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How to Decide What to Build (dcgross.com)
630 points by danicgross 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 175 comments



One of the points the author makes is that you should track the problems you have, and the ones that reoccur will be good signals to solve them.

Does anyone else feel pretty content with what they have?

Because this strategy I think Paul Graham has talked about in one of his essays for ideas. And to be honest, I do genuinely feel like I don't have much if anything to complain about, and so I can't really think of startup ideas. To the point where I'm just consulting at the moment because I can't think of any startup idea to work on.

I mean I have ideas of problems I want to solve - but they've all been met by massive resistance because they're huge problems. Like for instance one idea I had was I hate making food, but I don't want to eat out all of the time. Can you crowdsource cooking from your neighbors? So I tried building that platform. I instantly discovered there were huge safety regulations about cooking, and that really baking (or anything that isn't extremely perishable) is the only thing you can pretty much do out of your home and not get slapped by the state for violating health codes. So I'm just sort of defeated...the only problems I want to tackle just seem massive and I can't seem to find the divide-and-conquer algorithm to help the world in a smaller (but still meaningful) way.


I don't normally talk about this, but here is what you are missing:

Businesses that make (real) money revolve around one of two ideas:

- They sell shovels

- They are middlemen (middlepeople?)

They sell shovels.

This is stolen from the old saying that during the American gold rush the people who made the money were the ones selling shovels. Or facilitating others to go and do what they wanted (in this case, chase a wild dream).

Uber, the example you used, sells shovels. It lets people make money from their car. Real money. Not peanuts. Your idea to sell food to neighbors didn't have the potential to make much money. You weren't selling shovels, you were selling work (cooking is hard work).

Now, let's take your current business (which you list in your profile). You sell shovels because you help companies get what they what in terms of engineering management (lots of money to be made there). Better engineering processes usually trickles down into the finances. In a way, you are selling money.

They are middlemen.

A middleman is someone who simply takes a cut for facilitating something. They import beer from somewhere else and by doing that they jack up the price a little bit and resell it to you. This is a very straightforward mechanic.

Amazon is one of the best middlemen out there right now. It even changed the game by reducing the friction in selling online. Their whole "fulfilled by Amazon" approach is a classic middlemen tactic.

Middlemen sell the idea that they make getting what you want easier.

How to apply this to software

Selling shovels: Build a product that makes people money. Ecommerce is still growing. Do something there.

Be a middleman: Find something to facilitate. Look for inefficiencies. How? Listen to complaints. People love to complain to someone who listens. Make some contacts on social media and listen to people. They will show you the way.

One last thing: don't be stupid. Big ideas are tied to a big ego. You are not Musk, Jobs, or Gates. Who cares?! Look for small ideas that you can execute well. And then execute, not for passion or ego, but as a grind. Like a regular job. Because that's what it is. Good luck.


This is well articulated. I once had an unnecessarily heated argument with a BIL who didn't see the difference between what I called an "entrepreneur" (what you call a shovel maker) and a "trader" (the middle man).

My problem was my nomenclature - they are both entrepreneurs (one builds, they other connects built stuff). You've done what I wanted to do so elegantly!

Thank you.


You are welcome and thank you.


Your point about shovels reminds me of something Alan Kay said about human universals. That is if you want to make a lot of money take one of the top 20 human universals and build a technological amplifier for them.

Link: https://www.fastcompany.com/40435064/what-alan-kay-thinks-ab...


Thank you for posting that link.


And Alan Kay's response to that article:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15268510


Wow, thank you for sharing the link.


Thank you for this thorough and thoughtful response! Lots to soak in here. I agree, I am certainly not Elon Musk, there is no ego here. I'm just saying that the problem spaces I want to help with (environment, health/fitness/healthcare) don't seem like the problems I can effectively tackle because, as I mentioned before, I can't seem to find a way to divide-and-conquer into a smaller idea I can execute on. Do you have any thoughts behind that? I guess maybe talk with people in those spaces and see what problems they are having that could benefit from some tiny innovation?


Let me try: How about a variant of your "selling food to neighbors idea"? Build a platform where people can organize local "cooking clubs" (like meetup.com for cooking). You can find other people in your area who like to cook (sometimes) and everyone in the group makes a meal for the rest of the group, taking turns. That way, if and what is cooked is not your business (no regulation), you're just facilitating the meetups and schedules.


At that point why not just organize a meetup and charge admission instead of reinventing the wheel?


Your heart is in the right place, but that idea will fall flat when compared to existing social networks.


