It appears I have, unexpectedly, reached a Hamletesque “to be, or not to be” moment with my programming explorations. What began last year as an attempt to learn object-oriented programming and new development tools, segued into tinkering with an idea for PHP/Joomla, and finally morphed into a mini-web development project. As serendipity would have it, while working on the web project, I had an “aha!” moment that resulted in an idea for a real product. Now, I am faced with a decision I never expected to have to make—whether or not to launch a startup.
I have been around long enough not to delude myself with wide-eyed notions of being the next Apple or Microsoft. At this stage in life, taking chances on a startup does not have the appeal it would have 25 years ago. Yet, I cannot shake the thought that this project is worth pursuing. The fact of having started a consulting company is not making the prospects of a tech startup any less scary. All one needs to launch a consulting company is someone willing to pay for advice, a phone, and an email address. I dabbled in consulting while at UAB, so starting a company was not much of a stretch.
In many ways, my situation is a direct result of the open source movement. Twenty years ago the cost of obtaining sophisticated development tools such as compilers, IDEs, and databases would have put the kibosh on my development activities before I got this far. However, thanks to open source environments such as NetBeans and discounted Microsoft tools (NTM is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network), I have access to everything I need free of charge (or close to it).
Delivering products over the web is also vastly easier that even 10 years ago. I brought up my first website in 1998, and then shut it down in 2002 because the prices I was quoted for attaching it to a relational database were astronomical–or least they appeared that way compared to my budget. Today, MySQL and SQL Server are readily available and easily accessible with any scripting language. Even more unbelievable for someone who has been around computing for 30 years, are Amazon’s cloud services. Being able to buy storage and processing power on demand in hourly units eliminates the headache of trying to figure out how much server capability is required and removes the worry of paying for unneeded capacity.
As I have gone through all the cons of why a startup is a bad idea, the technical reasons have fallen by the wayside. However, I am left with one inescapable problem–funding. Getting this product to a stage where either it is ready for commercial use or I can seek venture capital funding will require hours of programming and testing. I estimate it will take about 10-12 weeks of programming to build a version with the minimal feature set required to determine if the product is viable. Aside from the cost, hiring a developer right now is not an option for a number of reasons. The main reason being that experience has taught me that finding the right developer and getting him/her up to speed can take months or longer.
That leaves me as the sole developer for at least the first six months with this project potentially consuming 90% of my time. This is what is giving me pause… I would be switching from a consulting company to a tech start-up. One is comfortable and safe, the other unsettling and risky. Well, as the saying goes, “fail early, fail fast, fail often.” To be!