Q&A: What To Do With Those Web App Ideas

This is question I received over the weekend via my Ask Me page at timberry.com:

I have 3 great app ideas that I think many people will benefit from. I am only 18 and I am absolutely clueless on how I am going to turn my ideas in to a reality…. Any sort of advice will be truly appreciated.

I should start by saying that this is definitely not my expertise.  On the other hand, like you, I see what’s happening in mobile apps, it’s clearly a huge opportunity. So I did some investigating. I do know people in the apps business, I’ve talked to several, done some research, so here is my quick-and-dirty summary.


Good news or bad: If you’re going to pay somebody else to do an app, it’s going to cost at least about $75,000. I say at least because it’s often much more. To keep costs down you must be good at managing developers, probably from remote locations; and you have to have good design.

Good news possibly: some of the best apps are do-it-yourself apps by smart people who learned programming and just did it. Do a good web search. There are lots of learn-programming facilities available on the web, for amazingly low prices. Do you have the persistence to stick with it, learn it, and get good at it? Few do. I’d venture to say the ratio of people who start this path to people who finish it is about the same as the ratio of people who start a novel to people who finish one. But it’s there. Start with udemy.com.

And here’s a tip: Go take a look at 99designs.com. Take a look at what they do to bring international developers into a project one by one. Look at some of their examples for design projects, then some for development/coding/web projects. (disclosure: I’m a happy customer, I have no business relationship except I’ve paid them money).




  • Michael Scott says:

    Your position is a little unusual. I find that a number of bloggers, especially the legal ones, say NEVER to develop an app idea without some protection, especially a provisional patent. You seem to downplay that. Why?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Michael, I don’t want to be usual, so that doesn’t bother me.

      I don’t downplay protecting ideas, just think it’s really important that people understand, ahead of time, that ideas aren’t patentable, aren’t even protectable, except to shut up about it. Nobody gets to own an idea. Patents protect inventions, not ideas. And patents, if you had an algorithm that is in fact patentable (rare, but it happens) don’t work for software anymore, don’t really protect the software because big players get around patents, so all they really do is fatten up trolls.

      I do say that the best way to capitalize on an idea is to shut up about your idea and execute. Do the design, do the code, turn it into a product, which can be protected (somewhat) by copyright.

      I’ve made a living off of software and I’m afraid nothing I’ve ever seen protects a real software developer against piracy. Software products get copied. And the ideas in successful products get copied too. Do what you can, register the copyright, have the budget to defend copyright and trademark, but recognize that beyond taking the necessary steps, even thinking you can protect against copying is just wasted stress.


  • Stew Heckenberg says:

    Hi Tim, I enjoyed your post about Charles Steinmetz, however I’m dismayed at your advice given here, as I think it contradicts that. Outsourcing and consulting are two different things as you point out in that other post, and I feel that development/coding/web work falls into the latter category, or at least involves a greater balance between the two as opposed to, for example, logo design. There is a lot of room between a great idea and great implementation.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Stew, I appreciate the disagreement. I know first-hand some very successful sites that have found developers from different places around the world and worked with them remotely using a combination of email, skype, and instant messenger. And the relationship between the development leaders and the remote developers varies of course, but some of those remote developers became lead developers, and some of those relationships that started that way became long-term close working relationships. I’ve come to realize that in this world of today, in the area of technical skills and creativity and development, the location of the people doesn’t indicate in any way the kind of relationship involved. Tim

      • Stew Heckenberg says:

        I’m one of these remote developers. I live in Australia and work for a company in the US. I also freelance for agencies here in Australia as well as overseas. I’m having to compete in a global market where often price is seen as the determining factor as opposed to skill. Unfortunately clients find that out too late and are often burned, leaving them with a sour attitude toward outsourced work. Kind of a needles/haystacks problem. Instead of suggesting 99designs where work is speculative competitions with poor rates of pay, I would suggest to the youngster with the great ideas that they befriend a local developer, or at the very least when they outsource, find an agency or freelancer, and not via such sites.

        • Tim Berry says:

          Thanks Stew, I appreciate the additional info. I think you’re probably an example of exactly my point, quality work and quality thinking, from a remote (to me at least) location, not just “outsourcing” the way you think of it. That’s because I wouldn’t want people to discount you as “outsourcing” because you’re not in the U.S. Or, in the case of the youngster in question, you might be a good resource, even if you aren’t local to her, right?

          • Stew Heckenberg says:

            By all means put me in touch with her and I’ll give her some free consultation and direction. If anything I can give her an overview of the steps involved from A to B. Knowing the sequence for a given scenario helps you formulate your own approach.

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