Didn't finish grade 12, currently unemployed, but have a great idea for a startup: Where to start?


I think I have an awesome idea for a web startup, but I'm not sure if I have a chance because I'm not a web developer, am currently unemployed, and can't afford to hire anyone to develop my idea (I could ask my dad to help, but I dislike nagging him for money). Should I try to get funding (in my own country or the US)? Wait and save (but what if someone does my idea before me)? What else should I do?


asked Oct 15 '09 at 06:29
Inter Mike
46 points
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  • EDIT: I have put some work into this idea, I just didn't "think it up last night" or something. I've researched the potential market, the niche, simplified down the features, done mockups on Photoshop, etc. Oh, and I do have a web DESIGNER lined up (actually a relative, who's been doing it for years), I just don't have a web developer, and that's where I'm a little stuck as to where to go/what to do on the web development part: Wait and learn it, or act now and hire someone, etc.? PS: Thank you all for all the great answers! I love this site :D – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • Read [this case study](http://groups.google.com/group/lean-startup-circle/browse_thread/thread/90c344816e4f1cd6). You can get whatever you want if you ask in the right way. – Joseph Turian 15 years ago
  • There's too much fluff here, I'm not going to add another answer. Simply put: attend social gatherings for entrepreneurs (check meetup.com for events in your area). Talk to people about your idea. If your idea has water and you have the wherewithal to convey your idea effectively, you will attract people to help you implement your idea. You don't need to be the hammer for every nail, you must simply know who to give what hammer. That you never did this or that only matters if you're an idiot. Don't get defensive, it's just a fact of life. – Sold Out Activist 13 years ago

16 Answers


  1. Funding is not an option. As you noticed, your pedigree is not impressive.
  2. Doing it yourself is the option. Learning web design is not that complicated. At least it's worth spending a couple of weekends to give it a try. Aim for a simple prototype or mockup of what you have in mind.

My advice: do something, it will create value. Don't spend time pitching, spend time doing stuff. If you really believe in your idea, start talking to all the geeks you know. If you can convince one of them to spend some time to write some code, you win.

Don't worry about someone else stealing your idea. People copy successes, not ideas. Today, you are the only one who thinks that your idea has merit. That's ok, you'll prove everyone wrong, but do something.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 06:43
Alain Raynaud
10,927 points
  • What do you mean by "do something"? Don't spend time pitching, try to get my idea some traction: talk with developers, etc.; and finish grade 12, of course? – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • It takes about 5 minutes to dream a "great idea". Is it really that good? The idea is worth nothing until it gets implemented. So start doing a mockup of what the product would look like. Share it with smart people. Iterate. Those are examples of the things you can do. It takes work, but you will make progress. – Alain Raynaud 15 years ago
  • Please read my edit to my original question :) And it really is that good...I'm serious. So, once I've done the things that I could do, where should I go from there? Hire a web developer, or wait and learn, or...? – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • "Don't worry about someone else stealing your idea." great line, loved that. – The Dictator 15 years ago
  • What makes an idea great? Customers. Lots and lots of customers. – Mike 13 years ago


I don't have enough rep to upvote & comment Alain's answer or comment Alex's answer, so I'll create a new answer.

I'd skip the high school and university and spend all your time acquiring the skill to develop it yourself. This will take months and your first attempt will totally suck, but once you start making progress, others will help you, possibly even partner up with you. Once the site goes live, it should become even easier to find the help you need if the site shows any promise at all.

And the best part of this evil plan is the downside. That's right ... the downside is that even if your site falls flat on it's face, you will have acquired a high demand skillset which will help you earn more money or build your next great idea (trust me, you'll have many).

Good luck.

