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Ask HN: What makes you go for it?
59 points by n_coats on July 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments
What makes you decide start a project/start-up/etc?

From idea to implementation...

Do you go for something based on a technical analysis, market research, monetary potential, the start-up "ride", or just because it's fun to build something regardless of the outcome? Do you ever commit to a project knowing that even if you "fail miserably", you will still gain from the experience?

Obviously most people weigh multiple factors, but which carries the most weight in your decision?

My thought process has evolved over the last few years for deciding what to spend my time on.

I've realized two important things: that I am capable of making a lot of money from my own products, and that there can be important differences between ideas that impact the potential for the former.

I like to build things that improve on past or present solutions, mainly because the market is already there and you aren't pulling teeth to convince people they have a problem you are solving. I also am building products right now in the same space with my current company (simple web development and hosting tools/services).

But when I come up with a new product, it's largely something that I know can be made really simple to start, and then built on over time. If I can ship an MVP or proof of concept in a month or two of 20-40% full-time work I am satisfied. Anything longer than that and I risk making something no one wants.

I also try to learn and be better with every project I do. That means starting with libraries instead of building from scratch, or being more diligent about the architecture. One small example is that I used django-compressor on a recent project instead of hacking that myself. Another is baking referrals and drip email campaigns directly into the MVP instead of pushing this off.

The benefit is that the more you do this the more natural it becomes, to the point where you get higher quality in less time, but I don't dwell on the technical quality too much since your customers generally don't care, so it's a fine line.

At the end of the day though, the new products I've developed have largely been fits of desire to work on something new. Once my co-founder builds a design for it and I implement a simple PoC, the momentum pushes it to become reality.

The difference between what ideas I choose now and what I used to choose is I start looking ahead and see problems or opportunities related to the business model. Things like retention patterns, market potential, etc. I don't measure or predict these things with numbers because I think that's a waste of time, but since I've had experience with those issues, I can get a better feel for them before I start to work on a project.

Also, now that I've achieved and surpassed my initial desire to build my own company and hire a few people, my ambition is pushing me towards achieving bigger milestones. Some ideas are harder to grow than others.

What does MVP mean in this context? Obviously it's related to a PoC, but I can't really find any acronym that fits the context...

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product.


Minimum Viable Product

Thanks for this great response! Really agree with the bit about about making it quick and resourceful. Kudos about not pulling teeth to convince people they have a problem you are solving. This is particularly difficult for many first timers and can be incredibly disheartening for some.

Talk about coincidences, someone very recently recommended Jetstrap for the Coursera Stanford Startup Engineering course :).Best of luck in all your endeavors!

Awesome, glad to hear that :) Feel free to email me if you ever need anything.

Starting isn't the hard bit, I've started 50+ projects, I've finished hardly any of them, not including client work, that's my job, so it's easier to finish.

What's different with a project that's mine is I go all gusto for a while, get a half MVP up and kinda lose the will to carry on. The problem is I have too many ideas and don't stick with my own things to see them through.

I'd probably be more successful if I hired someone else to build it, and get client work myself to pay for it.

Maybe you could work on your own projects as if it is a client, i.e. take 2 hours out of your 40 hour billable work week and deliver as if it is a client.

To make it even more real you can take some savings, draft a contract with someone you trust and tell them to only pay the money back as you deliver the 'client work' to yourself. If you fail to deliver, the money goes to charity.

Also, once you have some revenue from your own app, divide by your hourly rate to know how many hours you will spend on it per week.

Hey Tam, I'm exactly the same. Maybe we can form a support group for such people (i'm serious)?

Although I'm not in exactly the same boat (i.e. I do finish projects but I'm slow), I'd love to be a member of such a group: a mutual accountability forum or weekly lab-meeting where everyone declares what they've done this week.

I know that the Micropreneur Academy has such a forum as one of the attractions, but I think it can be open and free for anyone who's not too worried about their ideas getting pinched (speaking for myself, I wouldn't be worried).

Hey Jon, yeah i have a kind of support group, its a small IRC room i run that a few regulars hang around in, you're welcome to come in. www.chatwebdev.com

Try releasing early. When I work on personal projects and drag them out to perfection or until they have every feature I originally envisioned, they never get finished. I redesign them half a dozen times throughout their development, recode bit and pieces, etc. However, when I hack together a project over a weekend or week, toss it online and it gets a little traction, it's good motivation to continue. You have users behind you providing feedback and ideas, and it's fun to push out little updates every few days when you have people excited to see them.

