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Ask HN: We have a great team and capital but can't find a good idea
337 points by 0bsidian on Oct 30, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 551 comments
I have spent the past year looking for good ideas for a startup and have little to show for it.


-Things that we have:-

1) A great early team, made up of myself (just a normal bizdev guy) + 1 talented former private equity partner (who made a fortune on Wall Street) + 1 talented CMU CompSci PhD. The three of us have been friends for years and work together really well.

2) Investors that are willing to write blank checks (within reason) because of the trust in the team (mainly former colleagues of the PE guy).

3) Cash in the bank to continue experimenting

4) An interest in SaaS and ML (and some experience in the latter)

-Things that we don't have:-

1) Ideas of what to do


We have read EVERYTHING on how to come up with startups ideas (ranging from Paul Graham essays to The Mom Test). We have ran interviews with friends in corporate and startups, asked old colleagues, attented conferences, organised meetups in our city, a ton of time spent networking, etc.

The few product ideas we came up with following the above process we dropped, often because we discovered that that space is ultra crowded or commooditized.

We will not give up but are getting unsure on how to break the stalemate.

Any tips or advice?


My simple advice is to stop looking for ideas and to start looking for problems.

Look for the pain, and to do that talk to people.

The challenge will be that most people accommodate the pain in order to get something done, but they don't like it.

A recent pain point I came across was that 501.c(3) organizations are good at organizing but often poor at "the Internet". That suggested that if you talked to a half dozen charities you could probably find a way to offer them a 'internet presence service' that would be a combination of tools to do calendaring, outreach, donor management, payment/donation processing, testimonial pages, event landing pages, Etc. Think of it as a mashup of Calendar, Wordpress, PayPal, Salesforce, and Quickbooks online. You make their interface to the site both simple to get to (suggest a hardware token) and the web sites appearance to be professional to people visiting.

If you architected it right you could also make it a onestop 'election' website (similar sorts of things and similar reporting requirements for donations etc)

Find folks who would like to get more out of the Internet or have trouble with it, and solve their problem in a way that saves them real money or real time. Then sell that to people in the same situation.

>My simple advice is to stop looking for ideas and to start looking for problems.

I concur, and add that HN could really help OP by complaining about random stuff here. Just complain about the first thing that comes to mind that's been bugging you, OP will really appreciate it!

Humanity is on a sure collision course with ecological disaster and potentially billions of deaths. Do something about climate change. Anything. Every new startup should be addressing the fact that we are on the Titanic and the iceberg is getting closer.

This is terrible advice. OP asks for concrete ideas and your answer is "the sky is falling."

Do you have a source for the 'disaster' and 'billions'?

There are mountains of evidence that we are on track for several degrees Celsius change by the end of the century. It's enough to make some large metropolitan coastal areas uninhabitable and huge swaths of farmland unusable. It will destroy the economy to uproot half the human population and move, and thus cause mass migration and starvation.

I hate to use labels but to believe anything else is to be a climate change denier.

What if you're wrong? I mean I don't see any of the evidence that you see, just a bunch of computer models that fit a curve.

I would recommend starting with Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet[1] by Mark Lynas which summarizes the research of many hundreds of scientists.

1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees:_Our_Future_on_a_H...

There is an all too common type of blog/post where the writer has said "[Large entity] has done something really dumb and all of my avenues for remedy have come to nothing".

The post goes sufficiently viral that it gains the attention someone within [large entity] who can actually do something about it. This is a terrible model. It's not really a model at all, it is the complete absence of any working model.

Make something that enables individuals to tell large entities that something needs to be done. Effectively turn input from many into a list of meaningful, actionable items that get delivered who have the capacity and desire to do something about it.

Though note that in that case the problems will mostly be techie problems - a useful way to find less crowded spaces is to ask people from different walks of life what their pain points are.

This is solid advice. Find people who aren't technically inclined but 'forced' to use the Internet to do something vital. They often have many things they would like automated.

Yeah these are the people I like to talk to. I've built some great apps based on things I've been told by these folks.

Finding these people is a big challenge in itself...

Yeah you know, it's a great way to catch up with old friends and family. Just tell them you'd like to know their technical problems, and ask them to describe them. Sounds weird at first, but people love talking about themselves and will see it as you being interested in their lives, which is the truth. My dad told me about a problem that I built an app for years ago, and he still talks about it like it was the most amazing thing in the world. And once they know you're interested, all those people will tell you their technical frustrations pretty much anytime you see them. Sounds weird, I know, but it's something everyone can relate to, them having a technical frustration that you can solve. They'll appreciate you asking.

Finding non-technically inclined people is a challenge?! Do you live in the ISS?

Try the local chamber of commerce or any non technical forum or Facebook group.

Here's mine: fix income inequality and the staggering inequality in the distribution of wealth worldwide.

How is that a startup? I dunno, maybe there's a small part of that big problem that you can start tackling. Maybe it has to do with some facet of the economy you're improving/making more efficient, maybe it has to do with influencing policy. That's for you to figure out.

Find a big, big problem, and then look for a manageable chunk that your team can execute an idea on. You're in this for the long haul, right?

People who start companies are typically looking to increase “wealth inequality”.

Think of it more as like a negative externality.

People that use a car are not "typically looking to increase the rate of global warming and actively pollute the environment".

Using a car is a means of getting from place A to B, in the process however, you create a negative externality (i.e. pollute the environment).

When you create a startup you generally want to solve a very specific problem X at a grand scale, when you are able to do this while making some profit/growing in value you inevitably contribute to "inequality" as an externality.

Not really, most companies are small and don't pay more than a decent income even for the founders. VC-funded startups are an exception, not the rule. Even among software companies, I'd say, if you look beyond the US.

But (One of) the ambition(s) is usually to make money, thereby increasing inequality. I have yet to find a startup with the ambition to pay everyone median salary and donate the rest to low-income households. Nothing wrong with that, just a fact :)

The company I worked for previously paid decent (but not extravagant) salaries, and profits in the order of the low dozens of thousands annually. Meanwhile, our job consisted of outbidding and replacing SAP and Oracle solutions costing $$$$.

Paying $10 to an SMB owner instead of $100 to Bill Gates et all reduces inequality, it doesn't increase it.

Let me guess: you had a heck of a time hiring qualified engineers.

Shocked that the idea startup people can “save the world” is still going strong in Q4 2027

Would have hoped the last year would have shook you all to your senses

Hah, good point. I don't like to rant usually, but this is for the good cause.

I'm annoyed I feel the internet is turning more and more hateful.

I'm annoyed writing and fixing tests takes half of my time when writing code.

I'm annoyed business people only see the difference of salary asked and not what experience brings when having to choose between a junior dev and a senior one.

> I'm annoyed writing and fixing tests takes half of my time when writing code.

Then just don't write tests and wait for what happens, when you find a bug 6 month into production. ;-)

TBH, that's what I do. Most of the time the bug is insignificant enough that it doesn't really matter. Every once in a while I am freaking out trying to get an update through the app store at 1:00 am. For me, it's worth the tradeoff.

Fair enough. I wrote integration code to get shipping info into distributed logistics software.

I would've never done this without TDD because I dreaded to have hidden bugs sending washing machines to the wrong customers.

There's got to be a solution between those two extremes :)

I've started writing only integration tests, this is cool because most of the time it only breaks during refactoring when there actually are regressions. I've also made myself a chrome devtool to record my interactions with browser and generate capybara tests out of it, so it's quite fast to write and rewrite, it never happens anymore that I think "oh, maybe that change is not worth it".

But the thing is, this only works for apps/features having a web interface. I do more and more system programming, and I have no idea how to do integration testing on this (I think about using docker, but this would be even slower than piloting a browser).

