At A Crossroads

So I’d like your advice, my dear Internet.

I have a software project called dbasr that I’ve been working on for a while — several years, on and off, in fact. Weirdly enough, it’s actually probably more relevant and useful now than when I started it.

I’ve rewritten the code base several times, but I think I’m on the final iteration for a beta release now. There’s nothing really to look at unless you’re a coder, but I’m literally working on building the UI right now.

I’ve been keeping the exact nature of it under wraps, because I wanted to simply drop it on the world. Not that it’s a secret — I’ve told a few people about it — but I’d like to be the first to market with it. (I can tell you it’s a combination of a web application and a service. If you know me and my interests, you might be able to fill in some gaps from that.)

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty substantial project for one person, and the reason I haven’t finished it is because real life intrudes. It’s a lot of code and a lot of UI design and there aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve tried to get other people on board, but understandably nobody’s been particularly willing to invest themselves into a project with no immediate paycheck.

I’ve talked to a few people I know about securing investment money — going the traditional angel-funding route. But after a lot of consideration, I’m not sure I see the point of doing so. I don’t need a lot of money — really just enough to pay my expenses while I finish writing the software, and a very little bit of hardware and running costs.

I also don’t trust anyone else to run this. My experience tells me that if I get money from angels or VCs, they’ll expect to direct the company’s business decisions, and I don’t think that’s a good idea in this case. In fact, the reason that dbasr is such a unique concept is not because I’m necessarily that smart, but because everyone who’s ever tried anything similar has ended up letting money people make the decisions on how it ought to work. I won’t do that.

I keep looking at tools like Kickstarter and Indie Go Go, which several people I know have successfully used to fund projects, and I’m thinking about using one of these for dbasr. Doing so means telling the world what it is and committing myself to a particular set of features, but I’m probably okay with that right now.

What I’m afraid of is somebody else running with the idea. In this case, I think it’s a cool enough idea that I’d be happy to simply see it out there…but I’d also like to make some money from it, and I think I’ve figured out ways to do that which are completely non-evil.

I’ve run the numbers and done my homework and I don’t think I can reasonably expect to get super-rich off of it, but I do think it will be profitable pretty quickly and make me enough money to live comfortably, and possibly expand into a thriving little business. “Little” being the key here. It doesn’t need to be a megacorporation. It’s a simple software platform that can be maintained by a small team, maybe even just me by myself to start.

I think it’s a tool that could seriously affect the way a certain subset of business in the world is done. Certainly the people who know about it have all seemed enthusiastic.

Look, whether you like me or not or think I’m a windbag, you have to admit something: I’m good at understanding where holes in the market exist. I’m neither capable nor interested in filling most of them; when I came up with an idea for an augmented reality device in 2003, I ditched it because I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to actually build something like that, even though I had most of the broad strokes of an iPhone in mind (digital compass and GPS with gyroscope, camera on opposite side of screen).

But this hole I can fill. And it might change the world, at least in a little way. It won’t cure cancer or feed starving children or teach Beyond Petroleum how to build an oil rig…but it’s pretty goddamned cool, nonetheless.

So here’s my question to you: do I go for it? Do I make some UI mockups, set up a Kickstarter fund, ask for money, share my idea with the world even though it’s not even ready for internal testing? Or do I keep soldiering away?

If I could just work on this 8-10 hours a day, without having to worry about paying rent, I’d have it done in just a few months. And it would be amazing.

Tell me what you think, in the comments here or on my Twitter @jzellis.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why not start a Kickstarter for it and simply call it “The Secret Project?” Offer some sort of premium to anyone who contributes, and make it clear why you can’t divulge the exact details.

  2. Honestly, if someone can undermine your entire business just by finding out what you’re planning to do before you release it, you’re probably in some trouble.

    Chances are, if anyone’s going to beat you to market with something similar, they’ve also been working on it already. Someone with money and a team of people working full time could turn it around quick, but it won’t much matter if they do it before you release or right after, because if they’ve got money they’ll probably be in a better position to market it, even if they’re not first.

    Good ideas are a dime a dozen. You’re going to have to depend on great design and great execution and great service.

    So if you need cash to pull it off, you might as well ask for some, is what I’m saying.

  3. What Klintron said. Honestly, the idea is the easy part, it’s the getting shit done part that’s all the work.

    If you go the Kickstarter route, you’re going to have to blow the whole thing open, otherwise folks aren’t going to give a damn and won’t be interested in giving you money. Additionally, there’s the chance that you don’t reach your quota, which means that you’ve then blown the whole thing open and haven’t received anything to show for it.

  4. I just tried to say something supportive on Twitter and of course it was overloaded. And now I don’t have a character limit so I’ll babble at length. Sorry.

    I think you should do something to get dbasr going, but I also think you should be more specific about what you need to reach that goal. A few months of room & board is… roughly how much? It sounds like you’ve ruled out help entirely, but on the other hand… if you’ve asked people about it: are there segments you could parcel out and pay someone to do, to save yourself some time? If so, how much would that cost?

    I know financial are awkward & annoying, but if you could break it down, then you can say “If I raise $X, I can pay someone to do some of the annoying bits, and that will save me weeks of annoyance.” Or “If I raise $Y, I can work on this full time for a few months and that will get me within reach of the finish line.” Or whatever. It’s also worth thinking about timing. Forget the how’s and just make a list: what’d be the best response, what would be almost as good, at what point does the cost outweigh the benefit? Like: “$10,000 instantly would be beyond my wildest dreams. $2000/month for a 3 months would be a huge help. $800 instantly would give me some breathing room. $100/month for six months would be nice, but not enough to make a difference.” Or whatever.

    You sound overwhelmed, and I truly understand that feeling, but those kinds of numbers would make it easier to answer the hows. When you have a set of goals, start again with “I want to raise this much money — what’s the best way to get it that won’t undermine my ability to finish this project?” And if the answer’s not feasible, you go down to your second-best goal, and so on.

    I hope I’m not being obnoxious here; I really do get the stressed & overwhelmed thing because I’ve been there, and I know it’s a lot easier to troubleshoot from the outside.

  5. As has been said above is there nothing in it that cannot be farmed out, to allow you to do the core of the project?

    There are people out there that are willing to do stuff purely for the fun of it that enjoy challanges & might not neccesarily require financial compensation or a say in how the project is run.

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