by Junda Ong
Why I don’t build apps for friends anymore
Over the past 10 years, I’ve lots of friends and classmates say to me:
“I have a great idea for an app. How about we work together?”
I’m happy that they’re thinking about creating something that they want to use or make a business out of it.
But often, all I can do for them is say:
“As a friend, I’d love to hear about your idea and give advice on mobile app development. But most likely, I wouldn’t be able to develop for you.”
1. Ideas are not enough
Often, the main motivation people have for creating an app is because they have an idea.
They think the idea is cool.
My positive reply often is,
“Yes, this is a good idea. There will be people who would like — maybe even need — to use your app.”
Then my less positive reply goes,
“Who is the closest competitor to your idea? Why do you think they didn’t succeed?”
These are the most important questions in grinding an idea.
This is also my polite way of saying: Ideas Are Cheap.
Ideas are nothing. Someone in this world must have the same idea, of some variation to yours. Nothing is original.
You should not start a company just because of an idea.
2. Startups are hard
To succeed with one is even harder.
And even if you do succeed, it will take many years.
I speak from 10 years of experience with 2 startups.
The first startup: I spent 7 years, as a founding member. The company is now 9 years old, yet it’s still struggling to become profitable. The only reason it hasn’t died is because the investor is also the co-founder, so think how much he has to lose first. How much stress can he endure?
The second startup: I joined after their Series A funding. It’s now 3 years old and recently had Series B, thus providing an extra year’s runway. Maintaining hockey stick growth is not easy, and the end of a runway is always in sight.
I don’t know about you. But I don’t have that many 10 years blocks of time ahead of me.
So I have to choose wisely on which path to take.
3. It isn’t worth risking our friendship
Any conflict between you and your friend is compounded when you become co-workers.
Mobile app development costs much more than you think. I can’t charge you less (let alone do things for free!) just because you’re my friend.
And if the business fails (90% will), then the friendship will be awkward. You will have lost a lot of money — some of which will have gone to pay me.
When things fail, people find reasons. And many times, it’s natural to blame the developer. People will say: the product wasn’t good enough.
All eyes will be on the developer, but that’s not really fair.
I value friendship, and all risks considered, I don’t sacrifice it.
4. Unequal bargains
In a tech startup, you need at least one technical person — the CTO or lead developer.
The “idea person” often becomes the “CEO” and promises to cover the marketing, sales, and fundraising.
It’s fair to split such responsibilities between two cofounders.
Yet, very often, my “idea person” friend is one with no experience in the area they handle. Neither has he worked in a startup before. And if they try to drive the product, it could get even uglier.
Having two co-founders with unequal experience and skill is a mismatch.
I love startups. But I love friends even more.
If only I had a friend who understood the risks startups face, had the experience to execute, and was psychologically prepared for failure.
Until that magical person comes along, I’m going to stay focused on working for professional acquaintances, and tell any friends who get the startup itch to do the same.