So yeah, anyone who can solve the tests burden problem while still making code as robust, I'm interested.

(btw, you'll still find a bug in 6 months in production with 100% test coverage ;) )

Yes, no one said TDD code is 100% bug free.

I'm also not a fundamentalist when it comes to TDD. It really depends on "What can go wrong?" and "How much time does each route costs?"

The other day I showed the guy I'm mentoring how to write tests in go to test some Go middleware code for HTTP BasicAuth. This was some example code he found on the internet. And guess what, it has a basic logic flaw where it doesn't test for correctness of user AND password, but for correctness of user OR password.

Using code like this and not writing tests is really stupid.

When I was in university, I also read lots of papers on TDD. There are many "we had 20 students trying to solve a 2 hour problem with and without TDD"-papers and only a few "IBM and Microsoft used TDD and no TDD to write hardware drivers, these are the results" papers. Guess who I'm trusting more.

I remember when those papers were hitting headlines. The opinion of anti-TDDs back then was : "yes, it's certainly a good thing for students learning how to code", following the idea that it forced them to consider architecture rather than jumping on adding lines of code, and that experienced developers don't need it as much (thus, the conclusion was that those studies were biased toward people learning to code).

The answer of pro-TDDs was that you always benefit it, even when already experienced. I agreed with them, back then.

I don't remember seeing those about IBM and Microsoft, though. What were their conclusions?

Nowadays, I do what I jokingly call "documentation driven development", as a follow up for "top down development" that cucumber and the likes introduced. I'll usually first write about the problem I'm solving, then generally write about how I solve it, then write about components needed to implement that solution, then what those components do in details, then I write function signatures, and I stop there. I give it a month going back to it from time to time and I always figure out problems with it.

Refactoring that is awesome : no tests to change, no application code to change, it's just manipulating pure architecture, and it's incredibly fast to change while still being able to keep everything in mind. Careful planning is kind of replacing for me what TDD used to do (for the part about designing proper architecture ; I do integration testing for the part about catching regressions).

But really, I feel today that the methodology doesn't matter much : agile or not, TDD or not, this or that, whatever. What matters the most is people. The same methodology will have opposite results depending on who is applying it. I guess some methodologies will be better than others for learning programming, but I have really no clue how to measure that :)

As a pedestrian walking in SF, I am almost run over in crosswalks daily, even while knowing that drivers will run right through them. Fix that and I’d subscribe to a companion app with a blank white screen for $5/month..

Maybe, a platform where people pay to have specific problems solved by arbitrary agents.

Visibly carry a brick.

Easily fixable phones and laptops.

My phones and laptops are small enough and lightweight enough.

Making them bulletproof is too expensive. But making them easier to fix, documenting the process and authorizing repair shops would do be great.

PS: I don't need to be able to hot-swap parts.

PPS: pro models from Dell and HP at least are often quite easy to disassemble and fix and I think you can often source parts from eBay for years after you buy them.

There are many phones out there that are easy enough to fix the common problems with the right tools (heat gun, opener tool, set of small screwdrivers and picks). Replacing a dead screen is about an hour's work for a beginner and there are enough tutorials on youtube that most beginners will get it right first time. Most parts for common phones are commonly available on aliexpress. Most other problems can be dealt with by replacing motherboard/daughterboards or battery rather than needing to bother with reflowing solder.

The real problem is that phones depreciate so quickly that replacement parts (especially displays - Samsung LED screens etc are notoriously expensive) are often more expensive than buying a new second-hand phone on eBay unless you're willing to go down the route of separating bonded LCDs from glass/touch sensors is economically viable but that is much more difficult to do right, even with the right equipment (temperature-controlled hotplate).

Buy a Thinkpad? I went from opening it for the first time to having the internal screen cable replaced and working fine in a couple of hours.

I love how my Raspberri Pi I can just swap out the SD card and have a completely different OS. As a software developer, it would be awesome if I could do that on my laptop or phone.

Phones not made by Apple are easy enough to fix.

Just replaced the screen on my Mi Mix for about $100 plus an hour or so of my personal time.

I think iPhones are among the easiest to fix, nothing is sealed no mess no glue. The cheap replacement screen for 5,6,7 cost around 20£ and takes around 20min to replace.

should have known this, since it seems like common sense in retrospect.

I'm projecting from impressions I'd made since the Mac book pro became harder and harder to modify and upgrade. I'd constructed a faulty assumption about the repairability of iPhones.

It's never been difficult for me to find someone to repair one of my old iPhones in the past, I just quit on iPhones last year and feel somewhat disappointed with them since the v7s. (I am a fairly recent switcher to Android.)

As a manager at a large corporate the process for incurring expenses drives me nuts. There is an annoying approval process, expenses have to be logged, I have to look up the expense policy, justify the expense, track it against budget etc etc. Often there is modest expense I want to incur and I know the business is generally in favour, but the expense process is just so cumbersome and confusing that I dont bother. There must be a better way. Even though I have a corporate credit card I still have to keep invoices and assign each credit card expense to the right spending code etc.. Arggg, its making my blood boil just writing about it, somebody fix this please.

Pain HN? Show HN Pain? Moan HN?

i like the idea - we just need a new tag

HN Pain Point:

that seems more like it

I guess that's the basic idea behind http://oppsdaily.com/ and similar.

I used to think Dane Maxwell of The Foundation was the crazy one, and all those infopreneurs with blogs were geniuses.

I’ve since realized how wrong I was. Dane’s big thing was about interviewing small businesses, finding a pain and then being paid to solve that pain with a saas product. Seems pretty logical to me now.

NationBuilder[1] immediately comes to mind. Not as fully featured as you are suggesting, but targeting the same demographic.

[1] http://nationbuilder.com/

I agree with your premise but the example problem already has many established companies including Engaging Networks, EveryAction, Salsa, and Luminate. As a startup your job will either be to completely replace their stack in one fell swoop (VERY hard as a startup with no track record) or to somehow integrate in with the existing stack and eventually push it out (also hard but doable).

Well in the particular case this charity had no stack at all. They had a 'friend of a friend' who could do a web site, the person who knew me asked me how email worked because they wanted email addresses from the charity website but didn't want to change their "real" email addresses. I did my best but felt like something which was more like WPEngine would be a good single point of contact and setup. I also looked that the county 'dba list' (this is the 'doing business as' list that the county publishes to indicate when someone is doing business as a company name) and there were several new charities there. Seemed like a supply of leads for 'free'.

I don't disagree that there are people in this space. The nationbuilder folks (mentioned elsewhere) and apparently there are a couple people who specialize in setting up church web sites etc.

From a go to market strategy I'd probably advise that the team interview the executive committee of several new charities, compile a survey of charity sites and rank them from great to garbage, pull out the common functional features of every site, then decompose charities into every activity they do from filing tax returns to holding black & white balls. Look at how they manage payroll, volunteers, and assets. Listen to the problems the treasurer, directors, executive director, and donors have with charities. Where are their pain points and what does their day to day look like. Then pull all of that together and identify where there is commonality amongst groups and where their is uniqueness, and for each uniqueness attribute do the stake holders think it adds value or do they just not know any other way.

Then I would mock some interfaces to the infrastructure from using a phone, a web site, and maybe a chrome book like device. Look at security, look at complexity, look at time to complete tasks.

And finally after I felt the set of problems that could add significant value were identified, and I had helped a couple of new charities get from zero to online. I'd pull apart where the service business added value and where it didn't and develop a business model that was cost effective for the charity and sustainable for the startup to grow it in a boot strap fashion while the company got its feet under it for running its own organization.

I strongly agree with this. It is not an uncommon experience for me while working on something (either for work or personal) and hit a problem or annoyance and then go to work looking for the solution.