Vizeat runs on 1.5M ARR. funded in the 5M. Bought EatWith. Good thing they didn’t ask for forum advice just built and iterated.


Map, filter, and reduce your ideas. Health, fitness, and healthcare all fall into the same bucket. However, the money is in helping companies operate more efficiently. Lots of great opportunities in the area of automation. I would start talking to people who work in healthcare companies about how they process their data. They still rely heavily on copying and pasting from excel spreadsheets. To give you an idea, I just built a system to do such thing at work. Took me a 2 days. It could easily be replicated and sold as a sass or onetime purchase. Plus it is selking shovels because no one likes to process data manually.

Environment wise, I'd say that there is opportunity in the data collection side (this would make you a middleman). Lots of orgs need a way to CRUD localized enviromental data. Look into it.

About dividing and conquering.

Again: map, filter, and reduce. Map your ideas to business models (money making functions). Filter them to remove the ones who don't have a clear path to revenue. Reduce down to the one you can execute. Take your time.


Is efficiency/automation what company wants? I am in the process of selling a inventory SAAS for medium size retail companies that helps them reduce a lot of labor everyday but I have trouble selling it. The companies don't see the value, they already have people doing this labor and I have seen that they are much more interesting in selling more that efficiency in the process. This at least for medium size companies.


The corporation I work for is in business process automation (specialized in healthcare and insurance, but not exclusively that).

All companies want business process automation, but none of them want to pay enough for it, or have their shit together enough to work with us, usually.

We still manage to get enough business to make money, but we've had lots of clients that absolutely needed something done by a certain date drag their feet about signing contracts to the point where we did free work expecting the contract to be signed, then they still don't sign the contracts or say they couldn't get their data ready to send to us so we could do what they wanted with it, or their IT department decides they can do what we do (and then ends up failing miserably because their culture is slow and awful), or all sorts of things.

It's quite a mess, but there is money to be made in it. Our corporation alone has billions of dollars in revenue from it every year, so the industry as a whole has to be pretty big.


Wow! In your starting paragraphs you portrayed your billion dollar company as if it was a struggling business just scraping by


Honestly it sometimes feels like that.

Our particular building has had a lot of bad luck since we were a smaller company that was purchased and absorbed into the big corporation, and a lot has happened since that has resulted in us becoming a lot, lot smaller than we used to be (There's even talk that the corporate overlords might close down our office building to save money and force relocation soon).

If I didn't have so much going on in my personal life right now I probably would have left already, like many others already have. If they do close and force relocation, then I will finally leave the company at that point. I just bought a house, I'm not going anywhere for awhile.

The clients that I'm referring to that dragged their feet signing contracts, couldn't get their own data in place, or broke/backed out of existing contracts suddenly and without any issues of performance on our parts were major, major companies as well. I'm sure you've heard of each of them.


It's hard to answer your question without knowing more about your marketing and sales pitch. Feel free to email me if you want to talk more about it.


To be honest, I'm not seeing the difference between uber and Amazon. It just feels like you're giving your interpretation of the situation rather than the reality.

You day this about uber > It lets people make money from their car.

I think the implicit assumption above is that cars don't make money traditionally.

Same can be said amazon: "It let's you make (more) money from the things you're already selling"

Uber is also a middle man between ride-hailer(user) and driver, the same way Amazon is a middle man between buyer and seller.

Are the examples incorrect because they're way too similar (platform plays) or is my understanding incorrect (that they're very similar)? I'll be happy if somebody could take a few minutes to explain


I often use the exact same example you gave to explain this to people (especially the one about the shovels) so I have a third thing you are missing:

Fashion

Although they can be called scammers and fraudsters when they are tech companies that can't deliver there are other sectors where utility isn't as apparent (literal fashion, art) and then sometimes well established players that are a little bit of each (middlemen, shovel salesmen..) start to capitalize on this angle, maybe Apple is the archetypical example?

Edited for clarity.


They still sell shovels. but some times the dirt aka problem is projecting being cool, hip etc.


Could you expand some more?


I assume he is talking about "selling entry" into a fashionable group, e.g. Apple product owner. Apple has a significant markup on their products, because they're fashionable. Neither the markup nor the fact that the products are fashionable is an accident.


Depending on how you look at it, I don't think Uber (as of now) is selling shovels, I look at Uber as the middleman between the riders and the drivers, their job primarily in optimally satisfying the ride-hailing market demand.


They sell making money to drivers and saving money to riders. Yes, they get a cut, but their model would collapse the moment that working for them becomes unprofitable (when the rideshare bubble bursts during the next recession that is about to hit).


I know this doesn't add much to the conversation here, but I just had to say this might be one of the most well thought out and clearly articulated responses I have seen here in a long time.


Thank you, that means a lot.


Well, at least for me the fact that you can't strike it big selling expertise or art looks like the triumph of form over substance and a symptom of a society that has yet to develop fully, maybe because of its flawed model from the start (humans anyone?).


In this case, who is the middleman selling shovels for food? Uber Eats/Deliveroo/Foodora? I think they are middlemen between a restaurant which makes food, someone who wants to make some cash from his bike, and the client.


No, they sell shovels. Being a food delivery driver makes for some good quick cash in the form of tips (I used to deliver pizzas when I was young).


Blue Apron?


if I build a gam then what is it as shovel? people will not makemoney out of it. I'm also not a middleman because there's just me and the end customer, I vuilt it from scratch. So who am I?!


No, you are a manufacturer. You are producing a product from raw materials with the goal of turning a profit. The issue with this model, when applied to digital products, is that the tolerance for execution is diminutive. A good idea for a game with great art and music can easily turn into a failure if some of the game mechanics are off (See no man's land). Video games are one of the hardest products to produce.

It's important to keep in mind that selling shovels and being a middleman are not the only options. There are certainly others. Its just that my exoeriences and studies have pointed to those two being the most profitable in the current cultural setting.


And for games, becoming a middleman like Steam is where the profit is. They have less risk since they are just facilitating connecting game "manufacturers" to consumers. They aren't heavily invested in one game. If it's a flop there are others.


I wouldn't say "where the profit is." There is steam...what else is there? Microsoft/Sony/Google/Apple marketplaces? Those don't really count because they control the platform and essentially kill all the alternatives. Gog, humble bundle, and itch.io are a tiny fraction of steam.


That is an astute observation. Steam's success pivots on its ability to develop and strengthen a marketplace.


One of thousands of people entering into the highly competitive Indie Games market and hoping that you have the right combination of a desirable game and effective marketing that will get you enough sales that your time spent making the game is justified.

Or in other words, a gambler. Your profit from the game relies on convincing people that your game is fun and worthwhile; two ill defined concepts that vary from person to person.

With a business idea (shovels or middleman) your profit comes from convincing people that your product will help them make more money than they're paying you.


You bring a up a good point. A poorly designed game might qualify as a gamble. However, there are ways to build games that have well grounded revenue predictions. Though those are hardly built by indies because they are not very innovative.


A game is a shovel. People don't want to play games, they want to have fun, or disconnect from the real world for a period of time, or they want to connect with their friends. Games enable them to do so.


Agreed. So shovel for dopamine?


Also, sell a dream. See boats, vacation, music, movies


What about Apple?


Shovels. The bicycle of the mind is selling people on something they want. The iPhone, aside from being a technological leap over other phones in the market, allowed people to feel better than others by the simple act of ownership. Everything in their repertoire revolves around selling more shovels. Remember the app store rush? What fueled it? The opportunity to make an app and get rich.


Well, yeah, fine. But that analogy is so generic, that every product is a shovel. BMW sells shovels, Apple sells shovels, IKEA sells shovels.

In your worldview all of life is just a gold rush. I'm not sure if I find that analogy useful.


I'm inclined to agree with you. I don't think IKEA sells shovels. At least, not in the way Apple does. BMW is more of a middle ground between the two.

I think what we're looking at is selling experiences?

You can sell shovels and bundle experience with them - I think it's pretty straightforward to view Apple from that perspective.

But home furnishings are just purely experiences. Clothing seems to fall into the same experience category.

So maybe it's a sort of trifecta. Middlemen, Shovels, and experience.

When I buy a television there's going to be a middleman - a retailer - who probably can provide some pro/con to the experience category. But what's driving me is the experience that the TV will afford. Same with IKEA.

When I buy a Macbook Pro I'm looking for a device that can help me edit code and video in ways that I enjoy, so the shovel factor is important to me.

If I'm going to buy a luxury car like a BMW then there's the shovel-factor of having reliable transportation, but the premium price comes from experience.

Utility, middle-men, and experience. The extra category of experience seems to fill in the gaps.


I'd say they are both. They sell you expensive shovels to take part in the FOMO gold rush, and they take a considerable cut of everything you buy with that shovel.


