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Poll: I have a startup idea. How should I pursue it?
37 points by byoung2 1754 days ago | hide | past | web | 41 comments | favorite
I've had an idea for a startup that has been kicking around the back of my mind since 2007 (that's when I created a Google Doc describing it in detail and registered a bunch of domain names for it). It is in the education sphere, and it seemed a little outlandish 5 years ago, but now that MOOC's are very common, it seems like an obvious evolution for online education. A little background...I am currently working as a software engineer for a stealth mode startup in the social/big data space, but over my career, I've worked for some big names in for-profit education (Sylvan, Kaplan, The College Network, Veritas Prep). The idea solves a problem for all of those companies, and for universities as well, so it could make a profitable startup but I think it could be more impactful with a WordPress-like model. How would you pursue an idea like this?
Pursue it as a side project on nights/weekends
217 points
Apply to YC and quit my job if accepted
48 points
Forget it, because it's just an idea
8 points
Launch a KickStarter and open-source it
6 points

Find the fastest path to revenue/profit. Nothing else will matter if you can accomplish that.

Since you'd be selling to large organizations the most critical issue is figuring out the sales process, the MVP and what you can charge them. You might want to follow Steve Blank's process for market / business model discovery: http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/ep245/CourseRev/1

Go for it man. Sounds like you've already kind of decided (your question seems a little leading) but you want someone to tell you the answer you're looking for. Just go for it. If you have a passion for it then there's no reason not to.

These don't contain perhaps the best option, vett it further with experts in the field, and if you can, pursue it full time.

part time is not ideal if you want this to actually be successful, despite all the votes its getting.

Build a landing page slightly explaining it with an email sign up field/submit button (like via launchrock or some other co).

Invest $50-$75 or so into some keywords/ads via adwords and see if you get signups. Fastest/cheapest way to validate.

If that goes well, put a full plan together with a schedule attached and go at it.

Good luck!

"It is in the education sphere"

My immediate knee-jerk reaction (as someone currently in an emerging field within education): pursue it as a side project. You have a background and connections in this field, which is extremely important. Education is a notoriously difficult market to crack without some leads, and even then it could take years.

If you feel you need a set amount of time to complete this (say, a few months full time) then see if you could take a leave of absence from your current employer. If you're already on your way out for whatever reason, see if you can find some contract work on the side while you build this. You could even score some contracts within the edu industry which will also serve to build relationships toward your product offering.

I can't take time off from work right now (1 month old baby at home, and my wife is taking time off from work), so it would have to be a night and weekend thing for now. The reason I floated the Kickstarter option is that I could buy a few months off with any money raised there. The problem as you correctly pointed out is that education is tough to break into...universities are hard to convince, and school districts are notoriously difficult to deal with. The WordPress model I alluded to involves going directly to the teachers. I think that's where the real potential lies.

Something I still wish I had done for my current startup is pitching the idea to the companies it can benefit most and offer them to work on it freelance for half your usual rate while keeping full IP.

That would allow you to work on your startup, validate the idea and providing income.

And if it doesn't work out you've learned a lot just by having a couple of talks with highly relevant influencers in your target market.

I haven't read it yet, but Never Eat Alone might apply well here...

Build a minimum viable product (MVP) as a side project and then actually talk (face to face or over the phone if you can't face to face) to some prospects to get their feedback. The day you can actually get someone to pay for your product - jump in.

I don't think pursuing revenue/profit is the first thing you should do. Education projects need sometime to 'get going'. My advice is start doing it in the weekends, find a few users, see what they love, change what they hate, find more users and iterate until you can leave you job.

Another thing, put someone aboard. If you can't convice your best friend (or somebody close) that it's a good idea, maybe you wouldn't convice a VC or pg.

Think about the next small thing you can do right now to move it forward from being just an idea. Do it. Repeat.

I like this approach. Thing big, but take baby steps.

Before you can do this though, you'll need to know which direction you're headed. What is it what you want to achieve? What's the next (physical) step you can take to get closer to that goal? Etc.

Considering that you are a developer, I would first of all make an estimate of how much work it would need to create an MVP - meaning minimal useful features, but polished. Then I would try to understand how long it would take to create that MVP in your free time - realistically.

