The other day I received an email with the following question:
“I have this great idea for a game, but I’m new to iOS development and this goes way over my head. So I’m wondering if you could help with the development or know anyone else who can? Of course, we’ll split the profits.”
Since this isn’t the first time I’ve received such a request, I thought I’d put up my answer here.
It’s not easy getting started, that’s for sure. It can take a long time to go from noob to someone who can make quality apps. Also, not everyone is cut out to be a programmer.
Having a great idea is only the beginning, but the money is in the execution. If you don’t know how to execute, then you might need to take another approach to get the app made.
Even if you can pull off the programming part, that is not enough to make your app a success. You also need to get it to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. That also takes certain skills.
Sell your idea to find your team
Here’s what I would do: To find someone to work on this with you (for a part of the profits rather than work-for-hire), you’ll have to convince them of the potential of your idea. The best way to do that is to make a short demo video. Appsterdam’s Mike Lee wrote a good blog post about that.
With that video you can set up a project on Kickstarter or a similar site, that allows you to raise money from small-time investors and at the same time attract attention from developers and even potential customers. With that money you can hire a professional programmer, designer, and anyone else you need.
Let’s say you raise only $5,000. That by itself won’t be enough to pay for the development of the app, but it will serve as a decent down payment for the people you will hire. With some up-front cash and a convincing demo video, professional developers might be more willing to work for profit sharing.
In other words, if you don’t have the programming or design chops to make the app by yourself, you will have to play the role of a producer (like a movie producer) instead of a programmer, and gather a team of people who are willing to work with you.
Most of these people — if they are any good — aren’t interested in working for profit if you’re not also bringing something to the table. Asking someone to work on your project for a share of the (hypothetical) profits is asking them to invest their time and talent into your idea — and by extension, your leadership — at their expense, based on nothing but a promise of a fat payday. You’d better be ready to deliver on that promise!
But what if someone steals my idea?
You’re putting your great idea out there for the world to see in order to attract investors and talent, so what’s to stop others from simply copying it?
Here’s the thing: it is incredibly hard to make a hit game or app. If your idea is something anyone can build in a handful of days that is guaranteed to sell itself without any effort, then keep it to yourself. These are one in a million ideas and chances are yours isn’t one of them.
Your idea will take many months of dedicated effort to turn into something real and many more to find its way to customers. No one will steal it because no one else will care about it as much as you do or is willing to put in that kind of effort.
It’s not the idea that is worth money, it’s the execution of the idea. Most of the hit games on the App Store are not 100% original ideas — for example, Angry Birds and Tiny Wings are both based on other games — just very well executed versions of those existing ideas.
The idea isn’t really yours to keep
Now personally, I believe that you have to let go of the notion that you can “own” an idea. An idea by itself is nothing. That’s why you can’t really “steal” ideas. On the other hard, you can certainly own the execution of the idea, and that is protected by copyright laws and by the fact that’s it’s just a lot of hard work.
The only way you will ever profit from your idea, is to make sure you are the one with the best version of that idea.
If your idea is truly good but you put out a very basic, average implementation of the game that you programmed and designed yourself, chances are that hardly anyone will care about it. But it might inspire some other developer and a few months later some other team makes a lot of money from your idea but done better. You will have blown your opportunity.
So if you want to be the one with the hit app, you need to be the one making the most amazing version of it. And that requires programming help if you’re not a very good programmer, design help if you’re not a good designer, and marketing help if you’re not a very good business person.
So start working on that video!
Illustration by Oscar S.R. / miutopia (from openclipart.org)