Have an idea? Outsource, stupid

  • Don’t let your lack of technical skills hold you back from chasing an idea
  • You can always outsource, a practice which is not as terrible as its rep

Have an idea? Outsource, stupidYOU’VE heard the stories: The inspired developer who goes on to programme the next billion-dollar idea in his garage; the engineer who discovers a critical flaw in a program right before its public release, saving his company from catastrophe; the tireless entrepreneur who makes one simple, painless change to his app and catapults it to the top of the charts.
You’ve heard the stories. You can do that. You know you have the next billion-dollar mobile app. You know how amazing your new website can be. You know how to build the next technological marvel.
You fantasise about becoming your own boss, building a global company, and becoming a leader in your industry.
But you don’t know how to code.
‘Ah, well … it was a cool idea.’ And that’s that.
Don’t let that happen.
The only thing worse than not doing what you want in life is knowing what you want, but not knowing how to get it.
This is especially true in an industry where so much is dependent on highly-refined skills, knowledge, and experience.
Combine that with the costs associated with either obtaining those skills yourself, or hiring someone else to do that, and it’s no wonder that many potential entrepreneurs stop themselves from turning their dreams into reality.
To those entrepreneurs, I have one bit of advice: Outsource, stupid.
Outsourcing has a terrible reputation. Everyone knows someone who’s friends with someone who had coffee with that one guy that outsourced his idea to a team in Vietnam and, gasp: “They said they’d do the job, asked him for a transfer, and poof, vanished!”
Sure, that’s bad, but definitely not as bad as that poor lady who mentioned her Uber-cum-LinkedIn billion-dollar idea to that team in Yogyakarta that ended up stealing her vision and going on to make millions, I swear.
And for those passionate founders thinking of raising a small amount of funding without a dedicated CTO (chief technology officer) with at least a dozen years’ experience, a stellar reputation in the tech community, maybe a dozen or so patents under his belt, and who’s willing to work for you for free for an indeterminate amount time? Good luck building a halfway decent product without that person.
Honestly speaking? It’s really not that bad.
Sure, outsourcing has its problems. Outsourcing can go wrong. First-time entrepreneurs might not understand how to properly manage expectations or time, resulting in a product far different from their initial vision.
Or they might fail to properly budget for the unexpected expenses of their endeavour, forcing development to be cut short.
In the worst-case scenario, they might actually engage with unscrupulous vendors that really do snatch their money and run.
Honestly speaking? That’s rare.
Outsourcing can certainly have its disasters, but the only thing more disastrous is not even trying in the first place. You might fail when you outsource for the first time, but you definitely will fail if you don’t even bother trying.
And honestly speaking? That kills far more startups than anything else.

Have an idea? Outsource, stupid

Rule of Thumb: Don’t be intimidated by tech.
Outsourcing can be tricky, but like many things, outsourcing is a skill that can be learned.
Outsourcing requires a keen understanding of what technology is required to build your idea, dedicated and laser-focused attention on your team, and clear, refined vision of what you want your product to look like.
When you outsource, you’re forced to understand exactly how these things are built, and that is an incredibly important skill for any entrepreneur to have.
And the beautiful thing is, you don’t actually need to be a programmer to understand that process.
Don’t be mistaken. You have to work just as hard, even harder, than those might have an explicit understanding of how the technology works.
Why? Because while you don’t need to learn how to programme, you do need to educate yourself to the point where you can communicate exactly what you want, how you want it, when it needs to be built, and at what price.
Rule of Thumb: Just start somewhere. You’ll learn.
My advice to first-time entrepreneurs: Think of a simple, cheap idea ... and outsource for it. Something simple, stupid, a service that you would definitely get some value out of, but not something you’d expect thousands – or really, even dozens – of people to use.
Want a funny video to wake you up instead of the standard iOS alarm? Go for it. A mobile notification whenever your favourite show comes on? That could be cheap and easy to develop. A keyboard add-on that automatically replaces certain keywords with emoticons? Feel free to steal that idea.
[Author’s Note: I formally request 5% of royalties].
Think of an idea, then do the legwork. What tech makes the most sense? What mobile platforms would you prefer? Do you need other services to make it work, like public APIs (application programming interfaces) or software development kits? More importantly, how much time and resources do you want to devote to this project?
Really understand the product you’re trying to build.
When that’s done, start hustling. Go on popular outsourcing websites, and find someone to do it for you (Upwork is one well-trafficked example). Devote a few hundred dollars to this.
Have an idea? Outsource, stupidIf it’s simple enough, you can still get something fairly useful. Find your developers, short-list the top ones, then get started. Depending on the idea, you can crank a fully-working app or website out in a month, possibly even less.
Boom. You just helped create something from nothing.
Even if you fail miserably, you’ve learned something. Not only will you have a finer appreciation for the process of creating and launching your own product, but you will also overcome the paralysis that handicaps so many other potential entrepreneurs trying to overcome the technical hurdles associated with their ideas.
Once you overcome that hurdle, everything else will become that much easier.
So, what are you waiting for? Go build some stuff.
Justin Hall is a principal at Golden Gate Ventures, an early-stage fund based in Singapore. You can reach him via Twitter at @JVinnyHall. This article first appeared on his blog and is reprinted here with his kind permission.

Previous Instalments:
Dumb money burns, smart money learns
Bet on the forks-and-chopsticks: Understanding SEA

When going mobile backfires: What to watch out for
The Singapore ecosystem: Growing into adolescence

Only cockroaches and startups left when unicorns become extinct

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