I’ve got an idea; I’ll give you 25%…

…if you:

  1. finish it
  2. and design it
  3. and build it
  4. and test it
  5. and refine it
  6. and launch it
  7. and sell it
  8. and market it

…for me.

This was the tempting offer whispered in my ear this evening by a hard-up web-developer at a networking event, once we were alone, and he’d heard I developed iPhone apps.

For the record, this is the worst offer I’ve ever had – even in the days of the iPhone goldrush (2008, mid 2009) the least I was offered was “one third”. Since then, even the unrealistic offers usually start at $2,000 cash up-front.

I smiled, and said nothing.

I carried on the conversation, when he suddenly broke into a long (minutes) tirade of abuse in the middle of the venue, because I’d “blown [him] off” when he’d “offered to share [his] great idea”.

I stood there in silence for another 30 seconds, wondering what to do: should I respond in kind? should I try to help him? should I walk away?

I decided to try and help him. I asked him to think about how his offer sounded to someone who makes apps for clients every day. (he ranted about how I thought I “was the Big Man – BUT YOU’RE NOT!”). I apologized profusely for offending him, and said I’d try to explain (he told me to “scuttle off, little man”). I made one more attempt – I pointed out that after inadvertently offending him, I was at least trying to make amends, and all he seemed to want to do was insult me. He sneered.

So, my public-service act for the day:

How much does it cost to develop an iPhone application? (tl;dr – $250,000 for a good one)

(note: when we talk to clients, I advise them the sane limit is c. $150k for a great one, or $75k for a good one. The $250k figure is accurate if you’re doing own-IP and it HAS to be awesome (like twitterific, quoted) – but you always end up spending more when it’s your own IP – or if you work with extremely expensive digital agencies who don’t have in-house iPhone specialists. Most of the good, solid iPhone dev teams are about half that price)

NB: this problem (“I’ve got an idea, I’ll let you have it in return for a profit share”) is prevalent among people who know nothing about computer games, as much as for people who know nothing about generic iPhone apps (but who read the papers and think they’re sitting on a goldmine. That’s very interesting in and of itself…

At the end of the day, I walked away from Mr. Abusive. Some people just don’t want to be helped, sadly…

12 thoughts on “I’ve got an idea; I’ll give you 25%…

  1. Andrew Crystall

    Chris – In my case, my University job, while I work on a game with several of Adam’s ex-co-workers. Sometimes you do need to take the risk…. but this is on a game with a solid backing to it, which needs my skills. Not a speculative idea.

    Heck, on a pnp RPG I’m (slowly) working on, half the setting is licensed from someone else. He’ll get 10%.

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  3. Brad

    As much as this is preaching to the choir, the problem with talking about how much it “costs” to make software is that there’s a tremendous difference between “How much would it cost me to make something (while I’m pitching in effort, and probably burning my own money)?” and “How much would it cost to hire someone to make something?”

    Maybe a speech about how great ideas are 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration would go over better. Whether or not that speech ends with “So what are you going to do for _me_ to justify keeping 75%?”, I’m not sure.

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  6. Breakdance McFunkypants

    I feel your pain. I get this exact same offer a couple times PER MONTH. For the last 5 or 10 years. I quite literally have experienced this same moment in my life so many times I can’t count them all.

    I constantly have to hold my tongue and be polite and respectful and not dive into a huge rant about how many millions of screenwriters there are in hollywood with a “great script” all desperately trying to get people to read them.

    After all, these are people who really believe their concept is a million-dollar-idea. They have feelings, and their ego is at stake. It can be really touch not to laugh in their face, but you have to put yourself in their shoes to understand how painful that would feel. You really have to tread lightly. I tend to tell them: DIY! You *can* do it! Never give up! And step aside as quickly as possible.

    I don’t want to be mean, and I hate to stomp on a person’s dream, so I try to be encouraging as an act of kindness, but game designs are a dime a dozen and every developer has a hundred great ideas sitting on the backburner.

    I have a huge pile of design documents that number in the hundreds – I’m not exaggerating. The gall of some people who think an idea is worth more than doing all the work really depresses me. It is so insulting and arrogant – and common!

    It is like some amateur architect designing a building with crayon on a napkin and expecting a construction contractor to do everything else for a small portion of the profits.

    Ideas are worthless, execution is everything.

  7. Peter Davies

    Reading this article sparked a thought. I am assuming (i) Adam’s figures for development costs are correct; and (ii) small scale/independent developers could use more access to capital.

    The concept is this: people with small sums to invest, say US10-25k each, finance and engage developers to design games that they would like to play. Based on Adam’s figures, it would only take 12-14 such investors to finance an entire game, even if the developers have zero seed capital.

    I’d certainly find it a more interesting use of part of my life savings than investing in some business I know nothing about through the public markets, or an index tracker fund.

    Maybe this sort of thing already exists and I just don’t know about it?

  8. adam Post author

    Yes – I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while about using Kickstarter for this. Have a look at it, see what you think.

    The problem (for now) is that there’s not much choice there for would-be investors in iphone apps specifically (although many other creative things to invest in). But … a few more blog posts from people, and that might change. I noticed a couple of other people talking about it speicifcally for iphone games recently, so I suspect its changing already.

  9. Peter Davies

    I had a quick look at kickstarter and it’s fascinating. That said, the concept seems to be more of a kind of charity-with-rewards than an investment option per se (which is natural; securities laws are quite inflexible when it comes to random people offering investment products to the public at large!) as well as apparently being on a smaller scale. The max reward amount is US$10k, which is what I had in mind as a minimum investment amount.

    I think that if there is a niche, it would be as a kind of micro-VC financing. Below the radar of funds and their managers, but on a larger scale than US$500 here or there.

  10. adam Post author

    I remember a few companies that were doing that about 2 years ago.

    Strangely, I can’t find any of them now – all disappeared, it seems, except for the ones that focus on poverty-stricken investees.

    Closest I could find was profounder.com – which is crap: you cannot see any projects before signing up. With that attitude from the site owners, I wouldn’t expect it worth the time to even check.

    …although, that said: profounder has some very big names on the team. Maybe they’re not actually live yet? Hmm. I’m not sure why the site would have such terrible web design, and such a bad user experience.

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