quit law school, don't invest, don't get a cofounder. Your only job right now is to validate your idea.

You believe in it - that's dangerous. You could be wrong. Building it and then discovering that is ludicrous. Imagine you dropped out of school, convinced your parents to invest 300k, convinced a coder to quit his job at google and lose $x00k of options, only to discover after building it that nobody gives a shit!. Instead, try to validate your idea in the cheapest way you possibly can.

Your inspiration should be Arram Sabeti, CEO and founder of ZeroCater. The dude had 500 customers before they wrote any code. He scaled it up to 500k ARR while running it off a spreadsheet!

There's this pervasive myth that once you get an idea you need to go find a technical cofounder. Bullshit. The last thing you want to do when you have an idea is code. You need to validate the idea as cheaply as possible.

Code isn't cheap for you. That advice about just building it - that's for engineers, where a few years ago building something was a cheap way to validate. Today, for you, it'll be cheaper to buy ads, pre-sell it to potential customers, or even do the cliche talking-to-strangers-in-a-starbucks things. All of those options are better than writing code at this stage.

Email me, I'll set you straight and help you turn the idea into practical steps which will allow you validate the idea without writing any code: paul.biggar@gmail.com.

> I searched the whole page and I don't see the word "validate" anywhere. Is there no-one to tell this poor guy to throw up a landing page and buy ads to see if anyone cares?

Can you do up a blog post or something detailed how you would go about this?

I want to do it but if I do it wrong then the idea might be falsely invalidated

This is good advise ( mainly coming from Founder of a service which helps developers to ship better code ) .

On a side note, it will be better if OP includes what he really wants to achieve.

Do you just want to some how see the app/website built ?

Do you want to create a profitable business ?

Or are you doing it for fun ?


I do want to turn this into something profitable. I wouldn't say it's "for fun" but I like it because it's something I've always felt I needed at various points, and would be useful to me. Knowing this, it'll even be more useful to the regular, everyday individual because they'll likely use it more than I would. So, I would love to see it built, but I'd love to be one of the people building it more.

Hey! Thanks. I'll definitely reach out.

If it is not going to take a lot of time to code, I will build you an MVP (minimum viable product), gratis. Then, you can use it to test/validate your idea more effectively.

Let me know if interested - varma.richa@yahoo.com.

Ideas are almost worthless, but getting people to believe in ideas is not. Go prove it to yourself and get a developer to believe in your potential company.

If you believe in it truly, go and borrow and pay a top notch developer and have full ownership.

If you only think you truly believe in it, but on second look you are concerned about borrowing money to invest in it, then try to find a developer. Speak with conviction and maybe you will get them to quit their $100,000 job and invest their time for a huge amount of equity - maybe you keep 20% if it's a great idea or less if it's not.

The real truth is if it's ---

"easy for big, already established companies to replicate it in a heartbeat"..

You really don't have a chance if you can't program.

You need more than code. You need a whole infrastructure of people to scale and without being a programmer yourself, you will have difficulty getting talent to work for you and maybe even difficulty recognizing who is actually good.

It's important to note that you can often "go prove it to yourself and get a developer to believe in your potential company" without coding a thing. For example, a non-technical friend that I'd worked with a few times came to me last year with an idea. I wasn't looking to jump ship from my current gig, but I was happy to advise him as he ramped up. We took his idea and boiled it down to some minimal questions that needed to be answered.

From there, he manually simulated the product: he manually gathered data from publicly available sources, manually dumped them into the tech he intended to use for some analysis, manually evaluated the results, etc. The result? In less than two weeks' time, we figured out that he actually had a decent idea going. Over beers, I sketched for him a general outline of how I'd automate the process -- nothing too detailed, nothing getting into the weeds, but I was able to give him an outline and say "here is where you've got some risk" or "this part's easy."

He shopped that around to a few folks, some of whom I was able to recommend to him, and ended up finding a technical cofounder. That guy threw everything I'd suggested away and went with another stack, but that's not the important part. What matters is that my buddy a) had proof that the thing could work, and b) had clearly done some due diligence in figuring out the initial development needs. That made him more attractive to technical people and led to his landing that technical cofounder.

So I'd advise you to:

1. Think hard about how much what you're doing needs any code at all.

2. Anything you can do manually, you should go ahead and do just to prove things out to yourself and, later, to potential cofounders.

3. Find a friend or a friendly face at a local meetup who'd be willing to advise -- don't ask for anything more.

4. Use the outputs of these processes to either a) decide not to go forward with it, because that's what you may learn, or b) pitch technical people.

