Jacob Baytelman

Building software since 1998

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The time of garage startups is over

The time of garage startups is officially over, and you know who slammed the garage doors for the next generations? Two giants born in garages of California!

Firstly, today your minimal product must be much more mature than MVPs were 10 years ago because of enormous competition. Today there's an app for pretty much everything, even before you have a glimpse of an idea, be sure, it has already been implemented and downloaded from App Store and Google Play tens of thousands times. Today you are not the first, which means you still have chances to become that second mouse who gets the cheese, which also means you need to be faster, smarter, better and cooler than your competitors. Assuming they are already in the market, have some traction, have funding or even revenue, starting on a low budget does not really make much sense for you. A garage is not an option.

Secondly, your client side must appear in at least 3 versions: for iOS, for Android and for web if you are lucky to avoid the need for downloadable desktop version which requires development for at least 2 more platforms. You absolutely have to do the same task 3 times, otherwise you cannot compete. Variety is not so good when you can hardly afford it!

To make things even worse I will mention such an unpleasant fact as platform limitations and constrains, imposed by Google and Apple: a mobile phone is not a computer, your apps are not allowed to do whatever you want. Admit it, accept it and carry on. Your app will not be able to get the MAC address of your device, for example. Your app cannot access many "system" features. Furthermore, on iOS your app must go through Apple's approval process. The owners of the application marketplaces say that they take these precautions to ensure safety, security, proper content - to make it a better world. Possible and reasonable, but on the other hand innovation is badly constrained by SDKs and APIs.

Now you plan building your startup on top of somebody's API in a smart combination with another set of tools or APIs, I have a bad news: you are late, a whole industry of data aggregation / switching / processing / commutation provides a wide range of all possible combinations. 25 years ago we discussed with friends an idea of machine translation system: a voice recognition block creates a text file, which is then translated, and then a text-to-speech module calls you phone and reads you the translation. It was cool 25 years ago. Today it's not, because it comprises ready solutions (products, APIs, SDKs) without adding any intellectual property of your own.

Treat competition, variety of platforms and technical constrains as the first 3 of ten or possibly more biblical plagues: you do not know what will follow, how long it can last and how bad it is going to be. Definitely, your garage and low budget will not shelter you, so take care about a better ark. The main purpose of your ark would be to give you faith in your product through research. Get ready to afford solid (a synonym to "expensive" and "time-consuming") research.

Unlike stand up shows, startups have always been about their teams. You cannot do it all alone no matter how clever and productive you think you are. Eventually your startup will make you much cleverer and more productive :) I bet Noah's family helped him control his ark, likewise the core members of your crew will become your bigger family and you will need to work hard on these relationship. You know, trust, reputation and responsibility are always more than just words about trust, reputation and responsibility.

Do not expect everybody to become your partners. Some will be your early hires, but even if they agree to work in your garage, they still have to feed their families and pay their bills unless they are green unexperienced students, which could work out 25 years ago but will hurt your business today. Your startup can be your own first attempt in starting up as a business, but it should not be your or anyone's of your team first job in technology.

Lastly, you product must comply to tons of regulations, e.g. GDPR, PCI, national and international legislation for you industry - do not assume it is not regulated and do not wait to be surprised, check it now.

Previous generations of founders could create apples and googles in their garages, these days are gone forever. Their garages became their competitive advantages. We have yet to discover ours.

J.Baytelman June, 2018