I feel like people - us, here, on this forum - sometimes think too big. Like, we have to invent the new Facebook or it’s not worth it. I think that can cripple our thinking.

(Obviously I’m massively generalising. I’m not having a dig at anyone here.)

I’ve realised recently that there’s good money to be made solving little problems. Not Zuckerberg money, but who wants that lifestyle. Ramen money.

Example: my partner is a medical copywriter. Some jobs, she spends hours reformatting journal citations. All she’s doing is making part of it italic, making sure the dashes are all en-dashes, whatever.

How many medical copywriters are there? How many people have this problem? Now, it’s not a life-changing thing, but it’s what computers are for! So we’re building a little tool that will make this easier for us.

What’s our goal? I don’t know. To make enough to pay our rent? That’d be lovely for starters and what is that, a thousand people giving us $5/month each? That’s nothing.

It also helps, of course, that she’s in this industry. She knows where to go to find other people with the same problem. Solve something in your domain, and everything’s going to be easier. (It’s also why I’m not afraid of telling everyone here what the idea is. Chances of someone else being passionate and knowledgeable about this, enough to steal the idea, are near nil.)

That’s where my head’s at, and it makes thinking about this stuff much easier for me, at least.


This sort of problem is everywhere.

I can recall back in the old Business of Software forum on joelonsoftware when I pointed out that I was digging in my garden and came across a grub. Since I was thinking about the people who said they could never "think of business ideas" I wondered if there was software that had something to do with grubs and bugs. Less than a minute on google and I had pages of Pest Management Software.

The moral of the story was that if I could come up with software business ideas while digging in the dirt, it shouldn't be that hard to see opportunities all around.


Yes, that is a good approach. Remember that making money is about buying your freedom to survive. You can do so without being a millionaire.


Here’s some more trouble with that: if startups only solve problems that scratch a personal itch, we end up with 20 chat apps, 10 food delivery services, 5 bicycle rentals, Uber for maids, mobile dog shampoo services, basically startups that solve problems for 20-something urban tech workers. As others mentioned, better to find other people totally not like you and figure out what problems they have to solve. They may be boring problems too, but maybe you’ll stumble onto a totally unaddressed niche.


That's also one of the advantages of traveling, exploring, stepping outside your comfort zone, etc. New experiences can open you up to completely new ideas.


I can relate to your sentiment of being content with what you have. I gave up my smartphone, I canceled all paid subscription services, I use linux and open source software for everything.

Basically, it's difficult for me to imagine personally paying for any type of SAAS offering, so when I'm working on a project with a paid model, sometimes I have to employ a 'suspension of disbelief' because I'm working on something that I know I probably wouldn't be willing to pay for (not because it sucks, just because I'm hesitant to pay for any software or online service).


For a business, everything has a cost. Let's say you need to a payment solution. Most will use something like Stripe instead of hiring new teams of developers to implement from scratch.

The same can be said about smaller services too. Something that sounds simple, like sending emails is actually very time consuming due to spam-filters etc. First you have the initial work, and then you have all the follow up during the lifetime of your business. This includes not only the cost of running servers and patching software, but also all the bugs. Every time a customer does not get a mail, you will have to dig into the system to find out why. Hopefully the dev who implemented it still works there, or you would need time for the new person to ramp up.

The alternative is to pay a small amount for a 3rd party mail service.


That's a good point, I like the idea of identifying solutions using a cost-benefit approach.


That just tells me you value money more than your time. Most people have this the other way around. You can always make more money but you can't make more time.


Not necessaarily, I have a similar mindset to the parent poster and for me it's largely about keeping the business simple and manageable.

To give an example I sell my software through Avangate, this results in a single invoice and payment each month. I know if I switched to Stripe it would save my a couple of percentage points on each sale but then I'd need to maintain systems that handled EU VAT laws, issue license codes and import a lot of data into my accounting system, in fact I'd need to upgrade my accounting system which is fine with a few transactions each month but would be stretched at fifty or more.

This has been my experience with most of these services, great if you want to grow a large business because you are effectively outsourcing some of your work but it does tend to complicate things. Personally I like my work to be small and simple.


Sounds like you have identified a problem that could be solved by a saas offering.


No, the point is all these extra products and services end up complicating things, sure they have benefits for many but not for me. I've got plenty of things in my life, I don't need more.


It's more a function of not having the money to spend rather than being miserly. If I'm able to get traction with one of the projects I'm working on, I'd happily trade some money to save some time.


