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Everything that can be invented has been invented

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Professional Development

Everything that can be invented has been invented

All we know about starting an Apple business, from the idea, to product launch and beyond.

by Michael Göbel and Oliver Pospisil, Inspired By Life

Inside Inspired By Life

In 2006, I started to turn my idea into a software prototype. The feedback I got for the prototype from most people was: "Interesting idea. Is it based on academic research? Because the GUI sure looks like it."

It became clear that a GUI expert is needed to turn the prototype into something people love to use. While searching on the Internet for a person like that, Michael's website popped up, and after testing one of his applications, I called him right away.

After the first call, Michael was not convinced that my idea was worth investing any time in, especially when I told him that my financial resources are very limited. However, he at least took the time to check my prototype out as well as a three-page description.

After one week, he changed his mind. His curiosity was stirred sufficiently and we scheduled a meeting. After shaking hands, we immediately started to talk about the idea in general and what it could look like in software. As soon as Michael began to pinpoint all of the weaknesses in my concept, I was thoroughly convinced that he's the right person for the job. Michael didn't care whether I liked what he had to say or if it damaged my ego. He was sold on the idea - no time to waste on a potentially damaged ego! We were looking for the right metaphor to turn the idea into software.

Michael: "Okay, Oliver here's a stack of index cards. Describe the concept behind your idea."

We toyed around with the index cards for more than three hours.

Oliver: "Why don't we use the index card as the metaphor?"

Michael: "It seems promising, but we shouldn't stop here. Let's check some more options out on how we can do it."

Two days later Michael called me to tell me that the index card fits the best as a metaphor. It was just like arriving in the town called Eureka!

Introduction

Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1899, is allegedly the one who stated: "Everything possible that can be invented has been invented." 110 years later, you now have another chance to prove that the opposite holds true. To Mr. Duell's credit, rumor has it that he was not the one who made this statement after all. It seems to be a patently false, modern myth. However, your chance is not just a myth!

If the reason why you program Mac or iPhone applications is just for fun, it should not matter what other people think about your idea or how many download or buy it. Just go ahead and do it!

However, the situation changes when you want to make a living out of it, besides just having fun. What you need now is an application that people are willing to pay for - and not just once but also on a regular basis. First and foremost, you must have a terrific idea that you can turn into a beautifully crafted program.

In this article, we will tell you everything we know about how to stimulate curiosity, how to test an idea to find out whether or not it truly is a terrific one, why you should build up a good reputation at an early stage and what consequences you will be up against once you have decided to turn your terrific idea into a beautifully crafted Mac application.

How to come up with an idea

After people come up with an idea and you ask them where they got it, they either say, "I don't know" or they try to rationally explain how straight their line of thought was. Personally, I don't really believe in all rational, straightforward explanations, instead, I go with the first one - "I don't know." To us, an idea is a destination towards which you travel.

From curiosity to Eureka and back!

All you need to do is to start the journey inside of you. The very first stimulus for your mind is curiosity; the destination is Eureka (Greek: "I have found it") = your idea.

Getting to Eureka is not a one-way path, but rather, multiple paths. You do not even have to choose between them. Since it mainly takes shape inside of your mind, let it decide on the best path itself.

Here is our way to get from curiosity to Eureka:

I read a lot of books: How to start a start-up up, How to create mind maps, City guide of London, Ink heart, just to name a few. Whenever I come across something that I don't fully understand and I cannot find a satisfying answer quickly on the web, I go to Amazon and search for a book. When reading the book, I ask myself "What would this look like in software?" That's curiosity to me.

Michael takes a slightly different approach. He focuses on the reality of daily life and listens to his customers carefully. He asks himself how software can make life better or at least make it more fun. He's a technophile, just like you. Here's a good example: While we were walking around London he said: "Wouldn't it be great to bring a digital city guide for London along with me? What could a digital version do for me that a printed version can't? In combination with a 3G iPhone and Google Maps it could show me the shortest way to the Apple Store on Regent Street." - curiosity and Eureka! (Unfortunately, Michael and I didn't have a guide like that so we took the most popular route, the result of which was aching, blistered feet). The guys from Presselite demonstrated the same curiosity and Eureka!

