Thoughts on moving from idea, to proof of concept, to working business model

by oneafrikan on November 4, 2005

I’ve just had lunch with a guy who recently set up a telephone directory enquiries business about 3 years ago, and is starting to feel like things in his business are on autopilot. 
Nice place to be in I think ;-)

Anyways, we were chatting about what it takes to get something off the ground, and the general consensus is that it takes a lot more than you originally think it will, and it severely impacts every other area of your life.  This isn’t new to me, and I’m sure neither to you. 

What I’m interested in is your thoughts on the effort required to get something from an A4 piece of paper with scribbles on it, to a working Beta version that you can start charging people for…  I know a few people that are in this phase now, and all of them have a different point of view, so it would be good to hear what you guys think, or what experiences you can relate to?



From scratch you say. The hardest part for me was/is to focus on one idea from concept to beta. I think were you are you are going to generate a lot of ideas.

I believe the best way is to find yourself a period (3-6-9) months where you will focus on one idea and make it to beta.

I am currently in that 3-9 month phase.

by lebogang nkoane on November 4, 2005 at 4:54 pm. Reply #

Great stuff – so when you gonna spill the beans?

The focus thing is hard as there are so many distractions for time. Having to earn a living also gets in the way some ;-)

by Gareth Knight on November 4, 2005 at 6:14 pm. Reply #

True, earning a living is tough. That is were my distractions came and that is why most of my ideas are still scribbles.

I can spill the beans now. I am working on a Content Management System (open source), the aim is to be able to use the application for the ‘ideas’ I have, you know Web. 2.0 (taking the web out of the web type things). Albeit I try to focus on sustainable ideas, in the African context.

The ideas well, can’t spill the beans yet, in a week/month time (depending if I get distracted or not).

by lebogang nkoane on November 6, 2005 at 10:23 am. Reply #

Hi Gareth,

Good question Gareth. Things seem to change at every stage but now I’m further to one end of the line than the other, the things I’m now struggling with are:

1. Getting to the stage where I’ve developed a good technology but which has no monetizable application.- I’ve worked on taking a bunch of things from 2.0 and making them all taste a little better. 50k users down the line that sort of business is monetizable but for the first 50k (and let’s face it, they’re the hardest) you’ve got to look to funding or finding someone to pay you for what you’ve done. I’m looking for the latter and it’s hard.

2. Being the engineer and the salesperson simultaneously. This I find an absolute killer. The designer and engineer in you works passionately to produce something great and presses his ear to every user to figure out exactly what they want.

The salesperson though has to be pushing things the other direction. Unless you’re selling bespoke design the salesman has to work on the principle that the spec is frozen and then has to sell the user the software as it stands and convince them that it will solve their problems.

It’s very hard to keep the engineer (who wants to tweak it to make sure it does solve those problems) at bay during this process but if you don’t then you end up shortselling engineering time and that’s not smart, profitable or scalable.

3. (related to 2) Knowing when to stop researching and start selling. From years before you conceive of a product up until you sell the company you need to be listening to what your customers/employees/investors want from you and your company. When you’re at the very start of the journey all you do is listen and question, trying to find out exactly what people need and what they’re prepared to pay for it.

At some point though you have to switch tack and though you never stop listening you start using what you hear to achieve your own ends – sales/investment/recruitment. I find that especially when it comes to users, knowing when to stop listening and start selling is pretty tricky.

4. Feature creep. Need I say more?

look forward to seeing you Thursday mate.

by Peter Nixey on November 7, 2005 at 12:20 pm. Reply #

Came across this site today and thought you might find it and enteresting read.

by Drew on November 10, 2005 at 2:54 pm. Reply #

Hey Peter

Monetization is key, and I think you still have to be able to sell the promise early one. Problem is, most people you would look to talk to about cash don’t know enough about what you’re doing to see the promise ;-)

I’m going to refer to Pareto’s 80/20 rule here, and say that in general your users don’t know what they don’t know – that is, they aren’t aware of the extra 20% of tweaking that would make you happy, but would have little discernable difference to their experience. So, while you need to keep the engineer in you happy, you also need to pay the bills, until you hopefully get to a point where you don’t need to pay the bills!

Point 3. – Completely. Know your users, and know what they want. Good point! I think though, that you also need to generalise and prioritise according to what the majority of your customers want, or the most (financially) important want.

Feature creep is the killer – KISS.

Thursday was awesome – looking forward to next one! ;-)

by Gareth Knight on November 13, 2005 at 8:02 pm. Reply #

Lebogang, please keep me posted regards your ideas and how they pan out… Would be keen to see it when you’re ready ;-)

by Gareth Knight on November 13, 2005 at 8:36 pm. Reply #

80/20 is undoubtedly true Gareth but developers should always take note that it applies to features not quality. Consumers are blisteringly aware of every last percentile of quality and reliability and expect 98%.

(The last two percent is optional but when applied tends to leave your customers gooey disciples (aka Mac-heads))

by Peter Nixey on November 14, 2005 at 10:53 am. Reply #

Yea, that’s true – diff. btw features and quality is difficult to discern sometimes, so I guess it comes down to working on 20% of the features that will make 80% of the users happy, and doing those 20% of the features 100% so that you end up having passionate users!

Keep on trucking!

by Gareth Knight on November 14, 2005 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

Agreed: 20% of the features to please 80% of the people 100% of their time.

Not as catchy as Lincoln but a worthy mantra nonetheless.

by Peter Nixey on November 14, 2005 at 12:56 pm. Reply #

Now, let’s do it!

Good one ;-)

by Gareth Knight on November 15, 2005 at 11:02 pm. Reply #

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