Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to limit scope to funding

One of the biggest challenges in your early stage development will be limiting the scope of your project to the budget you have. In this stage you're using your money, your friends, your acquaintences, or maybe you have a first round SBIR grant and have a few 10's of thousands to invest. While you may be able to build some types of software with a budget that size - realistically to build something scalable you should be thinking bigger in terms of budget.
As we pointed out in our second post, when entrepreneurs come to us and say "I have $10,000" and in the same breath they say "and I want to develop something just like ebay only better" we just cringe. We know that there's going to need to be some education going on before we get to someplace that will satisfy their need to get real funding to grow their concept, within the budget they have.

Like it or not, the days of having programmers around who will sack out with friends, eat ramen noodles and put in 80 hour weeks for no pay and the promise of "stock options" at some unknown later date is just plain gone. Programmers have to eat, and at least for the moment demand for developers is quite high - so they can make money doing other things. Sure you may find one or two passionate gurus, but building a team is a different matter. After programmers got burned in the 2001-2003 dot com implosion, most want a real salary.

So when someone has a giant bag full of cool tricks that they believe will revolutionize the web universe we usually work closely with them to try to identify the core unique part of their business model that makes them special. Is it some trick or gimmick, a unique view on a market, an interesting model for monetization, a new approach to real estate, or a great educational paradigm? Then we try to work out a budget for a limited demo version of that core idea that can be used to attract new investors, test the idea out on real users, and provide a demo portal for the entrepreneur to use.
We just keep dumping features out of the product bag until we have it's core at our heart. We build that core, and then we add the features into it incrementally as funding becomes available. Got round one for $50K? Ok we'll build out the base site and the most interesting and unique part of your app. Got SBIR Round 2 for $100K? Perfect, we'll rebuild the core to support more users or traffic and we'll add some additional features. To make that work of course and move on to each round, the software has to be built to meet the milestone requirements set forth in the grant or by the funders. We help achieve that by working closely on the proposals and presentations with you to be sure you set expectations that can be met within budget.

That's not all there is to it, but that's the core. We'll build the features out in a later post :)