Good luck!

Let it go.

Your idea is worth sh!t anyway, whatever it is.

Plus this sucks: "I want someone else to design, build, deploy and manage a technical project for me (and maybe market and sell it too). They'll of course get (insert equity slice and post-revenue comp plan here), so how awesome is that."

You and everyone else.

Have you talked to a potential customer yet? Start there.

If you can't figure out how to get to a minimal proof of viability from where you're at, just drop it. Getting it built is not the hard part, with or without (insert classmate/colleague).

lmao, relax man.

To be fair, technical people get weekly offers to build some cool new idea (80% of the work), for 20% or less equity.

Not saying this is you and you sound totally different, but be aware of this reaction as it will be common. Ways to stop it are to be properly validated and bring more to the table than an idea.

Finish law school, that's the best way to make a certain investment in your future.

I don't want to be too negative but ideas have a way of distorting the mind..... they look amazing to you, but in reality it's probably a flawed idea. Don't give up real world stability for a delusion.

Yeah, that's the thing. I don't doubt there are holes in my idea. I do think it's good, but I'm sure there is work to be done. I honestly don't plan on dropping law school. It's just too risky for me. Not because, again, I don't think it's good, but this is my future and life. So yeah, I guess I'll have to figure something out at this point.

it's pretty simple by nature, convenient but easy for big, already established companies to replicate it in a heartbeat, especially with the man power, smarts, and data that they have.

Sounds like you have a pretty good reason not to pursue it?

I Disagree. Whether the idea is trivial or not, it's the execution that determines the outcome.

But you cant execute it alone right? So you are relying on someone you get to work on the cheap to out execute a big corp? I wouldn't invest in that.

You have two options: 1. Drop law school and do it. 2. Finish law school and do it.

You will always have another idea. You will make important connections even without law school. You will always be able to learn new things.

Let go of the idea of who you might become in 3 years.

Pick the option you think will make you feel the most alive, follow your stomach and intuition.

If you don't have time to learn to code, then you almost certainly don't have time to be a co-founder etc.

It's unfortunate, but there's only so much we can do at once. It comes down to priorities.

I think, at least from my perspective, there's a stark difference between using my time as a co-founder vs. learning basic code. My capacity to function as a co-fonder far surpasses that of building my idea from a strictly coding standpoint. Not to say I'll be some savant at co-founding, but when compared to my coding ability, it's not even close. I'm essentially still learning my ABC's at coding.

Though I do have the same amount of X hours allocated to the idea, I don't think they're worth the same as a co-founder/learning the law vs. starting to code from scratch, if you see where I'm coming from.

I've known people who would look at a piece of art and say, "Meh, I could do that." And I think they miss the point: the artist did and the bush-league critic didn't. The reason that the artist did and the bush-leaguer didn't is because the artist cared about making it happen enough to invest the effort required to make it happen.

Over time, I've come to give some credence to the idea that not implementing some spark of imagination is a good indicator that I don't really care that much about the idea and that the ideas that I implement are probably things I really care about.

Just from the high level description, it seems to me that you care about going to law school enough to make it happen and don't care about the idea enough to implement it. More importantly your analysis indicates a damn good reasons not to implement it: the skills to make it happen are absent, a professional network containing people with those skills who are close enough to step onboard is absent; and the underlying business model is easy to replicate.

As for specific advice, I like this essay: https://sivers.org/multiply

Good luck.

Thanks for the response. I don't really think me not dropping law school as a whole is a good indicator of how much I care about the idea. I just think it means I'm not delusional.

There are a ton of reasons my idea may/may not work, and it wouldn't have anything to do with how good the idea actually is. It's just that since this isn't a video game, I actually have to proceed in way that actually makes sense, balancing both realistic possibilities and my current outlook.

I think hesitating, or wanting more info to properly tackle this, makes to most sense for me.

Also, I never felt the "meh I could do that" sentiment or alluded that it's easy. I agree, wholeheartedly, that it's an incredibly important part of the whole thing.

I apologize. I did not mean to imply that that was your attitude. My intent was to convey the idea that not feeling compelled to do whatever it takes to make it happen seems to be a useful filter of ideas...at least to me.

Software devs usually have no shortage of their own ideas. They have no need for external ideas. People rarely get passionate about other people's ideas. If you want a technical co-founder, you have to bring a lot of value to the table, such as deep domain knowledge, customers, investors, and/or your own money.

The market for lawyers isn't looking good and you haven't started law school yet. Is it too late to switch to CompSci?

