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From Idea to Software on a Limited Budget

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Our guest author Andrew Bernstein is the founder of Firkin as well as Rapid Leads , and a student of the Entrepreneurship program at The University of Tampa. 

A friend recently came to me with a great idea—software that would help microbreweries keep track of their kegs. Although the idea was great, we didn’t have the money to pay a developer to build the software. I needed to find another way to get our product developed. Here are the steps we took to get our software, now called Firkin, developed on a limited budget. These steps can be used by anyone looking to develop a minimum viable product (MVP).


Define your MVP

First, you need to define the features that your MVP will have. I’m sure you have a grand vision for what your product will look like once it is complete, with a beautiful design and every feature that you think might be useful for your end users. With Firkin, our vision was to have native Android and iOS apps, a sleek modern design, the ability to use a phone camera to scan QR codes to check kegs in and out, and powerful reports and analytics. In our MVP, the only features that were implemented were the QR code scanning system for checking kegs in and out. This was the bare minimum needed to make our application functional. When coming up with the features that will be included in your MVP, you’ll need to do the same. After determining the features that will be included in your MVP, it is helpful to create wireframes, user flows, and software requirements specifications.

Compensate developers

After defining the features in your MVP, you’ll need to determine how to compensate a developer. With limited to no capital you’ll have two options for compensating developers you find:

  1. Equity: The first option is to bring a developer on board as a cofounder, compensating them with equity in exchange for their work. In this arrangement, be sure your operating agreement details the vesting of the developer’s shares based on the completion of features within the software.
  2. Percentage of profits: The second option is to compensate the developer with a percentage of the profits made off the software until a certain threshold is reached. For example, you could propose compensating the developer with 10% of the profits made off of the software until they earn $3,000.           

Find a developer

Keeping in mind the ways you can compensate a developer, here are a few ideas you can use to find a developer.

  • Go to StartUp Weekend: One of the best ways to find a developer for your software is to pitch it at your local Startup Weekend. A Startup Weekend is a competition where you can pitch your idea, form a team around that idea, and work on that idea nonstop for 54 hours. It’s a great way to find local entrepreneurial developers to work with you on your software idea. To compensate developers found through Startup Weekend, you’ll typically want to use the equity option.
     
  • Visit code schools: A great place to find developers eager to work on new projects are code schools, such as Code Fellows, Flatiron School, or Fullstack Academy. Developers coming out of these programs are looking to build up their portfolio and hone their newfound skills. This makes them perfect candidates for helping to develop your MVP. Developers found from code schools could be compensated through either option, though you should attempt to get them to agree to option two before proposing option one.
     
  • Interview college students: With similar motivations as developers from code schools, college students may be apt to help you develop your MVP because they want to build up their portfolio. They can often get credits through their college for the work done developing the MVP, which provides an added incentive for them to work without being compensated upfront. College student developers, similar to code school students, can be compensated through either option one or two, though you should attempt to get them to agree to option two before bringing up the possibility of equity.
     
  • Post an ad on Craigslist: One of my least favorite, yet still effective, avenues for finding a developer is posting on Craigslist. When I tried this, I got 4-5 decent responses for developers willing to work for equity. In your post, include a brief summary of your project, and make sure to state explicitly that the position is for equity. Developers found through posts on Craigslist can be compensated through either option one or two, though you should attempt to keep as much equity as possible for yourself, and should propose option two before discussing option one.

Passion and staying focused

After defining your MVP and finding a developer, you still have a long way to go. One thing that is critical when selecting a developer and deciding yourself if you want to move forward is passion. If you and your developer are not passionate about the idea, chances are no work will get done. What is the incentive? In the beginning, you are working incredibly hard and not making money. If you or your developer are not passionate about your idea, you’ll just end up wasting time spinning your wheels.

The final thing that you need to keep in mind is you need to stay narrowly focused when building your MVP. As you are developing your MVP, you are going to constantly feel the urge to want to add more features. Fight that urge and stay focused on creating your MVP so you can validate it. If you try and make the perfect product, you’ll either never launch, or you’ll work hard on features that your customers may not want.