American Entrepreneur. Founder of FullStack, Angel Investor in Tech Startups. Co-Founded, Built, and Sold an IT Consulting Company and Internet Service Provider. Special experience in the Ed Tech space.
I've been involved with the creation of several apps for startups that were based on third party APIs as a central piece of the software architecture. From my experience, there have been pros & cons to this approach, but I would generally recommend using the API if you can.
Things to watch out for:
Is the API a new API? If so, proceed with caution. We've worked with several third party APIs where we were the first or among the first developers to use the API. In each of these cases, there was a significant amount of back and forth with the API development team that extended the development time required to complete our app. This was sometimes due to API features that were in the documentation but not yet implemented. Other times, it was due to features that were available in the API, but not in the documentation. And yet other times, some of the documented features were present, but not functioning properly and we had to wait for bug fixes, clarification, etc. If the API is mature and is in use by a large number of users, most of these issues will be ironed out. I don't think you want to be the ones who end up doing the ironing though.
Do you have options to create an alternative source for the data? One app we worked on had maybe ten 3rd party APIs baked in. Over time, we replaced a number of these APIs with our own home grown solutions and some of them we swapped out for other 3rd party APIs that were cheaper, better, or faster. You may not need to have all of this completely figured out, but you should have a rough idea for plans B and C that you can pull trigger on should the need arise.
I've been involved in advising a large number of startups over the past 10 years. I've seen a some of them receive investment from a variety of sources and many that did not end up landing investment. I've also invested in a number of startups myself as an Angel Investor.
I think we can break down "investors" into three basic categories. (1) Friends & Family; (2) Angel Investors; (3) VC / Institutional Investors. Depending on what stage you or your startup are in, I think you can look at them all in the following way:
Friends & Family
If your product does not have much business traction (a fast growing user base and/or a growing amount of revenue) and you yourself do not have a track record of building and exiting from successful startups, then Friends and Family may be a good option for you to consider. Friends and Family will invest in your startup because they believe in and like you. They will not be nearly as concerned about actual business traction as Angels and VC will be. They love you, they want you to succeed, and they are more likely to believe in you in spite of a lack of history.
Angel Investors are looking for some form of validation either on the business idea, product, or you as a founder. A sophisticated and professional Angel Investor may have a number of criteria that they are looking to see met ranging from potential market size, growing / shrinking market, strength of competitive advantage, track record of founders, evidence of product/market fit, revenue, the passion of the founder, etc. You need to think about creating a strong case to convince Angel Investors to invest in the startup. The evidence should be more than your personal passion for the idea. I think many Angels will take more risk than VCs and Institutional investors, but you should definitely have a primetime real investment opportunity here.
VCs / Institutional Investors
These type of investors are looking for a proven and validated business model that is ready to be scaled. Some are looking for $10M businesses that can be scaled to $100M businesses. Others may be looking at more early stage ventures that have a very strong competitive advantage in the marketplace and the potential to grow very large very quickly. In some cases, I think we've seen some VCs invest in founders in the idea stage, but this is generally an exception rather than a rule.
I would recommend you check out https://www.cofounderslab.com. See if you can attend one or more of their Matchup Events if possible. If you have something to offer and you can get other people interested in your idea, you might consider that validation of what you believe to be a great opportunity.
However, if you attend some matchup events and you can't seem to get anyone interested, perhaps this is validation that the opportunity isn't as exciting as you might believe it to be.
Beyond this, I would recommend getting involved in a local startup community and engaging in more networking. You may need to expand your network in order to find the partnerships and relationships you need in order to become successful.
In my experience, no entrepreneur is fully prepared for the journey they are embarking upon when they start a new business endeavor. You simply can't have everything you need before you begin this journey. Being an entrepreneur is about being resourceful, or as Paul Graham puts it, being "relentlessly resourceful". You'll need to solve problems as you go and you can't anticipate every hurdle you're going to have to overcome. Ask people around you if they would describe you as resourceful. Ask yourself this question. It is the one skill that every entrepreneur needs to have.
That said, I think you can try to stack the deck in your favor before you begin. Money, knowledge, a head start on your product or service idea before you go full time, the right partners, and the support of your significant other are all things that will greatly benefit you.