Then I would double the estimated time, and decide if I'm comfortable with the idea of working very very hard for that long before getting any tangible result. If the answer is yes, I would try the solo/MVP way. Otherwise, I would try to create a good presentation and see how relevant people (possible customers + possible investors) react to it.

I would proceed like this : 1/ talk about it with friends you trusts and could bring you objectives review 2/ contact people in the industry that could be interested in your product and ask them if the that product is really usefull to them and if so, how much are they willing to pay ? 3/ start to code the product (MVP) 4/ launch with few clients (like a beta) to make sure the product make the job and find the bugs 4-bis / when making enough money, resigne from your current job 5/ launch worldwide , get techcrunched, rise from Sequoi and retire the next day :)

Based on my experience, most startup ideas get their MVPs done as a side projects, since rarely anyone can afford just to drop everything and pursue it.

One sentence did raise an alert in my head: stealth mode. No startup should ever be in a stealth mode - ever. Stealth mode to me means you're hiding you project from prospective customers which is a really bad idea and a common point of failure for many startups. You should un-stealth and show/discuss your product to everyone. You'd be amazed by the amount of good feedback you get. Stealth is a no-no.

You may want to look over your current contract to be certain that anything you build on nights/weekends is indeed your own and doesn't end up your employer's by default. Otherwise... go for it!

I've been wrestling with a similar question. My current take on it is this:

1. Get a real, working system to a demo-able point. This is not an MVP, but rather a system that lets people see the underlying potential.

2. Start talking to people. This includes both potential customers as well as potential investors. The goals is to find out whether I'm up in the night or if there is a real need here.

3. ???

4. Profit.

(#3 is said somewhat in jest, but it really means synthesizing the output of #2 and determining if there is a real path (whether bootstrapped or funded) that leads to #4.)

  - What YC or any VC would love to see is traction.
  - If you have a simplified version of your idea that's 
  functional, and solicit user feedback, take it from there.
  - Work at it during nights at first.
  - If your growth rate is good, apply to YC.
Note: Startups are still too much work for one founder. So see if a good programmer you've worked with in the past would like to team up with you on this.

Projects that could become startups given funding are not too much work for one founder. IMO your personal interest in the project should propel you to the point where you will need anyone else to help you.

PG said it:

  A startup is too much work for one person.

Read what I wrote before you go quoting pg.

You're missing the "quit my job and do it" option :)

If your current company is decent I would stick with it through launch and to see if it gains traction. You could work on it nights/weekends but that's not critical. What is critical is finding like minded people who you could tap to be co-founders when the time comes. Unfortunately, as good as you think your idea is, it's probably not that great.

The startup I'm currently working for is pretty much the perfect place to work, and we have a good shot at a good exit. I'm employee #7 so I have a decent amount of equity, and the founders have had two $200 million exits in the past.

In that case, leaving this other thing on ice until you get an exit might be the best plan. Then you'll have time, and money. And meanwhile, if you have extra energy, maybe you can find a creative way to further improve the odds of success at your current startup.

Good exits are rare and precious things. I wouldn't give up a good shot at one for even a pretty promising idea.

Applying to YC is all about focus - if you get accepted it's the first thing you should if you want to invest in your startup more than everything. If you risk losing your job, make it a side project.

One other thing you can do is to start working on it full time and get funded only after a considerable amount of development has been done in a better valuation.

Before you pursue it as a side project, check your current employment contract to see if there's provision for a side project.

How do you submit polls? Is it unlockable? </tangent>

You do need a certain amount of karma to post a poll though. It's quite low, IIRC. I think it was only 100 or 200.

"Sorry, you need 200 karma [points?] to create a poll."

Thanks. So it's deliberately not on the nav anywhere?

• find 2 cofounders who complement your strengths/weaknesses, build enough of the idea together to test with prospective users and raise money

First spend less time reading hacker news and more time talking with actual people who might feel pain in the online education space.

The first question is what YOU want. The next question is how to make this happen.

First validate. Don't do anything until you validate it to the exact core user.

Talk to users. Build product. Avoid meetups. Avoid advisors. Avoid hackathons.

Good luck.

Pursue it, you could be starting a revolution !!!

Right there with you. Choosing B

B then D ;)

patent it and then sell it

What's the idea?

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