Open Source Entrepreneurship: How to survive while starting a FOSS web app project?

Today I had an idea about a pretty big web publishing / content aggregation platform that I’d like to get started on as a FOSS project. This post isn’t really about that idea – I’ll share that later when the time is right – but more about my own uncertainty of the right way to proceed with a rather large undertaking at this point in my life. There are quite a few unknowns in my mind:

  • My age / career situation: I am a year away from graduating from college. I think a project of this scale would demand a lot of attention, but also has high potential for success in both terms of adoption and related commercial opportunities. I know of plenty of very successful young programmers who dropped out of college once the success of their product made formal education unnecessary for them: Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg and Mullenweg are all great examples. Now I’m not in a rush to drop out of school – I wouldn’t even consider it unless the project had such momentum that it was obviously justifiable.
    What I’m more worried about is what I could do after graduation. I should be thinking about what career moves are wise at that point. That might mean full-time tech work, it might not. I think that especially at first, this project would require a lot of attention without lots of financial backing. I might be able to manage it at the same time as a part time job, 20 to 30 hours a week. And that’s assuming I don’t end up at a job that has weird IP policies that say they have a right to all of my code. Ideally, I’d like to find a way to fund the development of this OSS product so that I could see it turn from idea into reality while still being able to do things like have health insurance and decent food and beer 😀
  • How to go about development: At this point, the project only exists as a few ideas floating around my head. My business classes have taught me enough to know that others probably have pretty similar ideas, and since this product would be something open source and available to all, I’m more interested in having it done right than I am in being first to market or whatever. As a total newcomer to open source web applications, and as a fairly unskilled programmer, I’m not sure about the best way ahead. I have the potential to learn a lot more of the technical backend and do a lot of the initial work myself, but it might be a better strategy to bring other people on pretty early and just provide input as an “idea man”.
  • How to pace myself and avoid scope creep: My idea starts out with some very big-picture concepts about current developments in content publishing and media consumption, and gets more detailed with some ways that I could implement my new system. In other words, I have a large vision for where this could go, how it would open content publication and facilitate media consumption for many people, and of related commercial opportunities that would be created. Organizing that vision into smaller action items and not biting off more than I can chew will be the hard parts.

So in short, I’m really excited to get into working on this project, but need to figure out how to do it without shooting my own wellbeing in the foot. I know it’s possible, I just need to find some more of the answers first.