In the end, you're going to have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make your business endeavor a success. You're also going to have to be willing to work hard and live an unorthodox lifestyle while you are getting things started. If you're not looking for this kind of life and you don't want to give up a lifestyle that you've become accustomed to or if you don't have the confidence that you'll be able to figure it out as you go, then you may not be ready yet.
I've always thought that you never really know what you are capable of until you are put in a position where there is only one way forward and failure is not an option. In this respect, sometimes I think it's worth a try if starting a new business endeavor is something you've thought about for a long time. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there to see what you can do.
I know my experience of starting a business was one in which I didn't have many things going for me, but I still managed to find a way to make it work and find success.
Work hard. Don't give up. Strive to be the best. Do whatever it takes. You can do it!
I think the best people to talk to about this would be my friends Andy Stoll and Amanda Styron of http://seedhere.org. They just completed a bus tour with Steve Case (founder of AOL) called The Rise of the Rest that was focused on building entrepreneurial communities in smaller population areas. Andy and Amanda also consult with many small communities similar to what you are describing that are working on creating community driven entrepreneurial initiatives.
Let me know if you need an intro.
I think business plans are great if you are building a business with a known and validated business model (like a coffee shop, restaurant, retail store, etc.) But if you are building a startup (a new business model that has not been executed successfully before), The Lean Startup (http://theleanstartup.com) method or the Business Model Generation (http://businessmodelgeneration.com) approach are better. Steve Blank's resource, The Startup Owner's Manual (http://www.stevenblank.com/startup_index_qty.html) also has some great practical steps.
While, I know you are looking at this as a theoretical educational exercise, I would encourage you to consider taking some of the steps laid out in the resources I mentioned that are practical steps towards building a real business. There is no reason you can't do these things while in school, and you might just end up with something that is valuable.
Speaking from the resume evaluation perspective, I would put more weight on a resume of someone that has done some of the actual work of building a business, rather than someone who did a mental exercise / simulation on a business.
- Did market research on the perceived need for a new product and the possibility of building a list of potential customers for the theoretical product (not that impressive and / or valuable in my opinion - this is the old school Business Plan style approach to entrepreneurship)
- Developed a new product design and pitched it to potential customers. Built website and internet marketing campaign for the new product that generated a list of 2500 customer names & email addresses who expressed interested in the product. (this is impressive and is an expression of the Lean Startup)
Here is a great article that describes the different approaches you could take and how great entrepreneurs behave: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110201/how-great-entrepreneurs-think.html
Entrepreneurship is a hands on exercise. Jump in and go for it.
This completely depends on the business model. When I started my first business, I no money saved up, signed my first mortgage 2 weeks after starting my business, and had my first kid 4 weeks in. I made money during the first month. By month 6, I was making just enough to support my young family of 3. We have never missed a mortgage payment and I now have my home fully paid off. This is called bootstrapping.
I've also worked with entrepreneurs who are building a business model that won't make money for at least 12 months - by design. This later scenario usually requires outside investment capital to work.
My firm has been building apps (web and mobile) for the past 15 years. I've seen a lot of situations similar to this and have been on the receiving end of partially completed apps in various states.
I would agree with some of the others in that it is normally a difficult task for a developer to pick up an application mid-stream due to the technical knowledge required to understand the app. You should expect some expense or required time in bringing the new developer up to speed with the work that has been done.
However, I would say that it is always possible to pick up a project and move it forward if you find a developer who is willing to make it work. If the code was well structured and documented, it can be fairly straight forward for a new developer to come in and pick things up where they were left off. If things were not structured well, or undocumented, it can take a bit more time.
As a developer, I would ask you the following questions:
- What were the details of the problems that lead you to have to switch teams at this stage?
- Do you have ownership and control over the codebase from both a software licensing perspective and an access perspective? As one other expert mentioned, getting ownership over the code repository on Github would be a great first step.
- What are the details of what needs to be done? What doesn't work, what is left to do?
- Can we take a look at the codebase and make an assessment to the quality of the code and complexity? There are some automated tools we use to analyze a codebase to determine complexity and quality. Giving someone access to a Github repository is an easy way to allow a quick review.
- Is there documentation or a written specification for the codebase?
- Is the app running in a beta environment? If this is an iOS app, can I get access to the beta version of the app via TestFlight?
I think the answers to those questions would cover most of the high level details that a new developer would need to help you plan out next steps.
Let me know if I can be of further assistance.