Bunsen Burner Fund

Re-posted comment I wrote on this post by Daniel.


The obvious answer, and what the people I see talking about a lifestyle biz the most often (37 Signals) would be to do it with your own money, that you don’t need investment money to build something.

The more interesting answer of course is that for people who don’t always have the resources to work on something for free for a while and/or who can’t do the whole thing themselves and possibly don’t have the partners, there seems to be a space for something new.

It reminds me something Hugh and I have spoken of a number of times, some kind of structure where it’s possible to find “free” or cheap help on small projects where people are able to devote work hours they are payed for in more than potential small shares of something that probably won’t make that much money.

A 100K of money available for cool projects, where you can simply (as in quick proposal / process) get under 10K or even under 5K to supplement the building of something would help launch A LOT of things which currently linger in the “a few hours at night when I have the time” zone for months or years.

The Saje Montréal has the STA program where you can get 11K (one year at minimum salary) to basically start something that helps you create your own job. You fill in a project form, it goes through a “filter” of acceptation, then you present to 2-3-4 people, they say yay or nay and bam, the money starts coming (ok, you have to follow classes too).

This “fund” would hand out money to either build something that benefits the general “webtech ecosystem”, locally or internationnaly, and/or helps someone create their job / lifestyle company. In the first type, Hugh could have gotten cash for Librivox, we might have gotten something for Station C (although we’re probably too meat space based for this), Heri could get something for his new version of MTW. In the second type, things like Timmy on time or … all the things we are discussing and haven’t completed yet could get a kick start.

The angle wouldn’t be to make money or even to have it returned, it would be to act as a bunsen burner to heat up our local petry dish. The people deciding wouldn’t be bureaucrats but rather people who get it and could even redirect some projects towards angel funds if the projects looks like it can be something big money wise (and would kick out people trying to get a free website out of it). A kind of STA for internet stuff.

Programmers, designers, UX people, etc. could associate with the fund and offer a preferential rate for projects funded that way, to make the 5 or 10K go further. Some kind of monthly meetup / Camp could be setup so everyone can support each other with something similar to the help Y Combinator gives it’s fundees.

Considering the millions spent on Capazoo and some other dubious investments, 100-150K specifically meant to foster small scale innovation that nourishes the whole field sounds like a good investment to me, if you don’t only invest in money return.

[Update] I cover other things and keep going and going in my comments.

Image found on Wikipedia


hugh June 16, 2008

count me in!

Daniel Haran June 16, 2008

I love it. Given how much money there is for SR&ED credits, I’d think that peer-reviewed projects that benefit the local tech community should be a no-brainer.

There is a disconnect I have to mention. You mention “all the things we are discussing”. Yet I’ve recently heard a VC complaining about the lack of ideas here in Montreal. Weird, huh?

Patrick June 17, 2008

“all the things we are discussing”
Well for one thing I don’t discuss my ideas much with VCs, knowing that pretty much all of them are either lifestyle or very much “hum, I wonder what that would do?” ideas. It’s outside of what I’m talking about here but from what I heard a lot of money people in Canada are also very gun shy, don’t take much risk. Pass any idea through the “must make shit loads of money” and the “sure thing” filters and they might be correct, not that many ideas. VCs usually have a narrow focus and just because they don’t know about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist ;)

I have two projects with Hugh which are ongoing and would benefit greatly from such a program. I have at least 3 other ideas I want to flesh out which would fit.

Michael Lenczner and I proposed something for a Knight Foundation grant, which we didn’t get but could also get started with a slice of money from the program.

My Station C partner Dan has 2-3 ideas, so does our friend LJ. So does Antoine.

I know, I know, “just get it going and stop talking about it” and “everyone has ideas”, the secret of course, is in the execution and that’s one goal of this Burner idea, make it easier to get shit started.

Gross generalization but close enough : programmers have ideas, put them into motion and don’t finish them because they don’t finalize something web facing or they do but it’s barely usable.

Designers and thinkers have ideas but can’t implement them. Very few people can cover the whole stack of needs of a web application. Sure some of those things can be built with OSS and pieced together by one person who digs enough but not always.

When you throw the two groups together (i.e. find a partner or two) they can get things done but try to have 3 or 4 people with time enough to synchronize on something around paying gigs: not easy. My thinking is that throwing just a smallish slice of payed time in there would make a whole lot of difference.

James Golick June 17, 2008

Let me start by saying that these ideas run along the lines of something I’ve been thinking about and discussing for some time now.

People who are capable of producing products can get the job done for short money. Large capital investments as seeds for startups are (should be) obsolete.

But, there are two major problems with tiny seed investments.

Firstly, you talk a lot about ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can come up with ideas, but not everybody can execute. Hence, so many of the startup failures. That said, it doesn’t mean that some of those people shouldn’t be given a shot.

But, I think when we look at teams, we should stop judging them on the merit of their idea. I don’t care if Bob from Station C has 2-30 ideas. I care that he has successfully executed 2-3 projects in the past (whether the biz succeeded or not).

Secondly, if it would take 10k to get to launch time, then the 10k probably isn’t enough. The much overlooked time post-launch is (often) when startups get difficult, and require the most time, and effort. So, I think it’s important to recognize that time as being nearly as important as the time it takes to get there.

Those issues out of the way, it’s a brilliant idea. It’s something that I definitely think we should pursue as a community, and that I would love to be involved in. GiraffeSoft (my company) would probably be able to make an initial contribution. We are fortunate enough, currently, to be able to fund our own internal projects. It would be great to assist others who aren’t in that position.

Patrick June 17, 2008

I agree with everything you say.

_But_, and I know it might just look like semantics, but to me this is not about “startups”. Startups are early stage companies aiming to get financing at some point, who are building a company that will grow, will flip or IPO at some point, etc.

Here we are talking about either projects that could or could not end up as anything but “should” be tried and something that helps one or two people make a living.

I’m talking about something like 37 Signals, Ranchero Software (NetNewsWire), IconFactory (Twitterific), Delicious Monster (Delicious Library), etc. Not about Praized, Stand Out Jobs, Akoha or Y Combinator companies.

All valid points though.

James Golick June 17, 2008

Yeah, totally agreed.

When I said ‘startup’, I meant lifestyle business.

Sylvain Carle June 17, 2008

Just to add to the discussion, I really see this as a spectrum of possible, from tiny part time projects to larger scale (à la Praized) startups. This is a continuous sliding scale and an healthy business ecosystem benefits from all the different life forms it hosts.

Having lifestyle/consulting gigs is exactly how we bootstrapped Praized for a year before getting some funding for a more formalized project. Without a healthy ecosystem we would have not been able to “play” with our idea for a year, define it, structure it and explore what it meant.

And I see myself doing that process many, many times for the next 20-30 years… With that perspective in mind, I’m all for supporting, nurturing and developing a strong local economy based on values I can support wholeheartedly with a sustainable and renewable focus (even if that word has been a bit abused recently, I still think it’s the right one).

In the same theme, it seems the real breakthru might be in the better redistribution/reuse (recycling?) of skills and know-how, with common goals and objectives both on a personal and collective levels.

This might be a long winded way to put it, but I’m ready to contribute to this vision, I think we need to articulate a bit more on “howto”, there seems to be an agreement on the “why”!

Mike Deutsch June 26, 2008


Joining this thread late, but the “lifestyle” biz thing is an inspiring idea. Great to see that a conversation like this is happening. If you haven’t seen it, David Heinemeier Hanssen gave a good talk about this a few months ago: http://www.justin.tv/hackertv/97862/DHH_Talk__Startup_School_2008

See you at Montreal Python (tonight) or elsewhere and talk more…

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