What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.
So, you've got yourself an idea? And it so happens that it includes launching your own community site, right?
Well, you've come to the right guy. :)
Community Software 101
In 2016 (almost 2017 now) we still don't have flying cars, but we do have plenty of ways to create "your own online community".
Single-click services that let you launch a vanilla site, hosted by the software provider. Some will let you use your own domain and customise things a bit. We shall call them Community SaaS.
Off-the-shelf community software platforms, typically open-source, self-hosted or managed, with various templates, plugins and integrations. They'd be Community Scripts.
And you always have the option to use a general web-development framework and make your own software. Let's name this idea a DIY Community Software.
Community Software as a Service
Whether you'd go for something as simple as Facebook Groups or more exotic like Muut or overpriced like Hoop.la, the idea is the same - it's easy to start, easy to maintain, but...
Multi-tenanted servers and one-solution-fits-all approach will alway mean that you can't fully customise the site. So, you can't build a unique experience.
Often you don't own and can't export your site data, profiles and social graphs.
Monetization is either not available or limited.
You can't sell the site in the future, due to all of the limits.
You're at mercy of some other business and people behind it.
On the other hand...
It's often cheaper to start.
Bugs happen less often.
You get more sleep.
Another popular option is a downloadable web-platform that you host on your own web-server. These come in all shapes - free, paid, freemium, open-source, PHP, ASP, Perl, modular, shitty, cool, buggy, reliable, simple, powerful, you name it. So, experiences vary. Our Dolphin software is one of the most popular "all-in-one" community platforms along with Socialengine, Buddypress and Elgg. Some caveats...
There is always a learning curve. You'll need to spend a few months with the platform to "get it".
Support can be limited. Your money will likely define a lot, but not so much if you just pay everything upfront.
Staying on top of version updates is very important for security. This may hinder your customisation freedom somewhat.
Most community scripts can't handle large-scale networks, don't support external storage, won't work on clustered server setups and have bloated UI (because demo looks more convincing that way).
If you choose the right script, keep it close to stock setup, update regularly, pay monthly support fee and deal with reputable integration vendors, you may well have a working niche community site.
Playing with downloadable scripts is a great way to learn everything works.
You can make the site look like it's working well enough to impress early stage investors.
If it gains traction you would have freedom of choice - rebuild, improve, migrate, sell, keep growing. You're in control.
If you don't do binge-shopping for extra plugins the cost can be close to a SaaS solution, or even less.
Do It Yourself (aka "break the piggy")
If your nephew knows a bit of PHP you might think that DIY route is an option. Well, it is, but if you want to build anything that would be better than an off-the-shelf script, be prepared to pay and sweat. A lot.
Budget around $2m for development. You'd need a Project Manager, Software Engineer, a few coders, testers, editor, UX designer and support techs.
At least 1 year before MVP and another year before the site is stable.
Things will go wrong.
Ideas and priorities will change.
By the time you're ready to launch a few similar sites based on cheap scripts will come up and cloud your go-to-market strategy.
Not fun, but...
You would have a purpose-built software and massive body of experience and knowledge.
You can spend another $2m + 2 years to "upgrade" your software to a platform and start selling it. Join the club.