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Start up business ideas?

  1. Aug 8, 2013 #1
    I am a first year physics and computer science/ applied math student. I am looking into starting my own business during college. I am inspired by these people who start up these muliti million dollar business in there garages. I do not expect that to happen to me, but it would still be fun to do for some extra income eventually to pay for my way through undergrad and graduate school. Start up money wise I have like a 3 grand so I am not too terribly off, but it cant be anything too expenisive even though I would like it too be. Maybe designing video games along with a good physics engine?
    Or maybe something like going into the solar power industry and doing that? (though I don't know how to do that...I could learn.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 8, 2013 #2


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    Making real physical things involves a lot of extra overhead (manufacturing, insurance, marketing/distribution chains, etc.). It's a lot easier to make software instead. Maybe brainstorm smartphone ideas -- delveloping apps is not too hard, and it if's a good app, there are distribution chains already set up. You can also think about apps that use some external thing, like the EKG app for the iPhone, for example.
  4. Aug 8, 2013 #3
    Would game development be a good idea? Someone locally that just graduate high school with me made 600 thousand dollars by selling the rights to a game he made for fun. Also got a job offer for quite a bit for being a high school grad. He is now driving a sports car. Yes I am jealous :P Anyways, I don't expect to make that much, but is there any money in it for someone maybe not THAT good? Some kind of freelance work maybe?
  5. Aug 9, 2013 #4
    Um, dude making your own technology, in your case game engine is very big deal. It's expensive, it requires a lot of time, money, experience and people. Don't even try it for now.

    It's much better if you try to make a simple mobile game using already existing tools. Have in mind that making "big hit game' is very hard - it requires a lot of luck so don't expect to make money out of your first game. But if you like it, it's worth trying. You won't learn how to make games without actually making them.

    Freelance work requires skills. If you have them, you can try.
  6. Aug 9, 2013 #5


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    Starting any business is a lot of work. Trying to do it while also staying in school is crazy. If you need money for school, why not take a job?
    Also, starting a business for the sake of starting one usually doesn't work. You need to have an idea you are passionate about
  7. Aug 9, 2013 #6


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    If you want to start a business, then I recommend you work for someone else for a while before even contemplating going it alone.

    As for the gaming idea, if this is a thing you just thought up the other week, my advice would be an emphatic no. Game development is an area where it is literally all you do, and you are competing with people that are the same way and ten times as motivated.

    The benefit of working for someone before you think about doing business is many fold.

    1) You learn the actual business of the business and how it works
    2) You learn what is needed to run the business (resources, capital and cash, etc)
    3) You learn who is needed to run the business (people, skill-sets, etc)
    4) You learn how its run (how everyone works together, usual behaviour, non-usual behaviour etc)
    5) You learn what customers actually want and what they demand
    6) You learn all of those things that you may have thought were good, but were not
    7) You learn where to and make contacts (may not be in-house but conferences, trade shows, etc)
    8) You also learn how businesses make money (you may think this is a joke: its not)
    9) You learn how hard it is to start a business
    10) You basically realize what you are getting yourself into.

    If the business is in something that is complex and resource intensive, the above should be strongly considered.

    Running a hot dog stand is a lot different from running Google, but there are key lessons that apply to all businesses and if you are interested in technology, then I stand by my recommendation.
  8. Aug 9, 2013 #7


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    To the OP: I concur with everything that chiro has stated above -- it's important to gain some experience working for someone else to give you the know-how when/if you decide to start your own business.

    To chiro: Suppose you wish to start up your own consultancy in the area of your expertise (e.g. a statistician wanting to provide consulting services to local businesses). Are there any additional considerations I should take into account above and beyond what you have posted?
  9. Aug 9, 2013 #8
    1. Basically, I'd concur with StatGuy2000 and chiro as well. You should really spend some time getting a better idea of how much work needs to be done to be successful in any of those.

    2. I had a thread about how I did a fairly successful startup. What no one asked about, and I can say unabashedly, is that I had to work longer than 99.9% of the people out there - grad students on finals week etc. You need a great level of conviction.

    3. All the tips on creating an app are not polished. I feel that creating a large business is better than creating an app because it actually forces you to consider serious liquidity events, revenue drivers, marketing, income forecasts, tax and legal consequences ex ante of your business assets and equity, not simply a world where all you care about is a forecasted revenue ex post of a desired valuation, seed, series A, series ?, vesting, acceleration, MVP, app store launch, buyout, and weird terms that people have come up with. Creating an app is the new pizzeria. Precisely because of how easy it is to create one, it is also the space where there's more supply than demand - successful startups often dare to venture where it'd take 5 years for achievements to pan out rather than 3 months (look at Amazon EC2), because many people are willing to do the latter but not the former.

