Dear Lifehacker, I was wondering if there is much I can do if I have an idea for an app but no ability to code and no money for early development? Are there any companies I could approach and if so, how can I prevent them from just taking the idea for themselves? Cheers, Aspiring Developer
There are plenty of people who will code to spec — you can post coding tasks on crowd sourcing websites such as Bountify, Elance, CodersCrowd, Freelancer, FFiver, oDesk, Rent A Coder and guru.com. These platforms allow you to post specific job listings, with different freelancers bidding for the role.
While you will need some money to pay them, the overall cost can be surprisingly affordable (much to the chagrin of the professional coding community, who feel this type of business model cheapens their craft.) Just be aware that the results may fall short of expectations; especially when it comes to low-bid contracts. As with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for.
If you decide to go down this path, it obviously helps to have a very clear idea on what you want to develop. In addition to ensuring you’re both on the same page, this will also reduce the likelihood of implementing changes, which will cost you extra. You should also keep the app idea as simplistic as possible — this will help to keep costs down and increase the likelihood of receiving a good final product.
When it comes to avoiding idea theft, you’re basically at the mercy of a company’s ethics. Australian copyright law protects the original expression of ideas, but not the ideas themselves. Copyright also doesn’t protect you against independent creation of a similar work. In other words, there’s nothing stopping a company from making a few tweaks to your idea and claiming any similarities are a coincidence. Proving otherwise could involve a costly legal battle which you presumably can’t afford.
As a safeguard, be sure to keep detailed documentation of your idea, along with any correspondence you embark upon with third parties. This won’t necessarily save you from getting ripped off, but it’s better than nothing. (You can learn more about Australia’s copyright protection laws here.)
Regardless of a company’s trustworthiness, you need to be realistic about the value of what you’re offering. Think about: you want them to do all the work and pay 100% of the upfront costs in exchange for an idea that might not even pay off. How much is that really worth? Personally, we think you’d be better off developing the app yourself — that way there’s no risk of theft and you get to keep all the profits.
Coding languages aren’t some kind of arcane magic; with a little time and effort, anyone can learn the ropes. As a starting point, check out our recent developer’s guide to building your first app. The article’s author, Dominic Williamson, is responsible for one of the most successful apps on Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store. Prior to its development, he had no coding experience and the whole project took around six months.
"You can learn the basics you need to begin building apps in a very short time," Dominic explains. "Within six months of starting to learn programming at university, I was able to write for the Windows Phone platform. There are plenty of excellent resources available online. If you’re planning to start the app developer journey with C#, here is a great list of 200 videos starting from the very basics."
If any coders happen to be reading, feel free to share your own tips and experiences in the comments section below!
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