You're going to law school, so whats easier? learning to code or designing a legally-plausible system for work barter that provides any product in a collaborative way without involving money on the front end, but includes equity when its sold or funded? Use your core competency as a lawyer since you chose that and channel it into a system that gets your product created. That's my suggestion.

You'll be super busy with law school, focus on that, make sure that's a priority, do your best and finish top of your class.

That said lots of people build their idea with full time jobs, while going to school and even with a family.

So make the most of your spare time, weekends, summers.

Whether you learn to code or are a co-founder it's going to be work.

This will be interesting for you: http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/archives

And I love @DHH's advice here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY

Good luck, make the most of it.

Thanks for the response! I'm not scared of the work. I'm just looking to be as efficient as possible. and learning one part of the business, though extremely important, might not be the best use of time. And could hurt on two-fronts (the idea itself + law school). I'm ready to work, but I'm just trying to get a feel for what makes sense at the moment in terms of proceeding. I'll check out those links! Thanks again.

"To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions." --- https://sivers.org/multiply

Ideas by themselves are not worth as much as you'd think, whether you can code or not. There are a limited number of ways to make money off of software. You can sell or rent the software to consumers as-is, you can sell or rent the software to businesses as-is, or you can rent the software to businesses including support and/or customization (Software as a Service).

Even a simple app direct to consumers requires developer time and resources over a number of years just to keep it current. The overhead in that case can be very low, but the odds of it turning more than a modest amount of money back is also very low. And if its easily replicable, as you suggest, then it's much more likely to just be done by an established company.

If you're interested in getting involved in startups or other software businesses in the future, you should look at it like any other potential career path in law. Keep an eye on the field, take the time in your 3L to look for internships or other opportunities to learn about this area of law, and try and look for meetups and other developer groups in the area and learn how it works from the dev perspective.

Ideas are only one part of what makes a successful business in software or elsewhere. If you want to have a successful career, you are better off learning as much as you can about the field, especially from people already in it, than following up on an idea. There's always another idea to follow up on in this field, but knowing how the field works and gaining contacts in your area will allow you to follow up on them long-term.

I have idea, but as something with any idea from internet you should use your own brain to figure if it has merit.

Write everything down about your idea in a paper. Then store it somewhere safe. Let it go for a while, and concentrate on law school first year. Check if you can bring second year courses, to your first year. Check if you can study in the next summer also. Then if you can graduate in 17-22 months do it. If you can't do that, but can move workload from later years to first year then do that and be able to work on your idea in later years of your school more freely. Design your law school experience to get back to your idea in either 17-22 months from now as graduated lawyer, or 10-22 months from now part time because you have more free time in your school scheduler. This way your idea is motivator for you to work harder in your law school, instead of distraction. Your goal is to get as soon as possible able to work on your idea full time or with serious amount of time instead of splitting your attention between two.

Lol Yup. Too late. I think I'm in probably as good of a position I can be in with respect to your article, though. Tough market, but reputation is real value in the legal field.

The chances your idea is both unique and useful are essentially nil.

It's probably not new. Just enjoy the thought "won't it be cool when somebody starts a company that does X" and realize that you are not that person (skill / life stage mismatch).

But you could also develop the idea quietly on the side while in school. If not the tech, then the legal aspects and some market and competitive research. Then if the opportunity is still not taken by others in a couple years, do more.

Also you should read some lists of business/tech ideas others have already had. There are plenty of such lists out on the interwebs. For example pet sitter for after you die, ok, whatever. If you find your idea on these lists, that tells you something... maybe there are better ideas. But if you don't, the converse is not necessarily true (it doesn't mean your idea is good).

Maybe not unique, but useful (I think). Nothing's really that new under the sun. I, personally, think it's hiding in plain sight. All besides the point. It's an idea, and I'm just looking at the best possible angle to tackle execution. You've probably met many people who have said they have "The next Facebook/Google" [insert mega company]... I'm by no means saying that, so there's no reason to put so much effort into trying to convince me my idea is horrible and/or has been done, thought of, etc. Maybe my idea is absolute garbage, I won't even know for sure until it actually flops, though.

I also never said it was unique in the sense that it's a brand new concept. It's not. It's simple, and there are derivatives out there (kinda, ish, but not exactly), but i think there's an opportunity here for something (sorta) new.

"my idea" there's the problem. You are elevating it to a higher status than it deserves. It's "an idea" not your idea. One of many you'll have if you stay open minded. Don't fixate on it, that's all. There are billions, trillions, maybe more, ideas, many of them great. Just focus on preparing yourself to execute on any idea. I'm speaking as someone who has had many ideas, and time and ability to execute very, very few of them.

