The Money Start-Up: Outsource Everything? (Part 4)

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[The following is a part of my Money Start-up series, where I go back to my software development roots and try to create an application/website to better help consumers manage their money. It's a little different than most of the personal finance articles that you'll read, but my hope is that we'll learn some universal lessons along the way. You can start with my introduction or catch up on the whole series.]

It's been a little more than a month since my last update, The Money Start-Up: Training and “What Is Your Time Worth?” (Part 3). That article explored a very common theme - is it worth paying for training/education when there are a multitude of free options available (some of them of high quality). With a month of more experience, I can say that the two options are mutually exclusive. I've learned a lot from the free options. (Not to get too techie, but here are the free ones: Try Ruby, Rails for Zombies, and Treehouse). I'd like to say that I learned a lot from the paid service (a subscription to Thoughtbot), but due to some unexpected life circumstances, I haven't given it a chance yet.

I recognize that one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome is attempting to do it all myself. My hope is to get a good proof-of-concept out there and then explore getting funding to take it to the next level. However, in the meantime, it's worth asking the question, "What if I were to outsource the development of my idea completely?" There's something to be said with hiring a group of expert Ruby on Rails developers to attack it head on. There's also something to be said for not spending tens of thousands of dollars. If you are a regular reader, you know that I can be frugal and that's a lot of money.

I noticed that Heroku, the platform that I intend to use has some recommended developers and I immediately gravitated to the local one in Boston. That would be Terrible Labs. As someone who has spent the last 7 years with the name "Lazy" attached to his name, it was hard not to identify with a business embracing a negative adjective in their name. I appreciated their story behind it. As I looked that Terrible Team, I could myself working with them (and hoping that I could pay Maggie Steciuk in dog play hours).

As much as I like Terrible Labs, I'm going to make them my plan B. Plan A is still for me to learn Ruby on Rails and make a go at it myself. It may mean that the odds of my Money Start-up being successful will go down, but at least I won't incur a massive debt and I'll learn a valuable skill in the process.

The exploration of Terrible Labs didn't just result in a plan B... I learned that I was going about things the wrong way. However, that's a story for next time on The Money Start-Up.

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Posted on May 24, 2013.

The Money Start-Up: Training and “What Is Your Time Worth?” (Part 3)

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[The following is a part of my Money Start-up series, where I go back to my software development roots and try to create an application/website to better help consumers take care of their money. It's a little different than most of the personal finance articles that you'll read, but my hope is that we'll learn some lessons along the way. You can start with my introduction or catch up on the whole series.]

Last week, I I explained a few of the technical decisions I'm making based on my network of friends. One thing that may surprise readers was the amount of development tools that are simply available for free. I could get started with Heroku, Ruby on Rails, Postgres, and Bootstrap without spending a dime (except for a laptop and internet access, which I already have). You don't really need to know what those are, but in short, I could build my whole vision and only start paying money to Heroku as it become popular.

However, in making all these decisions, one thing stood out. I don't know how to program in Ruby on Rails. I used to be greatly interested in learning programming languages. As dorky as it might seem, I would take about a half-dozen books about computer programming out of the library in middle school and read them cover to cover. In some ways, I was like Brick in the Middle where he'll read a book on fonts. (Now I'm more like Mike, the dad.) My instinct is that I can simply harness my 12-year old desire and pick it up no problem.

By all accounts, things are very different now. If it were just learning the Ruby language, then it might be easy. However, the Rails part of it is known as a programming framework, and that's a little more difficult. Think of it like learning a new job, where everything is done in a completely new way than what you are used to.

This is where choosing a free language gets interesting. Many have suggested that I take a class and pay for training. There are a lot of free ways to learn Ruby on Rails out there as well. This brings about a few questions such as:

1. Is the free training as good as the paid training?
2. If not, what is my time worth?

The later question came into play sooner then I hoped. When I found out that one of the most recommended options was a cool thousand dollars, my friend's response was, "It took me 6 months to learn through free videos on the web. What's your time worth?" He's a brilliant guy, so it's not like I can reasonably expect to do it faster or better.

For a lot of people, it's fairly easily to estimate what their time is worth. As an entrepreneur, that value seems to change monthly. However, anyway I look at it $1000 is significant. I'm a pretty frugal person, but in one click of a mouse, I can lose all the gains from those frugal choices.

Fortunately, as I was debating this decision, the friend pointed out that they have a $99 monthly option for unlimited access. If I clear off my schedule, I could probably do some serious studying in a month with two months probably being the max I'd need to be good enough to go it on my own. It's much easier for me to throw $200 at learning a skill that will not only help me with this money start-up, but also a highly marketable skill.

While that seems to be a solid option, I'm thinking I'm going to partake in this Rails for Zombies free class. I know zombies eat a lot of brains, but I still humbly think I'm smarter than the average zombie... this may be a good start.

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Posted on April 15, 2013.

The Money Start-Up: Development Decisions Lead to Big Savings (Part 2)

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[The following is a part of my Money Start-up series, where I go back to my software development roots and try to create an application/website to better help consumers take care of their money. It's a little different than most of the personal finance articles that you'll read, but my hope is that we'll learn some lessons along the way. You can start with my introduction last week.]

Last week, I left off by saying that my idea for a personal finance software company seems to have merit based on a few people who I trust. This is despite acknowledging that there is incredible competition and that many have failed. I'm very fortunate to have a great network of people to lean on for advice... and this week I leaned on them again.