    4. Startups create the illusion of wealth. Not everyone's going to buy your company so even if you get a post-money valuation that makes you a millionaire, you're still rather poor. Holding on to an illiquid asset is bad in simple finance 101 - it is why Mark Zuckerberg/Eike Batista could lose billions in days. A valuation that is too high is bad too, because it's irreversible and that might prevent you from selling your company anyway. Having lots of cash is good to tide yourself through this. Also, applying for credit is difficult - it's easier to start a firm after a successful stint at a well-paying job.
  10. Aug 9, 2013 #9


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    Due to the nature of consultancy work, my recommendations in terms of what to focus on would be the projects you have worked on, and the network of people that you know and will be useful for getting work.

    It's a different kind of sales-person than say one that operates out of a store-front or in a closed building since the brand involved is the individual and not an organization or team.

    If you are doing some sort of consulting I think you should get very familiar with public speaking, learning how to pitch yourself, and how to sell yourself as a brand to those who hire you.

    Also find out where the decision makers and the influential people are who make the decision to hire consultants (for whatever organization) since they are calling the shots instead of focusing only on meeting other technically minded people that don't.

    Also a big part of your business and getting hired is going to be who vouches for you (which is related to the above): if someone is vouching for you then they are putting themselves on the line in a way.

    Getting vouched for can depend on many things: you may have worked with the person or someone who knows someone who knows someone that worked with you. You may have worked on a significant project known in the industry or with a company that everyone knows and/or respects.

    Also don't be afraid to put yourself out there: some people think that talking about themselves and what they have done is arrogant and self-centred but you're selling yourself, your skillset, and ultimately your value to someone who may want to make use of you. This is not saying you should lie, exaggerate things, or intentional mislead someone: but it is important to have genuine confidence because people buy confidence when it comes to trusting individuals especially when the nature of the work is difficult and fraught with potential problems.

    I'd also recommend that you learn typically where things go wrong. Let me explain.

    When you are a business person you typically start out having too much of an optimistic viewpoint when dealing with clients or customers. What tends to happen over time is that what you anticipated is not actually happens. For example you may start off by allowing clients to pay later only to find out that one bad client doesn't actually have the money at all, or the money that was agreed to. Such things cause a lot of headaches.

    Part of being professional is knowing these things, when they occur, how they occur, and how to deal with them: especially in a preventable manner. Other outsiders may look at these practices and say they are too uptight, but there is a reason why those uptight things exist (and its also the reason why a lot of those employee contracts are the way they are).

    Also like any business-person, go to networks, conferences, functions, etc and take particular attention to what your potential clients value.

    Academics value things like specific awards, citations in papers, and all of these other "prestigious" (personally I hate the word) things. The people that ultimately influence and hire you will value other things. I have mentioned completely projects as one, but this is not the only thing they value.

    You can get a sense of what they value by understanding what is important to them. Is technology and statistical knowledge important, or is increasing sales, getting into new markets, understanding consumer behavior, detecting fraud, or increasing their stock price important?

    One final thing: If you do end consulting and you put a lot of work into getting a final report and presentation and find that they don't want to use it, then don't take it personally. There are a variety of reasons why clients won't take the advice, especially if it impacts their own comfortable position in the company. They pay you to give advice, and even if your advice is ultimately the best advice that you can give, they can still dismiss it, your results, and your hard work entirely.

    If the above happens learn to distinguish between poor work, and a choice from your client to ignore advice based on their own perception, intuition, and incentives.
  11. Aug 10, 2013 #10
    It's true to some extend but we are talking about clueless freshman kiddo who wants (?) to make games. And we are talking about game development.

    Gamedev is expensive and risky business (more similar to film industry rather than IT) so if he goes for "big business" in gamedev right now he will surely fail. Gamedev is not about making apps, it's about making games (which lasts much longer than making regular app) - it's crucial difference, because of that most people fail in this very first step - to make any simple game. Even if they manage to create a simple game, most of them still fail because their game is designed poorly. People who have managed to create sucessful 'big business" startups are industry veterans in their 40s. Producers, creative directors from big-name studios with massive experience, network and money under their belt.

    If op wants to get a job in this industry he still needs to make any game in order to build a portfolio so "making an app" is the best advice I could give him in order to set his foot in gamedev. Maybe it's not the best advice regarding startup but gamedev isn't the best industry for startups anyway.
  12. Aug 10, 2013 #11

    jim hardy

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    First year, you say?
    I'd say "Keep a journal and take a course in creative writing".