Quite often, we ask ourselves "What would it look like in software?", before we get to a town like Eureka - an idea into which time and money are well worth dedicating. Any other questions like: "Who will buy it and at what price?" or "How much money will I make?" are simply secondary.

You still think you do not have this type of curiosity? Well, yes you do, because you opted to use OS X.

The bottom line

Until your software application actually goes to market, you will spend many days filled with curiosity and Eureka. The one thing that is absolutely essential is curiosity - the first stimulus for your mind. Once you have it, let your mind go wild to get to Eureka - your idea.

Now let's see if your idea passes the terrific-idea-test.

Terrific-Idea-Test

If all you really care about is making money, program a game, for example, an ego shooter and call it a strategy game. If what you want to do is to make this world a better place or to help others to do so, just test your idea.

Test 1: Does your idea stick?

You have a lot of ideas night and day, don't you? Some of them come back the next day and again and again. These ideas are sticky. These are the ideas that are worth delving into and that are worth spending the time on to explore them.

Today, we realize that the stickiness of our idea has been growing over time. It was not that strong from the start. So, don't worry if the stickiness feels like a Post-It and not like Pattex. Your idea sticks, and that's what counts.

A sticky idea is also the source of energy that you need to sustain up to the very moment when you ask yourself "Does it all make sense and will it pay off?"

Test 2: Does your idea solve a pain in the neck?

Who will no longer have a pain in the neck once they start using your software? How would it make the world a better place? Go out and find at least one person who will enjoy using your software and preferably who is willing to pay for it, too.

Test 3: Does your better half tell you: "Please stop talking about it!"

Others are often better in seeing what we really do with our time. You are 100% certain that you've found something that is worth investing more time in when your better half begs you to stop talking about it - at least for one night!

When that happens, just give her or him a big smile, enjoy the evening together and the next day, get back to your idea as soon as possible.

Test 4: Do others, not only friends, line up?

The first people you talk to with about your idea are most likely your better half, closest friends and family. Resist the tendency to trust their feedback - be it positive or negative. They really, truly care about you and that's the problem: They care so much that they want to do all they can to make sure that your endeavors do not fail.

So, just go out and ask people you have not met yet at parties, on the street, in pubs, restaurants - in fact - practically anywhere.

One important rule: Tell others what you want to do; don't tell them how you're doing it - that is your own magic and secret ingredient.

Test 5: Do experts' eyes light up?

Maybe you came up with an idea after reading a book. Ask the author what he or she thinks about your idea. Ask them if they could recommend someone else to talk to. Search on the Internet for other experts and give them a call.

One important side effect: You're building up a reputation.

Test 6: Do others design solutions for the same problem but not in the same way?

I assume that your idea is at least in one way comparable with ours: It is not totally new (new like the very first Internet search engine). Therefore, others offer a solution for the same problem like you. And you want to provide a different solution. That's great: Do they earn money with it? If they are earning money, there is a market, and a market is what you need.

Test 7 (optional): Will someone steal your idea?

Besides getting the core feedback, when we talk to other people about our idea we are often asked whether we worry about someone stealing our idea.

Our answer is: "Yes, this is a risk. But it is a risk we are happy to take, because otherwise we would never get valuable feedback at an early stage. If someone steals our idea, of course we will be very upset, however, we still know that we can rely on our own idea. We very much doubt that someone will steal your idea after a five-minute discussion. They do not know the whole story and they don't live and breathe your idea."

Concerning probability: Idea thieves will most likely wait until your idea is a successful product before they come up with their own, copycat solution.

The bottom line

How many times did you answer with a "Yes"? - The more the better!

Be aware that a terrific idea does not necessarily translate into a mega success in terms of profit. However, it does mean that you're investing time and money in an area that promises potential success. This is the best thing you can hope for at this stage of your endeavors. You have finally made it to Eureka

Reputation, an invaluable feature

Just imagine that your goal is not to develop a software application. Instead, you want to create a new hammer. And now, you've finally convinced the manager of the do-it-yourself shop in your neighborhood to display your new hammer on the shelves. You've designed an advertising poster with the slogan "New and revolutionary hammer!" How many carpenters do you think will buy it? If you get lucky, maybe a few. Like everyone else, carpenters are loyal, they stick to the things that they're used to and continue to buy the same hammer they always buy.

