we’ll make lots of money or I’ll give you 50%. I can’t even remember the number of times people come to me with this line or some sort of variation. In theory from the point of view of the person asking, it’s pretty fair. They’ve got this super fabulous idea that’s awesome and they are sharing it with a mere builder. The reality though is that everybody has ideas. Usually they have several. This line of statement was echoed to me at a business school on a panel I was on. “How can I get a developer to work on my idea? [for free implied]” was the question.

There are a number of issues I have with this mentality. Number one: it costs time, effort, and often money to build a website or webapp. As a developer, you don’t always possess all the necessary skills to create a great product. Maybe you are a good developer but can’t design worth a damn, so you need a good designer. Maybe you can only do UI development and design, but can’t code the backend. Or maybe you can do all those things, but you are building the next big social network, so you don’t really know all the intricacies of scaling a web app. Regardless, what I am trying to say is that it takes resources.

So let’s frame this in some other contexts outside of a website/webapp and you’ll quickly see how silly this line of thinking is.

  • I’ve got this great idea for a building, if you only build it…
  • I’ve got this great idea for a car, if you only build it…
  • I’ve got this great idea for a restaurant…

You get where I’m going. No one in their right mind would ask an architect, hey if you only build this building I have in my head.

You might say, but web apps and applications are a lot cheaper. True. I give you that, but it still costs something – X let’s say. It’s usually not free excluding the labor. I think if at a basic level, people are willing to cover the costs, developers would be more amenable to the idea. But more often than not, developers are seen as starving artists who should consider themselves lucky to be part of this great big idea.

Another issue I have with this mentality is that from a developer’s point of view, the idea person really isn’t bringing that much to the table. Why should he use his own time to build something for another person as opposed to working on his own ideas. There’s such as thing as opportunity cost.

What the idea person needs to do to convince a developer to work on their idea is to show what they bring to the table and what they have to offer can move that project forward beyond just a great idea. It has to be something practical and they have to be willing to roll up their sleeves with the developer to execute. That’s really all there is to it.

Here’s an example of how not to ask a developer. Someone actually said this to me. “I’ve got this great idea and I’m a great manager.” Really? We’re going to be a team of two and you are going to manage me. That’s like a special forces team in the middle of combat and having a guy show up and saying, “I’m really good at military strategy”.

Here are some examples that would work with me. I know this great PR guy. He has gotten his product covered on national television, major publications both online and offline. I know that if we work on something, I can trust that he can bring his ninja PR skills to the table and get it the kind of exposure it needs. Another person came to me with something, and she had this idea for a product. She tells me she’s been in the business for twenty years and has been selling to all the major players. Her quota was $10M. BAM. She had me at $10M. I know whatever she asks me to build for her, she can sell it and probably for a lot more than I would be able to sell it. These types of conversations at least get me interested if not more.

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