Occasionally, I can’t find a solution or what I find is either not quite right, too expensive, etc. When I have the problem myself I am genuinely motivated to find the answer and when I can’t... Well - I put that problem on my little list (along with a description of what I’d like the solution to be).

My list is currently over a hundred items long. Most aren’t great - but some of them are quite good. I review the list from time to time and the good ones continue to develop in my mind. I’ve tried some my favorites, and a few have turned into something.

I have also tried (at length) to come of with ideas from the “solution” side (rather than the problem side). It hasn’t lead me to any material success and I feel like I end up mentally circling around remixes of ideas and products that are already well established.

Are you willing to share your list with us? Would be curious to see it.

Sounds good on paper, but a lot of people's pains are things that are Features, not products. So discern between those.

Heh, my friend works for exactly that kind of a company - services for nonprofits. It doesn't do all of those things you listed, but a subset of them. They seem to always have clients and are doing pretty well.

Do an idea funnel like a sales funnel

1st stage is pains

2nd stage is pains we can solve (don't underestimate the need of domain knowledge here)

3rd stage is what we have the competence to solve and can come up with a better way of solving it

You might check out Flipcause[1] - they do a lot of what you're describing

[1] www.flipcause.com

Cggy I'D W

i was the Lead Product Designer in this space - creating a marketplace for NGOs and remote digital talent ( all cohorts ). Its a noble space to be in. https://Catchafire.org — if you need a 15yr pro that has built solid products ( from ideation > UX > MVP > growth ) hit me up. Also happen to be doing some Ai UX in the DoD app space.

* You will also need a seasoned full-stack agile dev team that can hit the ground running with your CTO at the helm. I got that too for you -;)

STOP. Just go work for someone else, please! Pretty please! Find someone with vision, and work for/with him/her instead. Or merge as equal partners.

You sound like really competent people, but working under people without their own vision and without their own ideas is a wrist slashing inducing experience... The people with the ideas/vision should be in charge, not ever the other way around! If you're execution people, find some "idea/vision people" and merge (like in 100% equal partners) with them and make you team whole.

Nobody wants more "execution people" in charge. If it's not vision/ideas what drives something... it's not worth doing it! we're all better without it! I'd work anytime under/with and asshole with good vision/ideas than another "executionist optimizer" that makes everyone's life hell trying to optimize profit and efficiency when nobody wants more optimizing. People want meaning from their leaders and managers, and this can only come from vision/ideas.

Go head hunt for "you team's Steve Jobs", not for "ideas". You want the "idea generator" and you want yo put him/her half-in-charge...

I so disagree. I've met so many "people with vision" who were far off with reality and ultimately failed miserably. Most successful startups I know, including my own, have pivoted - i.e. they had the wrong vision to begin with and figured out something else along the way. The team was what made them succeed.

Usually you want someone who’s also a domain expert and knows the market inside and out. More than just a vision that hasn’t been market tested.

And who knows how to run a business. Sadly, it is quite often the case that those at the helm of start-ups are absolutely clueless about what it takes to run an actual business.

This makes everything look fine and peachy until the VC money runs out.

So a domain expert with vision. What would he need this team for apart from maybe their money, which out of the three is probably the easiest to acquire?

A team that can execute is worth something too. The original comment stated (correctly in my opinion) that you want the person with vision to be in charge. But a domain expert with vision may or may not be able to execute against that vision effectively. If they are for real they'll have started, even if it just a manual process or horrible looking MVP. But if this team got together with someone with vision (and were able to check their egos at the door, not a small ask) they could really execute against that vision and bring a great product to market.

Most startups fail. Even if the likely outcome is failure, it's still better to have someone with a vision at the helm even if it's the wrong vision. You'll never find the shore if the boat doesn't move.

This went a different direction than I was expecting from the first paragraph. I thought it would go in the direction of "work for somebody else, so you can learn the problems/inefficiencies/pain points in their area and then build a startup fixing those".

I can't agree. Sure, founders need to have vision, but they also need to be "execution people". You think they should just raise money and outsource all the hard work to their reports? Gross.

It all depends on the terms both parties agree on!

Tough love:

You've done too much reading on the subject already and will learn nothing from reading even more by indulging yourself in the comments here.

And although good teams can find good ideas they have to "try and fail" at things, not just "consider and not try" things. I'm not sure how long you've been at this and which ideas you have considered and rejected and for what reasons, but if it has been longer than a couple of months, you don't have the right team makeup. You need someone with a strong product background immediately to find the intersection of product market fit and what you all are actually good at and will be passionate about building.

I'd love to hear more about what you've thought of and dismissed.

I think the problem as described is actually a team problem.

You don't have a good team without a vision leader who is articulating the ideas and steering the company. Like a boat with no captain, labor and capital resources are important but ultimately useless without a captain who has a vague idea of the endpoint and a sense for the roadmap. Try to dig into your collective social networks and see if you know anyone who has a vision but not the wherewithal to execute.

FWIW Money doesn't magically solve a problem, it merely exacerbates a situation. Talent doesn't solve a problem without a clear understanding of the problem being solved. As much as people on HN like to devalue the importance of ideas, it is an extremely important part of the process

This is the most obvious issue. They don't have a great team. At best, they have potential great team members. A great team implies applying talent and a vision to solving problems. They can't come up with a problem to try to tackle. Most people here on HN have 7 problems they'd love to work on but don't have the time or resources. I also think it is a big challenge to pick a problem you don't understand or have no background knowledge about.

I'd suggest picking an industry with known inefficiencies (health care, education, etc.) and have all three go work at three different companies in that space for a year. Then come back and I'm sure lack of ideas won't be the issue.

Remember, ideas are almost worthless and at best merely a head start. Execution is EVERYTHING.

> Like a boat with no captain

They haven't even left the dock.

How can they? There's no captain.

They have a dock, and no boat?

Yep. You need the product guy.

Or gal

Yeah I agree that they appear to be missing a designer or product developer. More concretely, they need someone who is imaginative and can see the big picture from a user/customer perspective.

Exactly. And since that piece is missing, I wouldn't describe that team "great", but at most "good" or "promising". Maybe "promising but incomplete" is the best description.

As a team leader (or manager) one of your most important tasks is to choose the members and to get them together. If you didn't fill in all needed roles, you haven't finished that task.

(I wanted to add a Tom DeMarco quote here, but I don't recall which of his books described how to build a software development team - perhaps "The Deadline"?)


Great point - in every product that you've dismissed, there's a lesson to be learned. Particularly for commodotized products - if there is a way to do it cheaply, what is it? What new technology enables companies to offer their services for so cheap, and where else can you leverage that tech?

The few product ideas we came up with following the above process we dropped, often because we discovered that that space is ultra crowded or commooditized.

GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons once said something like (paraphrased slightly) "never be scared to enter a crowded market. Just be better than everybody else". Something to think about.

Beyond that, consider that your product is not the only dimension on which you compete. That is, there are other ways to compete besides having the best product. As we all know, the best product doesn't always win.

I'd recommend reading The Discipline of Market Leaders by Fred Wiersema and Michael Treacy, as well as Mastering The Complex Sale, The Prime Solution and Exceptional Selling, all by Jeff Thull. These books deal a lot with how to compete and sell and differentiate yourself... even when selling a seemingly low-value commodity like sand. Another valuable book is Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin.

If you as an entrepreneur feel that the market is too crowded or commoditized, though, that's a very good signal not to enter it. Not because it actually is too crowded, but because you don't know it well enough to come up with a unique differentiator that will resonate with people actually in that market.