What the hell are you even talking about? "There" is not the problem. Nowhere did I say anything close to what you're alluding to. That I'm closing off potential future ideas? You've run off on a series of tangents since your original post, none of which, of course, addressed anything I had been saying or asking.

Saying "my idea" is "the problem"? That's the position you want to stand by?

and using those words doesn't (by ANY measure) indicate I'm elevating it to a "higher level than it deserves." 1. You don't know what level it "deserves to be." 2. It is in fact, an idea that I have come up with, independent of anyone else. This is not to say that the idea isn't out there or original in and of itself, but it is okay for me to say it's "my idea." It also happens to be "an idea", as well. They aren't mutually exclusive.

I'm fixating on my (or an, if you prefer) idea to the extent it's the one I have and want to execute on at the moment. Yes, I have had (and will have) more ideas. That means nothing.

Whoa OK yeah maybe I laid it on a little heavy. I wish you the best with it.

Nothing you said was heavy. You just didn't say anything [or much] that seemed to be on track to my (or apparently your original) point. Thanks, though.

I'll sign an NDA and tell you if I can make it or not or maybe give you insight as to whether you'd get crushed or not. I seriously couldn't care less about your lawyerly endeavors but if it's worth it to you we can figure out either equity or payment. My email is in my profile.

I believe you should try to prepare a proto before the actual coding. Try validating your Idea first then make a proto; you can do it without knowing anything about coding. Use online tools it helps allot

Your best shot imho is to learn Python (the easiest and most expendable language for startups: full stack web development, machine learning, security etc.) at your own pace as a side aspect of your cv, while you are in law school. After law school, you could end up with a law-related startup idea and be your own technical cofounder with the comfort of a nicer landing in the case it fails. Good luck!

Your contribution even if you do not code it could still be pretty big. Look at Peter Thiel, he went to law school, but was still a co-founder of Paypal.

Network at your school and find some tech guys that can execute the idea in code. There will still be many aspects outside of coding that you can contribute to.

I applaud you for the humility you exhibit in asking this question, as it seems like you are an extremely sharp individual and capable to be your own engineer.

You need to be creative: Don't take this the wrong way, but you need to hustle and get creative with the skills you do have. You need to think like an entrepreneur, take ownership of your situation, and act pragmatically as a "ceo" would. Right now, you are the ceo of your idea.

I'll issue you a challenge that might serves the dual purposes of giving you a concrete next step / goal to aim at.. and (hopefully) provides value in moving your idea forward - and that doesn't require coding.

First, There are numerous lean startup-y approaches to vetting your ideas iteratively and sans-coding. See Steve Blank on google. Or Business Model Canvas. Or Lean Startup. And many others....

Second, once that is done, or in parallel to it, or if you know there is a market: Do as much as you can in building and testing the core concepts without actually coding it. From wordpress to scanning in a sketch + hotspots, to using MailChimp, to Google Docs as backend, to Powerpoint... and many others.... there is a LOT you can do without writing a line of code. If you read about many entrepreneurs, they start off that way. Numerous examples out there... I'd apportion your time learning what those tools are (e.g. what you can do with mailchimp in building a community).

Once you sense things are clicking in terms of market demand (however small) and product hypothesis direction, you will have no trouble attracting the resources you need (human and financial). Bootstrap.

Of course, in parallel, if you do have a desire to continue to learn programming, then you can continue to do that.

Thanks for the advice! and got it.

You can find people here on HN looking for app ideas for their GitHub portfolio, like here:


Ask them whether they would like to work with you on your idea.

If you can break down the project into small enough chunks to manage it properly, you can break it down into small enough chunks to learn coding on the fly. But coding ability is not the barrier here.

Once you create the system for your product as a test, make it work for ANYTHING and get with venture capitalists to take the mature products. That's my expound on the suggestion.

Should i validate my idea even if it is already making money? Thanks

Maybe look into a hackathon like a startup weekend: http://startupweekend.org/

It's specifically made for it to be quick and easy to share your idea and connect with devs/designers/biz devs.

Ugh, no. Developers already have their own ideas. People who bring only ideas to the table at a hackathon are often regarded as a nuisance.

That's a shame. There must be some developers who just like building stuff and don't have something in mind. I did that a few times at Hackathons, paired with a designer or idea person and built their idea.

Thanks! I'll for sure check this out.

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