Nick Mudge Ignition Software Consulting & Development

Paul Graham talks about working on a start up in an apartment, or a friend's apartment in the book Founder at Work:

I wouldn't worry so much about seeming like a real company. Now I would just say, keep it a bunch of guys operating out of an apartment for as long as you want, because there's nothing to be ashamed of in that, especially if you're writing great software.

One of the reasons I got my own apartment was so that I had a good place to program undistracted. Well, that works pretty good, but not this weekend because my heater is broken and it's freezing. I can't program in such cold so I had to find another solution. I found another way, nothing special and probably obvious to a lot of people, and it got me thinking about what really is the minimum cost to start a web start up.

I'd say the minimum overhead is having a laptop, maybe a $15-a-month virtual private server, transit to nearby coffee shops, coffee expenses, and some time. That's all you really need.

I've talked to a couple programmers before about starting a web start up and their response made me want to slap them. "We will need to get some funding and locate some office space ..."

Good projects get users and expand on their own steam. The projects that really need a lot of initial funding are the ones that fail.

How much time does it take? I like to think of what Joshua Schachter, who started, said in Founders at Work:

I was always very careful (not anymore, because the guys that I work with are better programmers) to structure the code—each chunk of code wasn't larger than the screen—such that I could come in and look at it, figure out what I'm doing, do it, and be done for the day in 15 minutes. So if I could get one thing done a day, I was happy. A lot of stuff, if I could spend more time, I did, but as long as I could get one or two things done a week total, if I didn't have time, I didn't have time. So it moved pretty slowly. I worked on it for years.


Rudolf Olah
24 November 2007

You're forgetting about rent and food. But I mean, if you can live off of coffee and in a box, that's fine too :P
Nick Mudge
24 November 2007

I was thinking of rent and food as living expenses, not start up expenses. But I guess they could be start up expenses, especially if someone quit their day job.
24 November 2007

The key is to work part-time a few days a week so you can pay the rent on your really cheap apartment, hosting, and internet access.

Buy those big bags of flour so you can survive on mostly pancakes, pop corn, and for your protein it's all about the egg sandwiches.

I'm thinking you're not all that serious about this when I hear you're spending money on expensive coffee shop coffee. Go to the grocery store and spend $1.99 on that really cheap stuff.

Not to mention working at a coffee shop can be distracting with the occasional friends stopping by, and all those distracting members of the opposite sex.

ghetto and dedicated focus is the key!

oh... and if you're really smart you'll find a cheap apartment beside that coffee shop that has free wireless.
Joshua Volz
24 November 2007

I cannot emphasize enough that the spirit of this post is the key. Concentrating on starting small and not spending a lot of money is a good way to stretch the money that you do have until you have some success with your users (and presumably earn some money). Don't wait for when you have two house payments, a car payment and student loans.
Larry Clapp
24 November 2007

Like the post, and agree with the sentiment. But, please, it's "Founders at Work", without the apostrophe. You did it *twice*.
Nick Mudge
24 November 2007

Thanks, fixed.
Diego Alban
25 November 2007

$15 for a vps?! Where? That's a great deal if the host has some good, steady uptime.
25 November 2007

Don't sweat it Nick. I am in the process of cycling from W2 consulting to 1099 work. It's my way of keeping a ~part-time~ job while still working towards my goal of opening my own shop.

Software development is one of those rare industries where a good idea driven by a passionate leader seldom needs tons of cash to get off the ground.

I would however add the cost of one good suit to your expenses. Can't meet the client in jeans and a T.
Nick Mudge
25 November 2007

It's been pretty good so far:
25 November 2007

I worked for a start up and we didn't have an office and because the three of us lived in different towns we all worked from home, individually.

I found it really hard to code in this environment especially as much of the time I needed the input of the other guys.

But, when we did all get together - in my mate's dining room - things worked out really well. We just didn't meet up enough.
Krzysztof Grajek
25 November 2007

Nick! I hope you are right! ;)
MIchael Langford
25 November 2007

You can get a VPS for $10 a month or $100 a year at

They're very dependable, surprisingly so actually. A little hard to reach on the phone's voicemail only. Good enough to get started.

(I'm not at all affiliated...just a user who appreciates how cheap they are).

It's debian linux when you get it, but if you change your sources.list file and do a dist upgrade, you can have the latest ubuntu in a couple hours.

Shanti Braford
25 November 2007

The sentiment is great, indeed!

What I've found hard before about transitioning from W2 to contract work was having the focus to work on 1) your part-time contract stuff, 2) the startup and 3) balancing that with a social life / etc.

Right now if I get my bills low enough the goal is to be an expat startup creator; live inexpensively abroad and only need $1-2k per month to live off of to start startups.

If a $10 VPS works for you, great. Dropping an extra $50 or so for a beefier box has always been worth it to me. Then once you're at least making several hundred to a few k you can afford real servers and it's no biggie anymore =)
26 November 2007

I've tried programming at many coffee shops, libraries, beaches, trains, and planes, with dozens of laptops and pdas, and i've concluded that they are the worst places for concentrating on a little screen. Building and inventing is for the secluded workshop, and the most you'll want to do in the field is converse, contemplate, and maybe administrate with tools you've prepared beforehand. If you don't know your stuff it will be even harder, as you will be flipping screens between the editor, database, web server, and Google search results. It is possible to be Captain Kirk and build a firearm from scratch while "on the run", but it will never be a good one.
Nick Mudge
26 November 2007

I have a 17 inch laptop and I'm comfortable programming on it. I've been really productive programming at coffee shops. I want to try it at a library and other places.
Trey Mudge
1 December 2007


I liked the article a lot!

8 December 2007

I agree Nic!

Organic growth is a logical approach on any business
that doesn't have any customers. Until a service/business/app has proven metrics money doesn't help much.
21 June 2014

I agree, working at a coffee house is much better anyways. I get a ton of work done there.
Nick Mudge
21 June 2014

Hi Mike,
I can get a tone of work done at a coffee house too!

Name: (required)
Email: (required)
What has four legs, rhymes with bat and says, "Meow?" (One word answer.)
Spam Filter: