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Ask HN: I really want to start a startup but I don't know what to do.
42 points by hungry_hungry on June 26, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments
I need some advice:

I really want to start a startup but I don't know what to do.

I worked at friend's startup for over a year but it wasn't my startup, and it wasn't my dream. I feel I'm capable of learning or using any technology I might need - that's not my barrier.

My barrier is that I'm just not exactly sure what I would do. Sometimes the options seem so numerous that it's overwhelming. I have many interests which makes it hard to narrow my focus.

Ideally, I will be building a product or service that I can charge for, e.g. not an ad-based service.

Any ideas on how I can overcome this hump?

Thanks, ~Henry

What in your life would you pay for, that does not exist?

What do you know others will pay for, that does not exist?

What is your unique intersection of talents, interests and experiences, that might allow you to find a new angle on something?

Don't start with the idea of "a startup". Look for a way you can make life sufficiently better for a sufficient number of people/companies with sufficient ability and willingness to pay. The startup is the vehicle by which you trade your solution for money.

"What in your life would you pay for, that does not exist?"

Oh, hells no. Geeks should NOT do this. We have enough dating sites and bug trackers already, even if none exist with their ideal feature set.

What do you know others will pay for, that does not exist?

This is especially important. Don't just try to solve an arbitrary 'problem', think about people that you're around often, what they do, what they complain about. These will be your first testers / potential customers, and you'll need them to keep you working towards solving something that actually needs to be solved.

I agree that the idea is secondary, as it usually changes. I'd really recommend you read Paul Graham's essay to understand his arguments that ideas are secondary, that co-founders matter a lot, and why you should/ should not start a startup.

As a getting started, you may found useful the summary I've crafted a while ago: http://metaphysicaldeveloper.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/scrapb...

After delving into these ideas, choosing the actual idea to pursue, I found that using swot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis) analysis can be useful. Several questions from the application for YC are also useful (and can be categorized into Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) for fine graining: http://files.dropbox.com/u/2/app.html. Note that this application form is old, but the questions are still relevant.

This is part of what holds me back. I have a lot of ideas for startups but I'm not sure that some/any of them will be revenue-generating.

Maybe a better starting point for me is to post some of the ideas and see what kinds of responses those get.

However, picking a project that will generate money does not necessarily mesh with making the project that is most interesting to me, which adds to my confusion.


It is entirely sensible not to go ahead with a startup if you're not sure about whether and how it would be a successful business. You'll never know for sure, but it makes sense to have a good idea of whether you have a market, for example, before putting in all the work of building the thing.

Putting out your ideas and getting responses is a good way to start. Start an ASK HN post, explain what you're doing, and put each idea as its own reply to your post. Then people can reply to each idea separately, and you'll get a conversation on that.

Remember: the idea itself isn't always fascinating to hear. Basecamp - project management for teams; Posterous - simple blogging. And so on. So don't worry if your ideas get an "It's been done" response. What matters is whether there is room in the market for you, for your price point, for your feature set, for your marketing strategy, and so on.

A project that you never start is guaranteed to not be revenue-generating.

couldn't have said it better myself

I'm a big fan of throwing things against the wall until something sticks. Success is not about having THE great idea; it's about being persistent and determined. Don't think too much about HOW to start, just START! Then never give up, and success will come (probably sooner rather than later).

I am also a huge fan of this. Even if you don't have the big hit, you have a good chance of stumbling across something decent that can sustain you while you search for the big hit. The problem with this technique is I never know where to draw the line between "wasting your time" and "staying determined".

Since freshman year of college, this is what I did too. I had tons of ideas and off the top of my head, at least 6 of them made it into the construction stage. The score: 4 busts, 1 nice acquisition, and 1 evolved into a business I'm currently working on. Aim for success, but don't be discouraged by failureĀ if you learn from it. Also, market response to your ideas is 100% unpredictable. Users/customers vote with their attention and wallets and not with their words of encouragement/discouragement. Don't run your idea past anyone... just do it. One of my bigger failures was the one most congratulated by peers and one of my bigger successes was mocked before it became a cultural phenomenon. Good luck and have fun!

I agree. If I was starting from scratch at this point, this is what I'd do: launch a new product every month. Don't worry too much about whether it really is The One, just get it out and focus on getting feedback/users/etc. It's likely that within a year, something will stick enough to deserve further attention. Meanwhile, you'll amass gargantuan amounts of experience.

This is interesting. Thanks for the suggestion. It seems like this could be inefficient in the short term but perhaps the best way to get things rolling. ~Henry

Here are some suggestions I've seen on HN and elsewhere. Your mileage may vary. :-)

1) Work on something that interests both you and a cofounder. 2) Choose a potentially huge market. 3) Compete with big, dumb competitors in a market with no current winner. 4) Build something you would use yourself. 5) Build something for businesses, because there's less competition than there is for the trend-of-the-week in the Valley. And you can charge them money. 6) Choose an interesting hypothesis, and be prepared to pivot as you learn about the market.

Any other suggestions for choosing between startup ideas?

Get out and talk to people. If you don't have a good startup idea then join someone else's. I'm looking for people to work with right now (Edinburgh).