At the same time, it prevents you from becoming too involved in a failed concept. Release quickly, if there's an audience, keep polishing the project and grow it over the coming years. If the interest just isn't there, well you wasted a week, learned a few things, and move on.

Yes, I think early release is critical. It keeps momentum and lets you hear feedback while you're still fresh in dev mode.

How do you usually test if your project ideas have market fit?

I'm writing a book about this very topic so I'm very interested obviously :)

I've known that programming/CS education is often broken since I had to tutor several (very smart) friends who had a hard time with CS1, which served as their introduction to programming.

There are better CS1 professors to be sure, but I imagine a lot of the problems they encountered were common throughout most people's first experience with trying to learn programming. There was a lot of assumed knowledge, and the students who had prior experience left feeling it was just as mysterious as when they started.

This bothers the hell out of me, because I think these people would enjoy programming a lot more if their first experience was better, and I wonder what I would think of programming if CS1 was my first experience.

I had the good fortune to learn by myself long before college. I think I know why it was easy for me, and I was finally able to articulate it only recently. I talk about it here[1] and explain what I hope to do.

The short version is that I'm going to make a series of Bob Ross-style JavaScript tutorial videos. I think that its a great time to learn programming, since every person with a modern browser installed has everything they need to begin learning (the developer console is an absolutely amazing place to start, and the first tutorials will focus on nothing but working inside of it).

I had considered taking some time off work to do this full time, update the MDN, and hold office hours in StackOverflow chat. Be like a "monk of the web." That's not totally feasible right now, so its taken up status as a side project, though it means that producing the videos will take some time.

So no technical analysis, market research, or monetary potential. I just want to make resources to help people. That's what makes me "go for it". Sometime during StackOverflow I realized that the people I'm helping are the only encouragement I need. http://i.imgur.com/POZmt.png

[1] http://simonsarris.com/blog/696-the-importance-of-geocities

If you can't personally run "office hours," but still see the value in them, have you considered finding some "Teacher's Assistants" with motivations similar to yours to help out? I'm only one year into my formal CS education, but I think even I could handle intro programming questions. I'm sure there are more people out there who would want to help.

Just a thought! Good luck with the project!

For me, it's a combination of passion, freedom, and potential.

'Going for it' is probably the most liberating thing you can do.

The path to implementation stems from a desire to leave a mark on the world and to create a positive net benefit for others. Not just to spin thoughts in your head, but to go out there and make something that has never been created. You may create something similar to things already out there, but your creation is yours.

This doesn't particularly mean your creation is about you, or for your own personal benefit... it means that you have contributed to the big pool of creativity.

You have shared something that may inspire another person to create... and this is the biggest gift of all (IMHO).

Action feels incredible regardless if it 'fails' or succeeds. Market research, monetary potential, and other factors can be vital to your success, but I say don't let these things slow you down in making something happen.

Yes, starting a project is easy and even finishing a prototype is easy. But if you take the project or product real seriously and need to go for beta and production, quality is the number one concern. If the users first time hit your website and found it's easy broken, probably they will never come back, even if it becomes much better later.

So I've got a very critical question for typically how long it may take from a prototype to beta for most of the start up companies, see my link here:


and I'd like to discuss further in detail on each major tasks which must go through. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

For me, a lot of my side projects are either the result of realizing a tool I'd like to use doesn't currently exist, or something I get excited about while throwing ideas around with friends. The latter typically leads to silly web games or programmatic jokes more often than actually useful things, but I enjoy the creativity that comes with that even if it's unlikely to go anywhere.

I'd rather build for the short-term and if something gains traction, start thinking more long-term, but I'm sure there's other people who really enjoy planning out large projects and implementing them.

The first 80% of the work is the fun part, and sometimes I have to pressure myself to do the last 20%.

This, really. Most of the time you're building something because it doesn't exist already and you have the skill to do it. There are plenty of things that don't exist that really should - and it's bizarre that they don't.

The other option is to save money. Frequently I think about whether I should buy expensive widget X to do what I want. Then I wonder how I could build it myself for less (same with software, but usually finding an open source solution).

Well put about the 80%-20% of work.

Purely for the joy of software engineering.

I write a lot of mobile apps. I come across an app that I think needs improving, or one that I want and don't want to pay for. I think about what I could do to improve it, and if it is possible for me to do, then I write it up.