When you stumble across an idea that's actually viable, it feels like "Oh, why has nobody else done this yet? I better get it out there before the competition eats my lunch." It's very likely that you're actually overestimating the threat of competition, but that's because you have domain knowledge that makes the key differentiators of your product obvious to you but inconceivable to other entrepreneurs.

From your perspective, the idea was obvious and different, and that's why people use your product. From an outside perspective, you entered a crowded market and won it by being better than everybody else. The difference is in the level of detail with which you know the market. If from your perspective it appears to be a crowded market and you just need to be better than everybody else, you probably aren't going to be able to build that better product.

If you as an entrepreneur feel that the market is too crowded or commoditized, though, that's a very good signal not to enter it. Not because it actually is too crowded, but because you don't know it well enough to come up with a unique differentiator that will resonate with people actually in that market.

That's a fair point. The key, I think, is understanding when a market is susceptible to entry by another player. But part of making that judgment is understanding the different dimensions along which you can compete, which is why I find The Discipline of Market Leaders so valuable. That was the first book I read that really made the case that it isn't necessarily just about your product. Likewise Crossing The Chasm makes a pretty good case that you can always (well, almost always) segment a market to a degree that there's a place where you can compete.

I agree with this, domain knowledge is underrated. However, sometimes it does take a risk-taking outsider to put several big picture pieces together initially. This isn’t to say one should just stay as an outsider once started. I’m thinking of those like Elon Musk, who have a larger vision and saw an industry as the right fit to make it happen, and then dove deep to learn the domain.

I’m sure there’s something in their diverse backgrounds that intersect in a way that solves a critical problem. For me, the thing that’s missing in their process is actually building a prototype and getting in front of a user to validate what they think they know.

Being afraid of a crowded market is one of those counter-intuitive mistakes most people make. It's much easier to find a niche within a crowded market than to try to build something within a small market.

I entered a huge market as a solo founder with no industry experience and now get about 1% of the traffic that the big players with thousands of employees get, and I make a very decent income from it.

Care to add a bit more detail about what market? I am curious

All I'll say is it's a huge consumer market, tons of competition, tons of consumers. When I told friends what market I was going into, their most common response was "but there's already huge players in that market, how can you compete?"

Why would he say? Zero chance of more customers and nonzero chance of more competitors.

Task/project management is one of them I suppose


This is a great point. A crowded market means there's lots of space for new entrants and that no one has quite figured out how to win the whole thing. Good opportunity to steal and borrow from the best currently in the market and try to consolidate.

Recently read this quote:

There’s a well-known adage that “Having no competition may mean you have no market.” The corollary I’d add is that “Having competition doesn’t mean the market is full.”

Seen here: https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-backblaze-got-started/

Mark Cuban once said (something like) "If you're looking where everyone else is looking then you're looking in the wrong place."

I think that trumps Parsons. That said, looking at ideas that "didn't work" can be a solid approach. That is, sometimes (for example) the idea was solid but the team failed. The market also changes and some ideas can be ahead of their time (and poorly executed).

I think that trumps Parsons.

I have a tremendous degree of regard for mcuban, and I think his advice has merit. But I wouldn't say either "trumps" the other. These pithy sayings are handy, but there's a lot of nuance to both of them (IMO) and the devil is in the details.

Should Google have decided not to pursue search because of Altavista, Dogpile, Magellan, Northern Light, Yahoo, and DMOZ? Should Facebook have eschewed social networking because of Friendster, Myspace, Livejournal, etc?

Sometime just being better than the other guys really is enough.

Very minor detail, but Yahoo! didn't have a "search engine" when Google came to be. Yahoo! was still a manually curated "directory" at the time.

And should Apple have decided not to build a phone... That market was once pretty crowded too.


But I would counter with...Google wasn't a search company, but an advertising platform. And that's where is looked where others were not.

Google is now an advertising platform. In the beginning, they were no such thing. If Google hadn't essentially stolen the revenue model AdSense is based on from Overture[0], they might be a very different company today.

[0] https://www.cnet.com/news/overture-sues-google-over-search-p...

To be fair to Parsons, he built a dramatically more successful and larger business than Cuban ever has. Parsons is also a billionaire and worth nearly as much as Cuban.

In terms of sales, GoDaddy is six times the size of the Dallas Mavericks business, and ~20 times the size Broadcast.com was before the dotcom bust.

Yahoo bought Broadcast.com for $5.7B in 1999 (pre-dotcom bust) and Godaddy has a market cap of $7.65B as of today, so I am not sure where you are getting 20x bigger valuation from.


But my sense is Cuban could do it again. Parsons benefitted from timing and is likely more of a one trick pony.

Yes, a great and lucrative trick. But still one trick :)

No, Parsons is at least a 2-trick pony; from Wikipedia:

"In 1984, he founded Parsons Technology in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and began selling MoneyCounts, a home accounting program. In late 1987, Parsons was able to quit his job and focus completely on selling and overseeing growth of MoneyCounts. Eventually, Parsons Technology grew to be a 1,000-employee, privately held company. On September 27, 1994, Parsons completed the sale of Parsons Technology to Intuit, Inc. for $64 million."

If Cuban could do it again, why hasn't he?

Parsons is doing it again in a crowded market.

Check out PXG.com

This. If anything you can save time on market validation if you think you can execute or offer something unique that the existing players in the space lack.

Hits the nail on the head. It's an often cited cliché, but Google wasn't the first search engine and Facebook not the first social network. That works in niches as well if you have the feeling that the current state of the art somehow seems lackluster, i.e. with Adjust in app attribution or Remerge in mobile retarteging. With a lot of mistakes learned but no baggage on board, you can often attack sooner than you'd think with clear focus.

Lastly, if the main battle for a certain segment is over for more than a decade, the incumbents seem to get lazy if they continue dominating the market for too long. Look at eBay for example, or Linked.In - they have stopped innovating and basically get worse with every "Facelift", but there's still considerable demand with a lack of alternatives. It's a long shot, but possible with great execution.

I think that what this team lacks is a comfortable domain expertise in anything other than " making a fortune on wall street" -- which illustrates how little value "money" guys provide...

There is not an SME on their team in any area where they see a problem to fix - they 'only' have money.

they need to augment their team with an SME in an area they are willing to fund

Then here is their next problem:

Who is willing to get behind this team given the statements - There is only one reality - a confident founder who can provide them the vision to build something - and they provide the funding and maybe the CFO... but they may overly think of themselves as "technical" and meddle in the running of such an enterprise - which means doom.

These guys should simply take their funds and invest - not found shit. they will fail and bring down too many people (their employees) if they try...

There are product spaces where one player is seen as having it all wrapped up. Other big players have no stomach to compete but small, agile startups can begin chipping away at their business quite easily. The entrenched single player often treats their current customers and prospective customers like shit.

also: search was crowded when google entered.

Here's my idea. All I ask for is a free one if you use it.

A drone fence. Hear me out.

Problem: Fencing is FUCKING expensive. For many people who want to keep animals out (garden, animals pooping in the sandbox) buying a fence is really cost prohibitive. Plus they don't always work anyways.

Solution: Self driving drones with IR cameras in specific locations. Place a camera or two in strategic locations, and have a drone take off and chase off deer or rabbits. Return to the main station, land, recharge, repeat. Might need to have a squirt gun with some vinegar or something to scare off the more aggressive deer.

But combine some machine vision (don't want to chase children), autonomous flying drones, and some smarts, and you could have a $2000 system that replaces a $X0,000 fence.

Sorta the opposite of an invisible fence for animals.

I would LOVE one of these. I just don't have the capital or talent to make it happen...