    I read this book about 1973 when memories of my college years were fresh:

    The author had a way with words and wrote of his experiences in college, changing names to protect the [STRIKE]innocent[/STRIKE] other parties involved.
    I still laugh about his book after forty years - it was that memorable.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Aug 10, 2013 #12
    Making a game does not cost that much money to make. I had a friend in highschool that did the same thing as theKracken friend. It does take him some time updating and maintaining his game though. He does not make 600 grand but he does make enough to buy himself a nice car and what ever he wants. Just out of curiosity,The Kracken what game did your friend make.
  14. Aug 11, 2013 #13
    Hey Kracken,

    Just want to say- don't let anyone tell you you can't start a business in your garage. A friend of mine when he was a teenager loved those wild west shows with special FX and bullwhip feats. He started stunt training, working with cryogenic/pyrotechnic equipment, and meanwhile began reading old books on bullwhip construction and... long story short... ended up handcrafting premium bullwhips from imported Kangaroo hide and selling them to Texan ranchers at hundreds of $ apiece. They are works of art... with special bindings and treatments and calibrations.

    Personally I wouldn't go down the game design road. I feel it's such a saturated market, and every college friend I've had who's tried it fizzled out. Not that it can't be done-- it just seems like entertainment markets can be very unpredictable. As with some Hollywood films, it's quite possible to pour all your time and energy into an idea that will be rejected on public whim.

    I'd look at markets with more embedded economic utility. That's to say, in tough times (think depression-era), TIG welders probably retain their value better than golf clubs.

    One sort of thing that always catches my eye is when there's a useful product that's really expensive to buy manufactured, but could be handmade for less, given enough skill and patience. Some examples:
    • Regulated power supplies, custom power supplies
    Electrolytic hydrogen torches
    • OmniGraffle for Mac ($100 for basic diagramming software!? Because there really isn't any decent alternative for Mac.)

    For indie PHYSICAL products, I think it's invaluable if not crucial to have personal connections to people in the requisite industries-- suppliers, machinists, &c. My bullwhip friend tracked down the name of a guy in Australia who sells the specific type of Kangaroo hides he needed, called him up, got to know him, and this guy became his supplier.

    EDIT: p.s. I'm barely out of college myself so take my advice with a saline solution.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2013
  15. Aug 11, 2013 #14


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    No-one is telling the OP not to start a business, but just to keep in mind what is actually involved.

    The business is making bullwhips is not the same as the business of a tech startup: they have vastly different needs when it comes to not only getting it off the ground, but keeping it that way.

    Also when I say this I am not making any derogatory statements about bull-whips: I'm just pointing out the nature of the businesses being different.

    Creating a hot dog or ice-cream stand is also a business that is easy to start up (and many people like ice cream and hot dogs) but I wouldn't use that comparison against doing a tech startup (games or else) either.
  16. Aug 11, 2013 #15


    Staff: Mentor

    My suggestion is to train yourself to spot future inventions, things you wish you had that could solve a problem you or your friends have. Look at how Michael Dell, Bill Gates or Steve Zuckerberg founded their companies (there's a bit of ruthless in their stories) while going to college. Look at the DIY world and see what's happening there.

    Don't try to do what others are doing (there's too many wannabe game programmers writing the same kinds of games) rather come up with a compelling idea something totally new and then go for it. Be original not a copycat.

    And always remember you may come with a great idea but like so many great ideas someone has thought of it before so don't neglect your schooling just to pursue a chimera without real careful and deep thought as that schooling may be the thing that saves you.
  17. Aug 11, 2013 #16


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    One needs to be cautious with the above.

    Sometimes doing something at the wrong time can backfire. If you are doing something that is highly original, then its a good idea to do it when people (the customers) are ready for it.

    Nowadays people are more willing to "cross the chasm" earlier than they would in the past (by this I mean the time to mainstream adoption) but it is still an issue.

    There are lots of examples of this but one of the ones that is taught in a lot of business schools is the Iridium case study which talks about an experiment with mobile phones (primarily for the wealthier people) went wrong.

    You could say the same thing with things like the iPad and the iPhone: being wrong in the timing can come at a price.

    Why do I say this? Well for one familiarity and uncertainty plays a major role. People like things that are familiar and comfortable to them. If they see, think, or perceive something as mainstream then the risk diminishes.

    The result of the above is that the counter-intuitive nature of familiarity as opposed to originality can have an effect on the reception and success on something that has some high level originality or innovation, and the key is figuring out what kind of context helps meet the familiarity criteria and the innovation criteria.
  18. Aug 11, 2013 #17


    Staff: Mentor

    We must learn to invent before we can do innovations. Your suggestion is well founded and true but innovators often don't go far enough and get left behind.

