I don’t start projects from scratch.
I decide what my project is and then I look around for how I can get this up the fastest and cheapest way possible.
Usually that is finding an existing project that does about 40% of what I want to do or reworking a “clone app.”
A clone app is just a knock off version of Uber, Chatroulette, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, Airbnb, Linkedin, Clubhouse – everything you have heard of. There are versions in a wide variety of languages and tools for both mobile and web. Any authentication, marketplace logic, and messaging app you can dream up exists and can be reworked for your own project.
The order of priority for finding something to start with goes:
1. Free tutorials on building a “clone app”
Many teachers and coding websites use popular apps for their coding examples. Even new languages and tools will do this as well. There are even better paid tutorials for every kind of app. I used to go through dozens of these. I often would just search whatever language or app and purchase whoever has the most reviews on Udemy.
3. Open source projects on Github
The added benefit is I can open and discuss issues. If the repo is extra active, they will even advertise projects using their code. I always search Github and look at licenses before doing anything else.
4. Buying a “clone app” for a small flat fee
There are tons of enterprising people who made clones of every popular app out there you can buy in its entirety for less than $500. The recurring theme is a flat fee. You don’t want to start off some project by paying someone a constant cost to host or change what you want. You want to rework at least half of what they built anyway – why are you paying them?
5. Hiring a contractor
I even hired a contractor in the past when my skills weren’t up to par. The added benefit was I could watch them working live and learn how to do what they did quicker. They didn’t mind me asking tons of questions. After all, I was paying them by the hour. I probably spent 1-2 thousand dollars on this but it was like a crash course in programming from an expert.
6. Acquiring a startup
Acquiring startups doesn’t have to be millions of dollars and involve lots of equity. In one extreme case, I actually bought a failing company off two college students. They had been working on it for 2 years. The mobile apps and website they built ended up being 90% of what I was going to do. That project ended up becoming the fitness app Pedal.com which I ultimately sold for a profit. I remember it cost $9,000. I didn’t negotiate at the time, but I likely could have gotten it for $7,000. It saved me probably about a year of work and I was able to learn a lot just by looking over their code and asking them questions. Of course support was part of the deal as well.
A hard part of being an engineer just starting out is you are so used to building everything yourself. When you switch to business mode, you have to remember you are trying to develop a product and make money now. How it gets done is no longer your main focus.