Saturday, July 18, 2009

Startup opportunities for programmers in Baltimore

An open letter to Baltimore hackers:

Because I put myself out there as a Baltimore-based startup person, I am regularly approached by entrepreneurs in this region who have ideas for software projects, mostly web apps, that they need someone to build. Most of these ideas sound awesome to me, and the people seem very compelling leaders (they all create what Eric Ries calls the "reality distortion forcefield "). I'd love to work on all of the ideas, but I'm busy with my own startup. Just in the past four weeks, I've talked to people who want to build:
  • a niche massive, multiplayer game
  • a workflow management system for the entertainment industry
  • a web news site CMS
  • iPhone games
I don't always know to whom I should refer these entrepreneurs. If the person has a budget and they are looking for a Rails shop, I send them to my friends (and long-time Ignite supporters) Smart Logic Solutions.

But some of these inquiries are from people who can't afford or aren't ready for the full-court press that SLS can provide. The projects are more prototypal and better-suited to a freelancer or moonlighter. That brings me to a dilemma.

I know many good programmers in different disciplines, especially through the Beehive. But I don't always know their tolerance for risk, willingness to work for equity, etc. I wonder if that's a consequence of being in a tech economy dominated by service providers and government contractors -- do talented creators get used to high hourly rates, and thus become unavailable to people who need their help to build disruptive, exciting products with a lean startup mentality?

If you are interested in this kind of work -- and I really encourage you to give it a try -- please leave a comment on this page or email me at, because I'd like to have better answers the next time someone asks me to help them build an idea. I just need to know your specialties and what contact information I should use.

Side note to entrepreneurs: you should make an effort to get out there and meet the developers now, before that brilliant idea strikes you. Cowork with us at the Beehive, go to Bmore on Rails meetings, attend Outlet Baltimore and Refresh Baltimore, come to SocialDevCamp and Ignite, etc.


Flip Sasser said...

I'd love it if non-Rails people came to the meetups and pitched ideas. Might be a lot of good feedback.

James said...

Maybe we need an exchange to meet up for the sole purpose of equity projects. Business types can pitch the programmers and alternatively, programmers can pitch the business types.

Mike Subelsky said...

Flip, that's an awesome idea! Let's pitch that to the Rails meetup group!

James, I like that idea as well, I think there might be something there. One person specifically asked for such a thing that would be locally-focused.

Gary said...

I can understand how frustrating it is to have a good idea and not have the skill to just to implement it. Likewise, it is equally as frustrating to have the talent to implement, but lack the funding (or, worse, the idea) to go forth and do.

One issue of a partnership is: whose baby is it? I work all day, and in my spare cycles on nights and weekends, I work on other side projects. This time with my own code is rare and when I get it, I like to work on my stuff. If I'm not completely passionate about the work then it isn't really worth the effort to find time for. Likewise, I don't want to take direction from the suits at work, then take direction from a suit-in-training at home.

All that said... if a great idea comes along that needs a gearhead to get it done and I'm totally enamored with it, then I'd prob jump onboard for night/weekend work. These days, it's probably open source anyway.

Mike Subelsky said...

Hi Gary,

Yeah, I hear you - it's up to the entrepreneur to make you feel like you own part of the thing you're making. The kinds of programmers who excel at this kind of work are craftspeople and that feeling is essential. We need new mechanisms to make this easier!