EDIT: My comment about skipping high school and university is only in relation to implementing the idea ASAP. Targeted education is the best investment a person can make. If you are in your teens or early 20s, finishing school is definitely something you should consider. You can become successful without formal education (although you'll still need to acquire it informally), but you will encounter more resistance throughout your life than you would with it.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 07:32
John Mac Intyre
1,086 points
  • +1 agree completely. – James Avery 15 years ago
  • upvoted you since you complement my advice and I agree with you. – Alain Raynaud 15 years ago
  • "So I didn't finish grade 12, or go to university, but I did build this *awesome* site that... failed. Hire me please?" – Alex Papadimoulis 15 years ago
  • @Alex Papadimoulis-For a technical role, employers don't care if your business failed. They just care if you can code or not (if he were to go down that road). And besides, launching a business and failing is an experience that most developers don't have, most never take the risk. – John Mac Intyre 15 years ago
  • @Alain Raynaud-Thanks, normally I'd have just left a comment, but I don't have the rep yet. Still don't ... I thought it was 15. no worries though. – John Mac Intyre 15 years ago
  • Okay, I completely agree with you, as well, thank you. What would the best/easiest/etc. way of learning web development - self-taught or via university, though? @Alex Papdimoulis - That's not very nice lol. – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • @John - they care if you can *develop software*, which is much harder than writing code... and I'm not quite sure how many would consider a single, learn-as-you-go website to be solid software dev exp. I agree on the business in general... but I don't think "a kid throwing together a website after dropping out of school" counts as bona fide business experience. – Alex Papadimoulis 15 years ago
  • @Alex Papadimoulis-I've edited my answer to clarify the education part of my answer. Also I'm assuming his idea has a little more to it than 'throwing together a website' and I'm not saying he will have *awesome* experience but he will be in a way better position than he's in now. He will have shown initiative, and if he runs it like a business I think it will help. Running a business will at the very least give him a deeper understanding of what he must do to become a more valuable employee. – John Mac Intyre 15 years ago
  • It also helps to know how difficult it can be to make a dollar when you venture into the real world. – Mike 13 years ago


Finish grade 12, go to university, learn web development, and then get a job in the field. If, while you're doing all that, you happen to find the time/resources/energy/know-how to do your start-up, then give it a shot on the side.

It's a long path, but getting there is not easy unless you get really lucky. And if your banking on your good luck, then go buy a lottery ticket.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 06:49
Alex Papadimoulis
5,901 points
  • So you're saying that I should leave my idea alone, until I get my grade 12, then university, learned web developing, and got a job in the field? All that will take like 4+ years, and someone probably would have already beat me to my idea. Also, I forgot to mention, that I've been out of school... so there's a chance that I may not be able to get into a university. – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • As painful as it may be to hear, your idea is worthless. I'd consider giving you $0.01 for it, but since I've got far more ideas now than time/skills/money, I'll just keep my penny. But remember: with no money and no skills, you've got absolutely nothing. If, after 5+ years, someone does beat you to it... then consider yourself fortunate: you were able to come up with a good idea! If not, it probably wasn't a very good idea. Either way, once you get some education and experience, you'll be able to come up with a whole lot more. – Alex Papadimoulis 15 years ago
  • I agree: my idea is worthless unless I can execute it. What if I only had the money? Couldn't I just hire a developer, saving the me the need to it? I do understand that it would be better if I know how to develop it, though. I also agree with you, that if no one else came up with the same idea, then it probably wasn't a very good idea then, because it'd mean that no one is probably looking for it or the the problem that would require my idea as the solution doesn't exist. – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • Money generally solves a whole lot of problems, and I'm sure throwing in $10K or $100K would put a good dent in implementing your idea. If you can find someone to give you that money, more power to you... but people with that kinda cash generally want to put it into a sound investment, and you don't yet have the credentials to be that. – Alex Papadimoulis 15 years ago
  • Quite true, as they probably wouldn't have much confidence in me. – Inter Mike 15 years ago