So how can we convince carpenters to buy the new (totally unknown) hammer? Either we need is a high-price "Think Different" advertising campaign or just one expert. Bring an expert on board who knows how to use your hammer, who likes it and who can hammer better results. Now imagine that the expert recommends your hammer to the editor of the carpenter tools magazine, they review your hammer and give it five nails. The next time you hear from the do-it-yourself shop manager, he will most likely tell you to deliver more hammers as soon as possible.

A good reputation is a feature that you cannot buy - some try to fake it, but it doesn't pay off in the long run. No genuine expert will accept and buy into a fake reputation (experts do know each other).

A good reputation opens up doors to the people who are of utmost value for the success of your idea. Talk to experts and ask for their advice and help. You'd be amazed at how many people are willing and eager to support a young start-up. Don't be surprised if the expert calls you and starts with "I thought about your idea, it's promising. I have an idea...".

One consequence of having a good reputation always holds true: The better you get, the better you better get.

Personal consequences

My better half has been supporting me since 2006. Right from the very start, I have always been telling her: "Just hang in there for three more months, darling." But three years later, she is now skeptical yet still backing me all the way. Why? The answer is actually easy - she committed herself to support my original idea and she does see progress. I talked to her about my idea and she agreed that it's definitely worth a try. Her precondition: "Keep on working with your full-time employer until your start-up business pays off and, in return, you support my endeavors." I agreed, happily.

Personally, I would never have believed that it takes up so much time and gobbles up practically all of my financial resources in order to turn my idea into a real product. But it works out! You have to work before and after your full-time job, you dedicate your weekends, a lot of leisure time and even vacations to your terrific idea.

How do you think the ones we truly care about feel when they just see us sitting in front of the computer for endless hours, days and nights, and all of that just in the hope that one day in the future (that could be in a few years or in the worst case scenario even never) that you bring the same money home that you do today with your nine-to-five job? That's why you must reserve quality time for the people you truly care about. You have to find the right balance between personal life and work! Remember, you need time to relax, too. Your endeavor is a marathon, and not a sprint.

The bottom line

If you don't want to destroy your love life or the steadfast, reliable relationships with your closest friends and family, then just get them onto the bandwagon! Just talk to them about your dreams and what they will get out of them. Get their commitment - and in my opinion, getting it from your better half is by far the most important one! Show them how you are making progress.

One positive side effect: They always know where you are - right in front of your computer.

What's next?

It's easy to be curious all day long. Some day your curiosity will lead to Eureka, your terrific idea. Invest time in this sticky idea. Get your better half and the people you truly care about on board. They give you the energy you need when times get tough.

To make a living out of it, it is important to the take the business side into account as well. In the next article, we will talk about the business: The plan, the figures and the fun.

Connect with us!

We want to share stimulating, innovative ideas with you and we really look forward to your feedback! Is anything missing or do you think something could be fleshed out in further detail? Just let us know and write to oliver.pospisil@inspiredbylife.com.

Bibliography and References

Books:

Walsh, Bob. Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. New York, 2006.

Heath, Chip & Dan. Made to Stick. New York, 2008.

Websites:

Charles Duell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Duell

Eureka: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka_(word)

Pattex: http://www.pattex.com

London City guide by Presselite: http://www.londontubeiphone.com/

http://www.mac-developer-network.com

http://www.47hats.com

http://www.ericsink.com


Michael started MOApp up in 2004 and he has now developed more than ten applications - six of them are Apple staff picks. He does everything from software development, icon design, website development to sales management and public relations.

Oliver has been in the software business for over ten years, specializing in areas ranging from Palm programming to large-scale, in-house Java projects. In 2006, an idea grabbed his attention that both are now working on. He is still working full-time for a German retail company and will be until the new business starts paying off their bills.

 
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