Zero Dollar Idea

People enter into technology thinking they can pursue an idea that will make them a lot of money. If you read startup stories you will find that most start with an idea, evolve into a business, become broke, rebound and make millions…. or end up being broke and learning a lot.

I’ve read these stories but I am not a risk taker. Maybe I just don’t believe in my ideas as much as others or lack the confidence to pursue them. However, I like to see things come to life. Will it work? I don’t know. I know how to build it just not how to sell it.

How do you take an idea and make it work… without breaking the bank. Two words. FREE TIER. If you look at Google Cloud Platform or Amazon Web Services you can find a list of free services to run applications in a production like environment to build something. This is where serverless technologies can aid in the development of a new application. This can allow you to bring an idea to reality at no cost to you.

Recently I decided to build and deploy a pet project I had been developing. This whole project was supposed to cost me nothing. I just wanted to see if the idea would work. So I built an application that used an AWS Lambda backend assuring me that the cost would be free if the idea didn’t take off, and if it worked the application would scale.

When I wrote about serverless architectures a few weeks ago I didn’t realize that I have been and would be a direct benefactor. When writing that piece I realized the value in abstractions: the ability to develop without worrying about infrastructure. Lambdas allowed me to code the initial business logic I needed and I used a free service storage to build a lightweight demo. It all cost me nothing.

“You should never go to market with an MVP” is something you will read about building a startup. Is an AWS Lambda with other free tier services something you will go to production with? Most likely not. This is the opportunity to test your idea, without breaking the bank. Lambdas run on demand and you pay for what you use. If no one uses it, great, you haven’t lost anything. If it is popular, great, you have enough information to get funding and build an actual infrastructure. But in the end the whole point of serverless is to get your ideas to market without worrying about the infrastructure (completely).

For me I built my application in less than a weekend for no money. I had less than one hundred visitors and no prospects of taking it any further. What I gained was a knowledge of several different technologies, something to put on my resume, and the reassurance that my idea didn’t work. It’s important to know if your idea works or not because it gives you two options. Pivot or leave it. If you choose to pivot you can build on what you’ve already done (with little or no additional cost) or abandon with money in hand.

Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup says that sometimes the best thing you can do is just put up a placeholder site to see what the expectations of the users are without much cost. In the same way you should be evolving the product as it goes to make sure you are building things in a way that the user expects. This time period is often a time of lowering costs and shipping products. Developing applications using serverless technologies, especially ones that are free for low volumes, allow you to grow and innovate without breaking the bank and worrying about managing the underlying technologies.

In the end my application didn’t take off. I’m not quitting my day job. But it can sit there until I’m ready to come back to it. I learned a lot developing my idea and it can be used as a blueprint for future projects or at least a discussion point with others.

You never know the value of an idea until you explore its potential.