This is how the fences in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age work. The drones fly in a honeycomb pattern and are recharged in a mesh network with a few base stations flying around. Whenever a drone has a low battery it steals some power from its nearest neighbor, so the power gets diffused through the network without any of the drones needing to move out of position. If I recall correctly they just bunch up and push you away if you try to walk through them, but otherwise don't obstruct the view. Pretty fun stuff. :)

Pretty good, but also quite niche. I think many people who build fences are not doing it just to keep things out, but also to keep things in, mark territory, provide security against more than just deer, aesthetics, etc.

However, on the fence industry, I could see a shake-up of fence estimation software. Perhaps one that uses ML to take the data necessary for an estimation (geographic data based on asker's location + parameters, materials & prices needed for the job, labor, etc) and create an estimation at the click of a button rather than from human input and calculations? Could help to bring your fence cost down (marginally, but still).

My dad was in this business his whole life, and said the software in the industry right now is shite. Ripe for disruption.

I knew a guy who made a shitload of money with a software program he wrote for carpet stores/installers to optimize cutting different carpet pieces to minimize waste.

It sounds simple and boring, but if you can save people a lot of money, they don't mind sharing it with you.

I remember when I was a catastrophe insurance adjuster, I used Xactimate. It was pretty great at the time, but I think the underlying tech (i.e. getting material pricing) could be greatly improved, especially dealing with things like shortages and increased prices due to demand spikes.

In Norway we have sheep roaming the mountains in summer....and wolves. How many wolves to kill is a huge political issue. Government reimburses sheep killed by wolves.

Building fences around the areas is basically impossible. But I hope some day drone-shepherds can do the job.

This would be cool but then the debate remains almost the same, just how many wolves can the drone guarding the sheep shoot, a wolf has got to eat so some programmers got to randomize a few 'look the other way' actions in.

The thought of the drone shooting didn't even cross my mind. No way anyone would approve military equipment roaming the mountains like that. What if it shot a human?

I was thinking flashlights and sounds to scare them off.

If sheep have evolved to have drone guards, then wolves will just have to feast on deer, elk, and whatnot, until they join forces with the eagles and hawks to take down the drones.

The nice thing about this idea, is that even if it flops you get to have a lot of fun flying drones around!

My grandmother was pretty "anti-tech", and thought that e-mail was just a passing fad, but I think that even she would have tried this if it meant her flowers would have been spared by the deer.

This is kind of already being done by Sunflower Labs. https://sunflower-labs.com/

I was wondering when the "attach guns" part comes up. Wasn't disappointed :-)

Invisible Fence is a fantastic product that gives great value to many people. Seems to me that this could be the same. Note that Invisible Fence offers expertise in install, dog training, etc, over and above the DIY kits.

We recently put a deer fence around about a half acre and it was not inexpensive.

Another upside is that this would be reconfigurable. And there'd be a ton of ML-extractable insights for customer and the company.

PS: Skimming, I originally read the intent as "a fence to keep drones out", which is funny.

mmh ...too much noise pollution. Mammals will learn quickly to visit the area at night.

When I read this, I first thought you meant a fence for keeping drones in (or out). Maybe it zaps them when they get too close. Another idea for OP.

Probably an unpopular question given HN audience, but how does one know a team is great if said team hasn't successfully tackled any problems? Is it similar to my cat being a great pilot because she hasn't crashed any planes?

The fact that they've spent the past year toying around without direction supports your conclusion as well. CVs are just one metric by which to judge a team.

no but one of them made millions in private equity, so...

Are investing in other people's businesses and starting your own translatable skill sets?

I'd say no. Just shows you can manipulate others but have 0 originality of your own. Hence the situation they find themselves in

And there I thought that the ideas were the easy part :-)

Frankly I'm not sure you can succeed if you're just a mercenary (not trying to insult you).

To me it seems you're approaching the problem the wrong way : it shouldn't be about doing like everybody else or trying to be successful just because you think it will make you feel good but it should be about releasing this f* idea that is nagging you since years and that nobody can do better than you.

I have one of those ideas since 2007. One day ... ;-)

Counterexamples: Jeff Bezos, Jeff Lawson(Twilio) contemplated many ideas before starting on one.

Care to say what the problem is that your idea solves?

Frankly I'd rather keep it to myself. I'm baffled that nobody thought about it since 10 years.

But right now I'm working on a back-end code generation tool : the user would just draw a data schema and once done get a database (as a script or as a container or directly in his cloud of choice) and scaffolding for the API.

The data schema is based on a specific method that makes it simple to think about your data without having to grok foreign keys.

I'm not sure I can pull it off but I want to see how far I can go.

Funny, I built this exact thing back in 2007 but couldn't market/sale it. Hope you have better luck &/ now the timing is right!

I'd be curious to know more.

Email in profile

Because great teams seemed more important than great ideas, YC tried funding teams without ideas, but it didn't work.

Market research is deadly, because that's what big companies do. If there's an objectively verifiable opportunity, they are already on it.

This is what's so interesting about Christensen's "disruption" - part of the definition is that the opportunity is not appealing to incumbents. It's too small, not wanted by existing customers, etc.

So perhaps the key thing missing from "great teams without ideas" is the passion (aka craziness) to wholeheartedly pursue something that can't be objectively verified. And then, to discover unforseeable problems and solve them; or, to pivot to a new idea, serenpiditously picked up along the way... the journey provides the destination.

So... just start. "Scratch your own itch" is a good way to identify an unmet need, just something to start with. Don't consider market size etc. Also, don't commit much money to it, just your time, treat it as an experiment.

Good ideas are hard ... sometimes simple and overcrowded markets yield the best results. Facebook is basically usenet with a better UI/UX (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet). Amazon was a book store.

What you need is something where you provide a specific solution to a real problem, something people are really willing to pay for.

Network, speak to people, ask them about their problems. What do they wish existed. And if it existed, would they pay for a solution (is it a real business).

I've got some ideas for things from recent life experiences that seem to be common. This is where the best ideas come from. When there is a real need, and those addressing it aren't doing it well, or at all. Look for that gap.

Never hesitate to connect with others either. A good conversation can spur thoughts, and this is where ideas germinate.

Remember, the idea doesn't have to be a killer. Lowering friction in a process to make it faster/easier/cheaper/better goes a long way to turning into something good (think Uber/Lyft/AirBNB), even if the business is old and commoditized.

Your post could easily read: "I've got a killer office space in an amazing skyscraper with catered organic sous vide lunches and a yoga room, but I don't have a business idea to put in this office space. Any ideas?"

The most important aspects of a business are: 1) what you do 2) how you do it. Things like team, capital, etc. are secondary and only matter once you have those two.

It's a bit like you said, "I have a fantastic transmission for a 1977 Jaguar XFT T-Type" but it turns out that car doesn't exist.

Exactly. There are smart people everywhere. If you have a good idea, you can find funding. (and anyway, many businesses are cheaper to bootstrap today than ever).

If you don't have ideas, you don't have anything. I don't think you'd get a good reception saying "I want to get rich, should I become a neurosurgeon or an oncologist or a periodontist", and I don't see why this gets any better a reception.

I get that you're not necessarily asking for business ideas JUST to become rich, there are all kinds of reasons to want to run a startup. I just can't really see what would cause one to put that particular cart before any horse whatsoever.

Comeon, that scenario worked out great for Ion Storm.

While Ion Storm had an extravagant office at the top of a skyscraper, Warren Spector had great ideas and a track record of awesome games. And Ion Storm created one of the very best games ever made, Deus Ex 1, and Thiefs 3 was great too.

Find an un-sexy domain that you have more access to than the average person. Start to build domain expertise in that area as quickly as you can (people are surprisingly willing to talk when you don't want to sell them something, but just learn about how they do things).

Build something (anything!) that uses some cool ML technology (or even just some simple statistics) in that domain. Think of this as an ultra-MVP - something you build part-time in the order of weeks, rather than full time over months. This keeps your "investment" low and makes you mentally ready to accept changes.