  1. Forget about your education at this point -- don't let it be an excuse for inaction
  2. Validate your idea by telling others about it- if its good you'll know
  3. Find good partners who can do the stuff you can't. (Always surround your self with people who are smarter than you.)
answered Oct 15 '09 at 23:35
649 points
  • I believe I read online somewhere that this is why Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) does, and is why he hasn't stepped down from CEO: he surrounds himself with awesomely talented people that help him and guide him. But he's also a programmer though. Suppose I could find a partner and implement my idea and learn/have them teach me PHP at the same time - if there were time. – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • @ #2 - How would I go about this without giving away my idea, or just the basics? I don't' want anyone stealing my idea :S I do have a non-disclosure agreement, but I that's not going to help with casually asking people and getting feedback about it. – Inter Mike 15 years ago


Check out The Art of the Start. It's a very quick read and to the point. You need to find people who can help implement your vision and get them so excited that they are willing to work for equity. Spend your time talking to customers, refining your vision, and course correcting the implementation. You don't have to be the technical genius, but you do have to be a leader.

answered Oct 17 '09 at 13:44
141 points
  • +1 I've met and pitched Guy. His main question is, "Why would I use your product in my daily life?" If your idea can answer that question, you're farther ahead than most people invading the venture capital world. – Sold Out Activist 13 years ago


Now you just need to "Execute" your idea. To do that, just as everyone else already said, learn what you need to learn, get experience and forget about pitching, an idea is worth zero dollars unless you can demonstrate your ability to execute it, and even then is not that easy.

Good luck!

answered Oct 15 '09 at 06:54
4,815 points


Just start learning and doing. Earn enough money to get by and spend a crazy amount of time learning the skills you need to execute.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 07:54
Jordan Muela
21 points
  • How long about does it take get learn PHP.. or at least get a real good grasp of it? – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • It depends on whether you have any programming experience at all, you desire and ability to learn. You can start building stuff in a month or two, but it will suck. But as Guy Kawasaki put it: "Don't worry, be crappy!". – Slav Ivanov 15 years ago


There are some incredible examples of business owners that didn't finish high school, but went on to have incredible careers. I remember interviewing the founder of a dial-up Internet provider (he founded a company called Interlog) who quit high school, founded the company in his parent's home and eventually sold for millions. When he exited his company was one of the top 2 ISPs in the Toronto area.

Yes, he was a high school drop-out. At the same time, nothing was going to stop him from doing what needed to be done to make his vision / idea work.

If you felt this incredible, overpowering drive to put your talent to work right now, then you might not be asking - you'd be doing already.

Like others have said, ideas are worth very little - I've discarded hundreds of ideas.

So having (or thinking you have) a great idea is sadly not something to get too excited about. Having true skills and having the vision of how you can use them effectively, now that is something. You can get the skills in many ways, but unless you are ready to be your own boss and build your own career, employers are going to want to see a high school diploma as a very bare minimum.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 12:44
Julie King
871 points
  • I know my idea is a great idea! :) Put my talents to work? What talents do you mean? Web development? That's the only thing I don't know how to do. And I have been "doing" already: I've contacted a half-dozen or so web developers about my idea already, and I've been working on this idea for almost 2 years now: finding out the potential market, simplifying things, doing mockups in Photoshop, etc., etc. – Inter Mike 15 years ago
  • So, I don't just think I have some random "awesome" idea, I have put some work into it already. Oh, and I do have a web DESIGNER lined up (actually a relative, who's been doing it for years), I just don't have a web developer, and that's where I'm a little stuck as to where to go/what to do. I should update my question with this info. – Inter Mike 15 years ago


CONFIDENTIALITY-NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT. Having those persons, to whom you will disclose your idea sign a Confidentiality - Non-Disclosure Agreement is the least you can do to reduce the risk of others taking and running with your idea. Remember to have them sign it before you disclose. It is much more difficult to get them to sign and to enforce if signed after disclosure. The Agreement will not provide absolute protection, however, it is often good at detering others from acting in bad faith.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 02:02
  • I do have a non-disclosure agreement, but I that's not going to help with casually asking people and getting feedback about it, however. – Inter Mike 15 years ago


Get a job and work on your idea in our spare time. Ideas have little value in the absence of execution.

answered Oct 18 '09 at 14:34
379 points


If you're not going down the track of learning how to implement it yourself, go down the other track. Learning the skill set and track history that investors are looking for. Shouldn't take you more than.... say, 10 years.

