Skunkworks > Startup?

Over the last few years I've been working on a number of projects that I've hoped could generate enough interest to warrant founding a new business venture, hiring some smart people, and earning a decent income for everyone involved. While some projects have been more successful than others, none have really caught on in any fashion. The two I'm most passionate about — 10Centuries and Green LMS1 — seem to have very little traction anywhere. This could be due to the terrible names. This could be due to the terrible marketing. This could be due to something I'm simply not aware of. That said, what I do know is that I can't really expand on Green LMS anymore without potentially risking my position at the day job, as that project is literally an earlier version of the current project I'm working on for the employer.

All in all, I really feel that Green LMS can have a very positive future given the resources and energy. Schools around the country and all over the world could tap into the various functions that make the system nice — such as the integrated blogging, scheduling, homework submission, and lesson history views — and focus more on the people acquiring skills than the systems they currently use, which either look like something from the late 90s or are completely built on custom Excel files that have evolved over the years. What I'd really like is a block of time to really polish the product, make it available, generate awareness, earn customers, and begin the next phase of the project's development. But how can this be done without upsetting the people who pay my salary?

The term "skunkworks" often refers to a department of a company or institution, typically smaller than and independent of the main divisions. The name was originally given to a team of smart people at Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects Division during World War II. Since that time, companies around the world have borrowed this technique to give some of their best people the freedom and space needed to solve the next set of problems facing the organization. Could I pitch something like this to the powers that be and successfully acquire the talent and financial backing required to take the LMS to the next level?

This is something that I've been seriously considering for some time. I've been researching the competition, speaking to potential customers, considering layouts, and planing how it would go from being a cost centre at the day job to breaking even. As one would expect, a number of hurdles would stand in the way of the project's acceptance, but this doesn't seem to be an impossible request given the proven track record for the existing project. Senior managers are not so easily convinced, though. If they were to approve the creation of a small team that operates outside the existing structure of the organization — something that's almost unheard of in Japan — then there would need to be a huge payout at the end.

But what would that payout be?

  1. a lesson management system for independent schools