Loop back with the people in the un-sexy industry to get feedback. Remember, not all industries are bombarded with technology - you'll need to strike a balance between showing them something sufficiently "fancy" to pique interest, and abstracting away your technology so they focus on a problem it solves.

When my cofounder and I started ~4 years ago, we chose an un-sexy industry that my cofounder knew from years of consulting. This was awesome, but even with his amazing experience, our initial idea for a product didn't take off (which was fine - it doesn't take too many wins to make the weeks of development/sales profitable).

Over the next 4 years, we built another couple of offerings, which sold better than the first. They took hold in various ways, but the insights behind each product were usually driven (or at least influenced) by the people we talked to about our initial product. Which brings me back to the key - build things in a low-cost way and use that to identify tangentially related problems until you think you've found a big enough pain point.

What non software domains are you experts in? There are lots of businesses out there with problems that are solved with spreadsheets for which a focused SaaS offering would be a 10x solution. See procore or gingr for examples (those are just off the top of my head).

But you need the domain expertise (or be willing to acquire it).

Then, you also need to be passionate about it. To avoid the long slow SaaS ramp of death ( http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/02/gail-goodman-constant-... ) you'll want to really, truly have a burning need to solve your customer's problem. At least one of you will have to have this customer empathy.

So how do you get domain expertise?

Sometimes I think the best way to go about it is to become a consultant, look around in companies, and when you've found something, build a product for it.

Hahah, that's the rub. Being a consultant can be a good way to acquire domain expertise, as long as you are vertically focused: "I solve problems for realtors" rather than tech focused "I build web applications" or "I build mobile applications in Swift". Downside: can be scary to specialize, will take some time.

Another way to do that is to actually do the job or take a job in a company that is not a software company but that uses software. I worked for a real estate brokerage for years and now know a lot about real estate. Downside: again, you have to pick a specialty and will take a few years.

A final way is to do some research and talk to people about their problems. This is much quicker, but will require some work that you won't get paid for. Amy Hoy has some great stuff around researching: https://stackingthebricks.com/

That's how I do it.

Just stay in your jobs and don't force it. Without a burning desire to do something and/or domain knowledge, you're looking at years of frustration with likely no results, just to chase the trendiness of doing a startup. The fact that three people with supposed experience are not aware of any problems that need solving is not a good sign. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. You could draw on your investor contacts, likely strike out, maybe manage an aquihire, but why bother. Much easier to stay in a secure job until you're ready.

why would you even found a company without a idea? that makes no sense to me.

just live your life as usual, and when you encounter a problem that you can foresee solving, ask yourself: 0. would i pay someone else to solve this problem? 1. do other people have this problem as well? 2. can i make a profit by solving this problem on scale?

an obvious point but always worth mentioning: a good business proposal should be short, obvious after the fact, and uses no big words (like AI, fintech, Blockchain Technology) (at least internally)

Try working backwards.

Step 1: Pick your customers. Are they small business, enterprise or consumers? Are they in a specific vertical or are you addressing a cross-cutting concern?

Step 2: Start learning. Set up interviews and learn their business inside and out. Perhaps volunteer to be unpaid labor as a way to get an inside look at how their businesses run and where the inefficiencies are.

Step 3: Find the right inefficiency to address. It should be one that people are willing to spend to address, not just one where people should be willing to spend on. Also filter based on whether your team is best equipped to tackle the problem (i.e. don't try solving a really hard problem that, if you're successful, Google or Facebook could bang out in an afternoon with small modifications to an existing product.) Also look for products/services that give you a durable advantage, whether it's because you're the only one with the right data or because switching is particularly painful or a host of other reasons...much has been written on the subject, so read up for more examples.

Step 4: Go back and try to work up a demo of a product idea. It doesn't have to actually work (read do things that don't scale), it just has to show your vision.

Step 5: More interviews with potential customers. These aren't sales calls, they're a chance to gauge interest and get feedback on features and potential pricing.

You'll have a good idea whether you're ready to move forward or back to step 4, 3 or even 2 at that point, but if you hit on something, then your tech starts coding and your non-tech starts trying to find launch customers using the demo. At this point, you've probably read enough about the next steps to take.

Good luck!

I'm sure it must be out there already in some form, but you might want to give a shot at "uber for day laborers". It seems to me like there are opportunities on both the supply and demand side. On the supply side there its lots of room for improving gig hunting and payment assurance for laborers. Staffing agencies are of course in this space, but are pretty inefficient and catch only a small fraction of potential gigs relative to something like craigslist (which of course, has the downside of potentially unreliable payments). On the demand side, there are definitely niches for short term gigs where a company needs to scale up or down quickly (last minute work, no shows, etc). These quick changes can be hard for staffing agencies to fulfill, largely due to inefficiency in recruitment, even when the laborers are already in the talent pool. If you don't have any experience with this area, its really easy to do so: try to find some ditch digging on craigslist and see how many gigs you can do before you get stiffed or otherwise mistreated (won't take long). Also, use that pile of cash you have in the bank to try to find contractors to paint a house, clean some toilets, etc. and you'll start to get a sense for problems in the labor pool.

There are lots of people who need jobs and need someone to tell them where to go and what to do. This could be a real winner. Call it "Slaves 2.0".

Your comment made me lol. But also made me think :)

Indeed its not hard to imagine how "uber for day laborers" could increase worker exploitation. In particular the possibility of somehow skirting around worker's comp insurance by arguing that it only facilitates transactions is an obvious starting point. However, I think such a technology could also be used to mitigate exploitation. The one thing that I already mentioned was payment assurance. In general socializing the risk exposed to laborers as part of the service could be a great benefit in growing the service.

It could mitigate, but VC money will not ROI itself.

20% off the top for basically running a directory service would, though.

The irony here is that this also characterizes the OP. They have a team and finding, but need a task. My own thought would be "get a job" but it seems unhelpful.

Speaking from the experience of someone who has hired general heavy labor and skilled trades... This has literally existed since the gold rush, chances are 60-80% of the labor involved in building your house came from an organization like this. They are a unique niche of staffing agencies that only staff same day labor. Many of organizations are nation-wide. Also, lots of skilled workers ask to be paid in cash, so they wouldn’t want a paper trail anyway... you pay 50% upfront and 50% when the job is done to spec. Just doing a few jobs on Craigslist and hiring some laborors won’t make you in any way even close to expert enough to tackle this field.

Correction you can also hire them for weeks at a time. Onus for workers comp, etc is on the agency.

Unchecked capitalism beat ya to it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wage_slavery

The slavery we know from history, i.e. the triangular trade between the Caribbean, Liverpool and Guinea, that was actually 'Slaves 2.0'.

Before 'Slaves 2.0' there was 'Slaves 1.0'. This existed in Africa and before white men and guns were involved it wasn't a bad system at all. If you did something seriously wrong then you were not sent to prison, instead you were sold into slavery. The idea was that you worked off your debt - however much you were sold for - and then when the debt was done you could go back home.

The triangular trade changed that. People were being shipped off forever, the deal of 'slavery' had changed from a reasonable system for maintaining the rule of law to true heart of darkness stuff.

In 'Slavery 1.0' people didn't have the right to do whatever they wanted with their slaves, they could not rape and kill them, as white man did.

I would actually prefer 'Slavery 1.0' to the legal system and prison, none of which is really being judged by your neighbours. If I could sell my lazy friend that owes me money into slavery, e.g. to the coffee shop down the road, with the coffee shop owner taking my friend on as a slave and giving me the money owed then that could work for me. I doubt the coffee shop owner would really want to rape/kill/beat up my friend, but he might want him working really hard from really early in the morning until quite late in the evening.