That being said, development of rather complex site ideas can take a long, long time and the learning curve can be rather steep.

If the idea is rather simple in its execution and should not take too long, you need to ask, "Why hasn't this idea been done already?" Sometimes it is because you think differently that that is good.

Anyway... Here is my advice. Continue doing high school and learn how to develop your idea at the same time. A really great idea is something that motivates YOU to put more work, time and effort into your idea that others think is unreasonable. Something that keeps you up at night and wakes you up early in the morning. Something that motivates you to skip going out with your friends, stop watching TV and work on your idea.

If your idea gains traction (as in, becomes a half decent business) then consider whether you should leave school/college/job. Not until that point. If you have a bunch of cash in your bank account (or a revenue stream already) then you can adjust that.

Here is also a couple of my tests to whether the idea is great:

1). Is it something that people really want?
2). If they don't know they want it, how are you going to educate potential customers that they really want it? (This needs to be answered for radically new ideas)
3). How is the idea going to make money?
4). No, really, how is it going to make money?
5). Ok, really. Prove it will make money. Show me something that has made money like this!

Yes I put in 3 lines about how it will make money. It's really that important. Imagine asking an investor for money and they ask "How will it make money?" and you don't know how your great idea will do it. Of course there are also questions about how I will sell the product/service, how much can/should I buy it for, potential market share are also important, but not as important as those first 5.

No one is going to champion your idea. You have to do it.

answered Sep 1 '11 at 08:29
310 points


Try to convince anyone that it's a great idea. You might be the only one who believes so. If you failed to find other people who believe that it's great, get a real job and move on with your life.

answered Oct 16 '09 at 07:53
Yakov Fain
221 points


launch fast, iterate and get to ramen profitability then decide what you want to do when you reach that milestone http://www.paulgraham.com/ramenprofitable.html as an inspiration http://popupchinese.com is a 1-man startup based in Beijing (the founder is Canadian)

answered Oct 19 '09 at 12:13
164 points


Might I suggest reading Growing a Business by Paul Hawken?

He has the quite good theory that the first effort at any particular area, be it sales, marketing, design, etc should be yours. It might not work, but at least you'll have the knowledge to find the right person for the job.

answered Oct 20 '09 at 13:36
Steve French
621 points


Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, others don't have college degree's. So you do not need one too.

But won't hurt going to school a little more before you totally drop out part-time and work on your startup part-time. Make sure you can learn what it takes to do the startup. Can you learn programming, marketing, outsourcing, social marketing (Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Myspace all are free and you should use). Get started on your ideas, write it down, write down goals. See what can be a reality. All dreams are possible, need to take some action and see how it goes.

answered Oct 15 '09 at 07:35
106 points
  • It is true that none of them had college degrees, however, all of them started doing what they were good at it... programming and engineering... they didn't just start with an idea, correct? – Ricardo 15 years ago
  • I think Bill now has a degree from Harvard. It should also be noted that Bill came from a rather well off family and he still struggled somewhat. Where do you think he would be if he didn't have that $50k to buy DOS? – Mike 13 years ago


Wow, some of you guys are brutal. Mike, I don't know how to do every piece of my business, but I make sure I surround myself with people who do. If your idea is that great, and I have no idea if it is, you need to find people to buy-in to your idea. If you have no money, maybe you can partner with someone who has the skills you need.

If you feel like your nagging your dad for money, do you really believe in it? If you are that passionate about it then at least share the idea with him. You never know. Most start up business are initially funded by the "3 F's"; Friends, Family and Fools (Shout out and credit to Professor Ed Marram at Babson College).

Good luck,


answered Oct 15 '09 at 13:47
Shawn Flanagan
151 points
  • They do sound a little brutal don't they lol. I was also thinking about partnering, or finding that co-founder/developer to fill in the skill that I don't have. I do believe my dad is a good source of startup money to help out for things... I probably will ask him for help when the time comes. – Inter Mike 15 years ago

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