    The Iridium phone story is true there was so much infrastructure to be developed. Some inventions just come too early but that doesn't mean we should stop short of inventing them rather we should also try to judge the timing and see what can be done. Sometimes the solution to a great invention is to find the right niche, the right roll-out of features (ipod -> ipod touch -> iphone -> ipad) and right pricing.

    The best example is perhaps Werner Von Braun, his rocket technology was heads above everything else. It was doomed and cursed from the start as a weapon for the Nazis but the same technology was resurrected putting us in space while improving our weapons capability (the good with the bad).

    Another example is Elon Musk's gamble with the all electric car. It has a fatal problem with fast battery recharge and the pricetag keeps most people away. If he can make it reach 300/400 miles on a charge and rechargeable overnight then he may have a chance of winning people over or if he can find a way to swap batteries quickly and without supply and demand problems like being able to recharge the swapped battery in time to be used again.

    The iPad had a similar problem with the storage size at 64GB when laptops were becoming 120-240GB. People would hesitate to buy but eventually were won over by the coolness factor and the speed of turning it on.
  19. Aug 11, 2013 #18
    I think the above posts have too much emphasis on the wrong thing. For every 10^3 to 10^4 successful startups out there, only 1 of them has a growth rate like Facebook. You don't have to invent; you don't even have to innovate. The bakery down my street went from 1 branch to 4 in the matter of a couple of years, becoming the most checked-in location in my city in the social media, and probably makes millions in profits selling $8 sandwiches and $2 cookies. There's nothing particularly special about the sandwiches or pastries that they make; the sandwiches contain bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo - it's just that many people want to be able to grab food on their way to work and not wait too long for it, and a regular cafe probably breaks down in order queue capacity serving 10 people simultaneously.

    What you don't need:
    - A fantastic idea.

    What you do need:
    - Luck, plenty of it.
    - Respect from your co-founders. You earn this either having exceptional industry experience, technical skill, or sometimes sheer ambition and drive.
    - The discipline and diligence to work harder than 99% of people.
    - Some money to serve as a buffer.

    I agree.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2013
  20. Aug 11, 2013 #19
    I think many people misunderstand the reason for Apple's success. Apple's success lies in its execution, not in its ideas.

    The iPhone and iPad are not innovative - if they are, you should be seeing many more Android tablets. A major reason for Apple's success is the cleanliness of its API and API documentation. iOS API documentation is probably the most user-friendly API documentation in the world. This makes it easy for people to develop apps, which is why Android has such poor apps in comparison - look at the Android SDK and documentation.

    Most of the good things about Apple as we know it now are underlying backend technologies that it acquired from NeXT, e.g. Objective-C, the Cocoa framework.

    Steve Jobs had great management skill, and also the fortune of having great engineers under him (see above about exceptional management skill and respect from your subordinates and co-founders). You see his footprints in the way the entire company is run, even the food choices.

    If you really want to see a company that succeeded out of sheer brilliance of its idea, look at Akamai. Even using such an innovative company as a case study, you realize that execution is still more important than the idea. You didn't need to a sign a NDA if you were approached by their founders with this idea - because it was impossible for anyone to assemble a team of people with the same brilliance of mind to execute it. Any programmer worth half his salt would know that it's nearly impossible to steal Akamai's idea, because of the algorithmic complexity.
  21. Aug 11, 2013 #20
    Reminds me of Simon Sinek's TED talk.
  22. Aug 11, 2013 #21

    jim hardy

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    if one recalls the very early days....
    it seemed no two PC programs used the same f-buttons for similar functions. One program might exit with CtrlX and the next one with F9. This was not so on Apple machines.
    Using a PC was chaos , using an Apple was orderly.

    That's why I say: "Before Microsoft, computers were predictable. You could rely on one to do the same thing twice."
  23. Aug 11, 2013 #22
    Nice signature to go along with this post. ;)
  24. Aug 11, 2013 #23
    Interesting talk, thanks. I must say that I've been OK so far in my startup to simply say what we do is better than our competitors, but our 'marketing' efforts could definitely be better - I guess my advice to the OP would be that YMMV.
  25. Aug 12, 2013 #24
    $3 grand isn't a lot for a start-up, especially if you're going into production -- > just the initial delivery of goods will probably wipe you out ! I would seriously suggest a software start-up, and set it up so that you can get as many feedback as possible. Use those feedback to constant re-tool your programme. Obviously, you would have to set up the programme so that it can be easily changed based on the feedback. That way, you will have a product/service that is actually attuned to what consumers value. Read " The Lean Start-up " .
  26. Aug 12, 2013 #25


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    Apple didn't invent anything. Most of the innovations were done at Xerox Parc.
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