Or, without the benefit of 'Slavery 1.0' I could take my friend to court and then when he doesn't pay he could end up in prison. I would still not get my money back. The coffee shop would not have a slave, they would have to hire a wage slave instead.

So let's think more positively about 'Slavery'. What could 'Slavery 3.0' be like and is there an app for that?

What if I could put my friend up on the 'slavery app' with my price? I just want £3K-5K back. How can the small print in the EULA that my friend/slave-to-be signs up to have legal consequence? If my friend cannot be bothered pouring beverages all day and does a runner, then some lucky Pokemon player that finds him should be rewarded somehow, with my friend sold on to a 'riskier' slave market, perhaps picking coffee beans in Kenya where he is unable to find his way home.

Much like 'Slavery 1.0' the slave is not humiliated or deprived of the basics, all needs are met but no luxuries or pay are given. Instead the person that sold the 'slave' gets that.

So go for the app, but call it 'Slavery 3' and make it a lot more fun than the misery of this VC funded Uber/AirBnB sharing economy nonsense. Poke fun at capitalism, the world of work, the legal system and our idea of history whilst doing it and every small child will be wanting to sell their sister's pet hamster into slavery for some perceived valid reason. Maybe make the app step in for the 'tribal elders/jury' so part of 'Slavery 3' could be to do with voting whether someone should be allowed to be 'sold' or not.

What you described is what already is supposed to happen, although it doesn't always due to corruption of the system. You're not supposed to go to prison based on debts, especially civil debts. Instead, either have assets seized or you work off your debt, by having the court garnish your wages.

I concur. I needed a ditch dug a couple of weeks ago, and everyone was recommending that I drive to Home Depot and pick some guys up waiting for work. There has _got_ to be a better way. Note that this felt different to me than hiring a handyman or any other skilled trade, which feels like a semi-solved problem. Sometimes I just need some extra hands, and learning the unspoken rules around how to hire guys on a street-corner is not something I'm interested in.

Your problem isn’t hiring people, it’s hiring illegals willing to work for cheap in the Home Depot parking lot.

Finding legal casual labor is tough because good workers with strong backs move up quickly, and you’re left with illegals and drunks.

Not sure what the current going rate is but doesn't a service like People Ready solve this? A while back I hired a couple guys through them to help with a move and they were a couple bucks an hour over minimum wage.

Don't forget transportation

I moved last year and ended up using some street corner guys. Cost me the same as pros, more or less, but just easier for me personally. They're largely undocumented workers and a strictly cash business, though, so app-izing them would be difficult if not impossible.

However- I did also learn that it's easy to hire professional movers to just help you load a u-haul for a couple if that's what you want. Working with those companies and app-izing that labor is something that should be possible.

However- I did also learn that it's easy to hire professional movers to just help you load a u-haul for a couple if that's what you want. Working with those companies and app-izing that labor is something that should be possible.

It is: https://www.uship.com/

(There's even a reality show around it, that's how I know about it)

> and learning the unspoken rules around how to hire guys on a street-corner is not something I'm interested in.

Classic SV/SF “I want this service, without having to interact with poor people” next step up from bus as a startup laundry delivery as a startup etc

I support this idea. I developed myself an app for handymen to post their ads but never published it. I know there is a huuuuge market for that and the few options available are good enough.

In the Bay Area the Day Worker Center of Mountain View does that to an extent. For people who aren't comfortable hiring day laborers out of the Home Depot parking lot it give some measure of quality and safety.


In Argentina there is an app that does exactly that:


Isn't that sort of work paid cash in hand and part of the black economy I am sure the IRS would be interested in your data :-)

This is what Labor Ready does, and they're a godsend to people who need a days work on short notice.

There's plenty to be done in the bank risk management space. I was part of a group a few years ago that tried to approach this space; however, family issues forced me to leave software and go back to banking.

There's a piece of software, produced by a company called QRM, used within the treasury group of a lot of large banks. This piece of software is both slow (one run at a decent-sized bank can take several hours even spread over hundreds of CPUs) and incredibly user unfriendly (you cannot do any analysis within the software itself; everything must be dumped to Excel first).

Everyone I have talked with in the industry says this software must be replaced; however, it will take quite a long runway to get things up and going.

While I doubt that this piece of software could be implemented as SaaS for bigger banks, I definitely think if you pitched a solution to smaller banks and built up a group able to conduct the type of analysis you would do with this software, you would have a winner. Also, if your CMU guy is looking to come back to Pittsburgh, I might be able to get one or two other people together for an in-person conversation.

If you are interested in learning more, please provide an email address, and I will reach out to you.

A crowded market can be great because the demand has already been validated, but nobody else has emerged as the market leader yet. That's where YOU step in, with your wisdom and insight about this market, to show the existing constituents how your viewpoint of the world makes life better for them.

So if you don't have any ideas, it means you don't have any wisdom or insight about any market. Therefore, you don't have a great startup team. Full stop.

If you have competent designers and engineers, you could maybe open up a consultancy, and provide implementation services for other entrepreneurs with ideas of their own...

The thing is: smart, creative entrepreneurs see ideas everywhere. They wake up in the morning with a hundred new ideas, lacking only the human bandwidth to pursue them all.

I'd venture to say, if you don't have ideas, you're not really living in the world. You're just looking for a leprechaun with a pot of gold you can claim.

Try just being a fully-formed person in the world, with hobbies and interests and passions and relationships and struggles and obligations and complicated logistics, and see what problems you encounter while living that life.

You'll have a hundred ideas by the end of the day.

I'm tempted to ask to join your group, but I'm finishing my PhD myself (in the spring), so I'm a bit busy! :)

My most important suggestion is the simplest: Come up with more ideas. Take a look through this guy's posts: https://medium.com/@x0054. Specifically, he set a goal to come up with 10 random ideas a day for a month. They are all over the place in terms of quality and practicality. Some of them are silly; some are outstanding. If you do this for a month (as do each of your partners, individually), you will have close to 1,000 ideas to comb through. Something will rise to the top.

Creativity is a habit. Creativity is a skill.

As for myself, I have several ideas that have risen to the top (out of hundreds) that are definitely money-makers, but I don't (yet) have the resources to pursue by myself. The hardest part for me is to find others who are motivated enough to bootstrap a business! It sounds like you have a good group, though, and for that I congratulate you and wish you luck!

It sounds like the three domains you guys have experience in are software, biz Dev, and private equity.

I would stay the fuck away from software because it's an incredibly crowded field, that is notoriously cheap.

But private equity and biz Dev are great domains to be in. People will easily write big checks to solve small problems in those domains.

Have those two guys on your team talk to everyone they know in their respective spaces about what problems they have that they'd be willing to spend money on.

Basically your goal is to find out what problem keeps VPs in those respective domains up at night. And then brainstorm some way to make them worry a little less. Then shop it out to those same guys to see if anyone is willing to buy or help fund the app. Do this over and over again until you find an idea that works.

I would pay, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars for an APP that can build me a house (all costs included). I am not alone.

Obviously, this idea is overly ambitious. But, can you take a moonshot idea like that and break it down into smaller pieces? Perhaps, work on one small piece of a really difficult problem. In the example I gave, perhaps a zoning ordinance voting platform that makes zoning change paper work easier. I realize most of the housing problems are entirely Political. But, you gotta realize, those are problems too - and they are big ones!

Manufactured homes are already a thing. An app to streamline the process of a custom build would be fighting against the (undeserved) stigma, but it'd be interesting to see.

That's no-where near a finished product we can use. You have to worry about getting land, plumbing, electricity, not to mention it's illegal in many places. Often, The fit and finish isn't very nice and the size would be alot smaller than most people want. But, they're probably heading in the right direction, they just have a lot of problems to solve.