While I've been programming computers since I was 8 or 9 (thanks IBM PCjr), I've taken the last few years off to focus on blogging. One of the reasons I did it was because I was too burned out from developing software all day, to go home and learn what new advancements were going on in the industry. There is always a new language or new database to learn in that spare time. Also, to be relevant in the job market, I found you have to have years of experience in everything. My Coldfusion experience nowadays isn't all that helpful since it isn't used anymore.

It's a learning rat race on top of a money rat race, and it was time to find a way out. And that's one of the many reasons why I created this blog.

With all that time off, it gives me a rare opportunity to jump back in without bias towards any technology. I have some history in Java and I update the blogging software I use here (WordPress) in PHP, but I don't do enough to be married to either one. So I reached out to a couple more of my trusted friends independently and asked them what they would use if they were starting from scratch today.

Fortunately the first two, who don't know each other, came back with the same answer: Ruby on Rails with a Postgres database, running on Heroku. (I know you are smacking your forehead saying "Of Course!")

I wasn't expecting them to be sync like that. In reviewing their logic it is sound, and fits with what I was looking for.

The Heroku choice was a surprise, because I've checked out their website and how it works is very involved. Their version of "how it works" is for server administrators while what I was looking for something that I missed on the front page , "Focus 100% on your code, and never think about servers, instances, or VMs again... Easily scale to millions of users."

Heroku is free to develop in, at least for what I'm doing. It's going to save me time and money to not have to deal with hiring and paying a system administrator. It's not expensive to run after launch either, but if costs became a problem, I can take my code elsewhere, probably to the Amazon Cloud.

One of my friends suggested that I look into Twitter's Bootstrap to design the front end of my application. I'm not a designer. I like to pretend that I can make things look 80%, but that last 20% is always a killer. Yes, the Lazy Man and Money design that you see here is mostly my creation. It's functional (and should be fast), but not polished with great bells and whistles. For this website to be a success, it is going to have to look professional and Bootstrap does much of that. While you can build from scratch with the tools that they have, there are a number of themes to choose to from. Some are free, but I found a couple that I can buy for under $15. Sign me up! I'll, of course, need to do a lot of customizing to get a finished product, but it will cut down on the time and cost of design team.

The key takeaway here is that is where it would once cost a lot of money to start-up a software company, today there are some fabulous tools out there that greatly reduce the financial barrier the entry. I don't know if it is possible for me to overstate the impact they will likely have.

The last part of the equation, Ruby on Rails is where I have to make a tough decision. I'll leave that for next time though.

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Last updated on March 28, 2013.

The Money Start-Up: The Genesis (Part 1)

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A couple of weeks ago, I spent a little time to think about personal finance from a very high perspective. What if fictional person, Xander, came to me and said, "I have no clue what this 'money' thing is and how to deal with it." Could I help him?

After nearly 7 years of posts here, I should be able to help them, right? Unfortunately, Lazy Man and Money isn't really a good source for beginners. There's certainly some stuff for beginners, but there's a lot of other stuff like my personal money journey, far too many posts on peer-to-peer lending, why MLM is currently the evil force in galaxy, and some sundry stuff that barely fits in the category of money at all.

I can't give Xander a set of posts on here to read. Instead I could give him a book. There are certainly some good books out there. However, I'd probably end up giving him The Money Code, the Millionaire Fastlane, and other books that are great, but not really a good introduction. Why? I tend not to read books about basic personal finance. It's not to say that I couldn't learn something from them, but 99% of them would be boring review and just not interesting to me.

Somewhere in doing this exercise I started to outlines various areas of personal finance... things like credit, insurance, net worth, income, expenses, investing, budgeting, estate planning. As I did this, I had an idea for a piece of software that might just help Xander with money. It wouldn't necessarily teach the basics as I originally intended, but it would definitely help him be in a better place than he was before he used the application.

As I chased that rabbit down the hole, I realized that there are a whole of Xanders out there that NEED this application. Most of them don't know it. A few of them of them do.

After I had a rough idea of what the software would do, I pitched it to a couple of people I trust. One of the easiest ways to describe it was to compare it to something that already exists. When it comes to personal finance, that starting and ending point is Mint and Personal Capital. While my idea isn't really like that, when I brought up the names, I was reminded by all the companies that went down that road and failed. Yes, the personal finance management graveyard is so full of dead companies like Wesabe, Adaptu, and Money Strands. (Wait Money Strands is still around? Their blog has one update in the last two years.)

When I went into further detail about my software, they started to see how it was different than Mint. As you can tell from the nature of this post, I'm a little guarded about going into full detail, but what I did reveal was enough for them to say something to the effect of, "I'm intrigued. I've got a ton on my plate with some other things, but definitely keep me in the loop on this."

What does this mean for Lazy Man and Money?

I'm still going to be here. However, I'll probably be writing a little less than I typically do - maybe only once or twice a week. (Maybe I'll hire a writer, to give this space a different perspective.) When I do write, it's likely that I'll be writing about the experience of creating a start-up, when you are frugal, and not willing to risk 100K to do it. For most people, it would be impossible. Even for me it might be impossible. However, at least as a software developer (an admittedly really rusty one), there is a chance of success. I admit that the odds are long. That's the nature of most start-ups and this industry isn't any different.

With all that said, it's time to crank up some Paramore... I've got something to brick by boring brick. Are my feet on the ground or is my head in the clouds? This is one castle I can't bury.

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Posted on March 15, 2013.

 
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