I have gotten very quick at creating MVP, and once you are used to the IDE and libraries, you can build quite sophisticated stuff very quickly.

I got an iPad mini about 6 months ago, and love it, so have been producing a lot of apps that make use of this fantastic device.

How is your revenue? I just started iOS development and I finish my full time contract at the end of August at which point I will work on my own mobile iOS crafts.

For me personally, it's simply that I love the process of building software and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. As long as it's a challenge, I'm not too worried about whether anyone uses it, or whether I make money.

Increasingly, I have found that it would be nice to earn some money back from side projects I work on, so that might play some role in how I go about choosing projects in the future.

Multiple factors need to be present for me: Fun to build, satisfies a need, currently ignored market (also part of satisfying a need), has personal import for me of some kind, will eventually in theory allow me to earn at least a living off of it.

Go through lean canvas process, refine, and once it's okay, try it out. If you fail, whoops. Try again. Hopefully you didn't burn that much time.

It's like shooting in the dark. Once in awhile, you'll hit something. Hopefully it's a bear.

The Project: I am starting a company (just myself) to produce mobile phone apps (iOS to start)

The Motivation:

1) I hate commuting, I hate not having an office with a door, I hate having to work on a schedule, I hate having to follow someone else's orders.

2) I don't enjoy writing code, even though I'm very good at it. It's exhausting, and it drains me.

3) I enjoy researching/analyzing potential markets.

4) I enjoy documenting the idea, capturing the product story, rationale for design choices, screen mock-ups, use-case diagrams...

5) I enjoy talking with customers.

6) I enjoy thinking about how to market a product. As it is just as if not more important than creating a great product.

7) I can't stand the boring life of a steady paycheck and limited upside, I crave and seek out high risk/high payoff endeavors. (0.2% equity at someone else's start-up? Do I look naive? Do I look that stupid?)

8) I'm the boss, 'I am the decider' (I'd rather make 30k a year as the boss than 150k a year as somebody's bitch)

9) I would rather work hard for a couple of years to create a recurring revenue stream, than work leisurely and be stuck working for the next 30+ years.

10) Freedom, especially time is more important to me than possessions. A small home, in a small town that is cheap is far more valuable to me as I will then have money to travel and pursue my interests and hobbies. (That's right, I'm leaving you California at the end of this month. NO MORE STATE INCOME TAX :) NO MORE RIDICULOUS COST OF LIVING. NO MORE CARRYING FREELOADERS WITH MY HIGH TAX PAYMENTS (18k just to CA last year just for income tax) )

The Product:

1) I decided to pursue my current product when I searched for it on the App store. The existing apps just suck, horrible interfaces, horrible computer AI (I noticed most of the AI cheats, and is predictable) and no multiplayer, this game is much more fun when you play with and against other people.

2) I researched the market, there are at least 5 million people in the U.S. that play this game regularly.

3) I researched how best to monetize the app, in game ads with the ability to purchase credits to play without ads (why limit the revenue to one pathetic $.99 sale? recurring revenue from the same customer is the ONLY way to make real money)

4) While my competitors quickly whipped up and shipped a very poor product, I will ship a polished well thought out user interface. I will steal their 'customers' and dominate this market.

The Fallout:

1) Even if the product fails, I will and in fact have already learned far more than I did in the last 14 years of being someone else's employee.

2) I feel much better being a doer rather than a talker. I got tired of sitting around talking with other salary slaves about how I was going to do something 'someday'. I'm doing it, and 10 years later they are still talking about it.

3) The IP and server infrastructure I'm building has the high potential for reuse and may even be a product that I can sell to other companies that are interested in multiplayer or even capturing app use metrics and allowing for real time ad configuration.

4) I'm putting my money where my mouth is, instead of sitting around talking about how stupid the managers are, the company executives are; I'm focusing instead on making all the decisions to make my company an enviable success.

5) I have 2 years more of 'runway', if it fails I will be far more marketable. I'll no longer be pigeon holed as just a 'software manager/engineer'. I will be executive material. And if not, I will just bag groceries or serve people at a drive-through, because quite frankly I've had it as being a 'programmer'.

What carries the most weight in my decision? I can't work for someone else anymore, I won't work for someone else anymore. I can only operate in an environment where 'I' have customers.

Which state are you moving to? Washington?

I'm moving to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

Good luck!

Because its fucking fun. Every day is like playing with legos, just slightly more advanced with more troubleshooting! But honestly, I ask myself whether I would use this product and it's a solid YES, I go with it.

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