WHY do you want to do a startup? Because it's fashionable?

Working at a startup is a good goal-- it's a fun work environment with a small tight-knit team.

STARTING a startup should be fueled by either a missionary zeal or a desire to gamble with 2+ years of your life to make a big pile of money (the average time to liquidity for VC backed startups is ~7 years). If you don't have one of those two, I can all but promise you'll burn out and/or get bored.

My advice: wait for an idea/market that you love to pop into your head that you can't ignore. In the meantime, work at a startup for a decent salary (don't sacrifice much salary for options-- it's a sucker's bet).

These are good questions...

I want to start a startup because I: - Want to do something I care about, slash it's meaningful to me. I'm tired of realizing other people's ideas. - I want to make important decisions and have responsibility for their repercussions. - I want to create a lifestyle that I'd enjoy more for myself, including not having to be tied to a specific location. - I want to do something 'important' (a relative term, I know). I'm tired of wasting my time and talent on silly projects and bug fixes. - Money is important but not everything. Ideally I'd be earning as much as I do now from my corporate gig but that's not even necessary.

I'm willing to gamble a couple of years of my life, but as I said, I'm not sure what to do/make. I agree that working for options is a sucker's bet, hence leaving a previous startup after working there a year.

Thanks for getting me to clarify this. ~Henry

check this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=playe...

Don't "do what you love"... "Love what you do". Aim at something rewarding in autonomy and mastery rather than holding out for a "cause" (if you want to maximize happiness). If you find a cause ("something important") anytime during this process, you can chase that too. But if you look at 100 people who really love what they do with their lives, I think it's surprising how few of those jobs fall into the "something important" bucket.

If you don't have any ideas of your own you should be happy to help others with their ideas until you get yours!

If you have not read the Request for Startups Paul Graham has started posting for YC I highly recommend reading it here http://ycombinator.com/rfs.html.

These can spark ideas to work on while possibly providing an edge to be accepted into YC. The other road I'd advise is to think about things you're already passionate about. If you can find a passion you can monetize you have most of the battle won IMO (tip: start blogging about it and build an audience which may also turn into your first customers).

I was in a 'similar' stage 2 years ago. I grouped with 3 of my friends and started having conversations on a daily basis. All of us came from different background -tech, finance, marketing, research; but had the same start-up itch. We threw ideas on the wall, critiqued them, followed up with some research. Eventually we found our start-up idea which btw has evolved into something completely different in 2 years. So: 1. Form a core group 2. brainstorm, read, research 3. DO IT

Great idea, Oxy, thanks for sharing this too. I like the idea of socializing this process as well as working on it daily. ~Henry

Put your toe into the water, cheaply. Take one idea and start building your thinking around it, on 'paper'. Think about problems you'll have to solve, look at the market for it, maybe write some code. Think about what success with that idea would feel like - some ideas you might not want to follow for a few years.

This way you can try a few ideas without committing too many resources. Just keep moving forward every week until you find something that really grabs you and where you think you have an edge. Then hammer it.

Don't be in a rush. Just give yourself time to explore and think about problems, and you'll know when you hit on the right idea. If you rush it you'll probably end up forcing it too much.

1- Pick a technology that's going to change a >$1B industry or create one.

2- Go talk to people in those industries to test out product ideas. Don't do this haphazardly: read 4 Steps to the Epiphany. Its editing is brutal (well, non-existent), but the ideas are vital. It doesn't matter if your original idea is shit; talking with people that have problems and money to resolve them will give you more.

3- Find a co-founder with complementary strengths. They can't just be a business person.

I'm in exactly the same spot. What I did for the last 6 months or so was hanging out here on hacker news (taking the air in), bouncing ideas off with a friend and collecting and refining ideas on a password-protected wiki page.

With a bit of luck there'll come a startup with said friend out of this later this year.

If you have many idea and interest and whan to start a business (earning money), then you are in a good position. My advice would be to sort the idea by ease of testing and potential benefits. Use this sorting as heuristic and try them out and see what sticks.

You definitely have to read Getting Real by Jason Fried of 37Signals.

By reading this book you'll know every single detail how to direct your idea to reality, at least it happened to me...


Why do you want to start a start-up?

Perhaps it may be wiser to work for a start-up if an idea hasn't jumped at you. Just keep an open mind and look out for things you can do better, more efficiently. Then make a system out of it.

There's a lot of other good comments here. Some might be relevant to you, some might not be.

Here's my advice: If you don't have the AH-HAH moment, don't do it.

More rigid framework:

- what's the problem you're trying to solve?

- who is your customer?

- why would they pay for it?

Here's a tip: don't be a "wantrepreneur".

Get out there, focus on ONE THING and execute.

Wait. Be patient.

First make a small startup that sells ideas for startups.

Even if sales don't pick up, it might come in handy.

PG was very eloquent on his take as why this might not be such a great idea (from http://www.paulgraham.com/ideas.html): Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here's an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there's no market for startup ideas suggests there's no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless.

Haha, totally thought of this one already. Also, it may be a great way to learn some new platforms/technologies. ~Henry

Relax on your desire to join a startup, get some outside interests, and find a problem you want to solve.

I have too many ideas. :(

welcome to the club!

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