I'm pretty confident you'll hit up upon potentially viable ideas based on pain points described by the community in past "Ask HN" threads like the ones below (newest first):

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13576236

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13139638

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9799007

Also, there was a Show HN nearly a year ago for http://patentsexpiringtoday.com/ which is a service for exploring ideas whose patent protection have expired.

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13309025

Ideas are easy. Doing stuff is hard.

Low cost stickers that can be activated then placed on items in the refrigerator to indicate how much time has passed. Should be feasible to develop for a qualified team and would save People a lot of food. Maybe the design exists and just needs proper marketing.

Easy, cheap, hassle free batch scanning of photographs. How many people have boxes and boxes of family photos that they only see once every 5-10 years? Get those things digitized and organized now cheaply and easily.

You know those people who fly over peoples houses, take nice photos, then try to sell them to the owner? Why not offer people a digital copy of their houses/property? Lots of applications for that. From games to interior decorating to planning renovations.

Methane can be produced using electricity from solar power. Which could be run in cars without much modification. This could reduce fossil fuel usage without having wait for internal combustion engine vehicles to be retired. Maybe a unit installed at home could provide fuel for an individuals commute at near zero cost after it's paid off? If not maybe large facilities could make and ship the fuel to be sold at gas stations. Some people would be willing to pay a premium for liquid fuel produced by solar(At least I would). It could become even more desirable if proper carbon regulations ever kick in.

A wikipedia for DIY things. Instructibles sucks. It would be nice to have a well organized and very large corpus of information on how to do things from the very general to the very specific. From various methods to repair a hole in sheet rock to replacing brake pads on a 1997 Volvo to gardening with lots of various individual plans for different home projects like Halloween costumes, knitting, and woodworking. The hard part is getting a large community of people to contribute to the making of it.

I could go on all day. Anyone can. figuring out which idea in the sea of available ideas floating around, then executing it. That's the hard thing.

Ooh. How about a stock market for making movies? You can invest 500 dollars in a 10,000,000 dollar movie and get 1/19,000th of the actual profits. Anyone can become a movie producer. It makes secret plot twist impossible, but could be good for many kinds of movies.

At home anaerobic digesters that turn food, yard, and bodily waste into fuel to heat water/furnace/make electricity, etc

Right, but the question asks about good ideas, and that's a problem - how do you tell it's good? Yeah, I know about market validation, but you can't literally validate every idea you come up with. Especially if you have to build an MVP to do it.

I do "idea validation as a service" by asking the target group of an idea what they think about it: http://www.ideacheck.io

You can't know for certain if an idea is good ahead of time. You can identify some bad ideas that look good with a little research, but the only sure way to tell is to do the thing. Hell even if it is a good idea they might just fail to execute it properly. I wonder if they're just too risk averse. Looking for a sure thing when there's no such thing.

For me, I wouldn't say it's looking for a sure thing, but feeling like I'm probably wasting my time. Like you said, one can easily come up with dozens, possibly hundreds of ideas. Chances are most are duds. Without any good way of ranking them, what are the chances you'll hit on a good one?

Doing this kind of "idea lottery" just sounds like a recipe for frustration.

For them it's got to be frustrating. It's fun for me. I like brainstorming.

Would it be possible for your team to start a small VC firm instead of a startup? Wouldn't that be a better fit for a team that has lots of capital, one technical partner, and one sales partner, but currently doesn't have an idea?

I was thinking this too.

I was going to say it might be worth looking for projects that have been validated by sales and then looking to grow them both with the team and capital.

Having something like a space with a couple ideas/ startups in it that have already been validated would lower your risk and expose you to more opportunities while growing the business. I assume.

If they don't have enough interest (meaning knowledge) in any market to have lots of ideas already, how will they know how to vet potential investments?

What a garbage idea -- you don't want to move into venture capital; the risks vs (potential) rewards are out of touch with reality. The chances of ending up achieving good returns as a VC are slim (read: it's really really hard. Given the odds and effort required, I don't understand why anyone even tries).

That said, PE has plenty of opportunities within tech though. Which is essentially what you described.

Website & terminal integration that reads last ~30 lines of stdout&stderr and suggests a solution/elaboration with links back to stackoverflow/forum post that it came from. Launch as open source and sell to enterprises that want to incorporate internal knowledge bases (extract Q & A from chat logs is huge) without leaking data outside the company.

Program that takes an AST and valid transformations, learn what kinds of ASTs humans prefer and offer a high quality auto restructure code tool that guarantees no side effects.

Company that I can pay a small subscription to that works to protect my attention, ad blocking has been done fairly well for free, but that is far from the only attention hog. Most app's notifications are just distractions and should be batched, only to be looked at at the end of the day. Should be easy to take a picture of paper spam mail and have the company get it to stop. Stuff like that.

Company that picks up anything from junk to valuables and either charges or pays you based off of the value of the stuff. As a customer I'd like to take a picture of the items, receive an estimate of cost or price and only have to interact with the company, no coordinating with craigslist rando.

IoT company that produces cheap place-and-forget devices that monitor long term potential problems in houses (major changes in how vibrations carry through the walls, moisture in basement)

EDIT more:

A purely audio interface to email, specific goal being usable while walking/driving to work.

Text preprocesser that estimates what you already know (tracks what articles you read, how much of them you read) and greys out/deempahsises stuff you likely already know. Having an estimate of what someone already knows could be huge for manipulating the forgetting curve & estimating the likeliehood of understanding what is in a piece of text.

Reddit/HN like site that ranks based off of amount of work done on the item, try to be more popular than bitcointalk. Plenty of ads targeting crypto holders.

It's simple. Add another person to the team who has a brilliant, world beating idea but no working capital, great team, etc. You can talk to several to see who has the "best" idea. For a start on this process you can contact me :-)

PS: I use google's email service and have the same id there as I have on YC.

Definitely, just going through YC rejects there must be at least one that has a great idea :) .

A text-book case of analysis paralysis! I get the feeling you're inability to get something started may stem from trying to over optimise on your options.

The opportunity cost of selecting any particular path is real (and scary), but you have to take the plunge! I have had a few reasonably successful start ups (link to my latest one is in my profile), and I can tell you that if you are careful to start small, the opportunity cost is not so big.

With a small startup, you don't really need to commit till you see traction. Try this (I've done this in the past, and it's quite useful):

1) All of you sit down together to jot down a few ideas you have floating around your minds.

2) Pick the best one at that moment, and think about who your potential customers could be. Google a few actual companies - say 5 or 10.

3) Without writing a single bit of code, think about logistics and give the idea a bit of structure (how it would work, how much it would cost etc).

4) Call the potential clients from step 2 and try to sell them the product. It doesn't exist yet, but they don't know that. They will probably tell you "no", or "we use xyz to do this already" etc

5) Use their responses as valuable data points - if all of them don't need your service, maybe the idea's a dud. If they already have something doing the same thing, and they pay for it, it may be worth exploring to see how you can improve on the existing experience.

That should take you about 2-3 hours at most and will at least end up generating some discussion. Clearly, you have time, money and people at your disposal. Unfortunately, it seems, you've locked yourselves away in an echo chamber to the point that the world can't reveal its many problems to you!

So .. a bizdev guy who has never found any business problems and a PE guy who has never discovered any PE problems? Either you're overthinking it or just doomed: you don't have a team.

so harsh yet so true. off the top of my head i can think of a few PE problems that warrant a product. For instance, Facebook just released a Locations API for over a million locations. Which means you can find the number of checkins for stores like BestBuy and Target everyday. This can be a goldmine for financial analysts. Your team needs to stop screwing around.

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