I built Instapainting.com to serve customers and have not personally had a reason to use the service myself. Essentially I have to do more guesswork and testing, but it can be done. Not all services have to be built to satisfy your own needs, and arguably at some point all services must grow to beyond one’s own needs. So it’s a necessary skill to develop and required at some point to grow and serve new niches or new use cases or markets.


I read through your indiehackers post and it was very interesting to see your approach on SEO, e.g. viral marketing with interesting side projects


I agree with your observation. It is difficult to find problems worth solving. I thought and read about this a lot. And I think solving problems is just one way, one flavor of deciding which thing to build. I’d say this is the Silicon Valley school of thought, very much influenced by VCs. There is a another way, which I have picked up from Seth Godin: Tell the right story. People don’t always know why they buy things. Why do I need a smart watch? Why do I need fancy shoes? They don’t solve a real problem. But, they make me feel good. Because I can tell a story to myself. A think this blend of deciding what to do is more art than rational, that’s what it’s maybe not that popular. But if you start to look around, you will notice the story of stuff people buy.


a.k.a the Apple school of thought.


I'm exceptionally lazy and always feel the need more machines. I need a machine that washes and flosses my teeth fast and thoroughly, I waste 15-20 minutes each day doing that. I need a robotic dishwasher/cupboard cabinet that I simply open the lid, trow the dirty plates then simply pick them up clean from the adjacent cupboard. Ditto for dry, ironed laundry. I need a food printer with attached smart refrigerator that I can download my favorite recipes into and will order the necessary ingredients and automatically cook the meal at the programmed time. A flying machine, oh man, how much I need a flying machine.

Ok, maybe those are grand ideas that need billions of dollars of research, but any one of those involves a myriad of smaller improvements that can turn into startup products. The potential for improving our lives is so vast I cannot imagine how could anyone say "I have everything I need".


Also fun idea, why should you have a cupboard to store your china and silverware etc in?

Why not just have the washer also be the storage, then you just walk up to it and select e.g. plate + fork on the frontend and it spits out a clean pair for you. When you're done you place them back in and they're washed and stored for later use.

Same for the clothing, although in that case one might argue that a lady might enjoy the display of the product and wants to physically see them.

Ideally in the (small) house of the future the tighter packing allowed by the machine might be a great advantage.


Between a WaterPik flosser and a Sonicare electric toothbrush, I've knocked my daily dental hygiene time down to like 4 minutes.

It would be really hard to improve on that combo.


What about something you just bite onto (a bit like a boxer's mouthguard) that cleans your teeth while you're doing something else?

Then it's down to effectively 15 seconds.



I didn't say it was impossible.


You're not thinking about problems hard enough. Instead just giving up when something sounds vaguely hard. Get rid of the vagueness, figure out exactly how hard it is.

As per your example, have you done the research concerning health codes and what sorts of operations violate them and which don't? I'm pretty sure off the top of my head that if you're not actually selling food, as in taking in payments and delivering food, you're not on the hook for what other people are doing in their homes.

So I can envision a service facilitating neighborhood meal swaps. The state might not exactly like it, but it won't have anyone to go after for health code violations. This is pretty much exactly what Uber did, they kept toeing ever closer to the line of the actually illegal until they had both the legal budget and a public mandate to fight City Hall.


This only applies to US and a bunch of other countries that would bother to enforce the law regarding cooking regulation. Most countries wouldn't really care as they have more important issues to solve than clamp down on innocent people making informed choices about their lives. So the idea isn't really bad.


> Most countries wouldn't really care as they have more important issues to solve than clamp down on innocent people making informed choices about their lives. So the idea isn't really bad.

Yup. More important issues like no rule of law, no sanitation, low literacy rates, mob rule, etc.

"Clamping down on innocent people making informed choices about their lives" is what you get to once you stabilize a society and solve its most urgent, life-threatening problems. It's what you get to once people are living in relative health and safety, and then you discover that "informed choices" aren't really that informed, because they're made in the environment full of scammers and people who can't give two fucks about other human beings, if it means few dollars more.

And once you get to that, you can live in a world where food poisoning in a restaurant is national news.


Supper clubs are quite popular here in Europe. We have excellent sanitation and literacy, thank you.

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/germany/articles/discover-...

In addition to the fancy ones in the articles there are a lot that are cheap and emphasize dining together with strangers. I went to a Syrian refugee dinner in a cafe/film theater. The Syrians were all smart college grads with interesting stories.

There used to be a lot of squats in Berlin that were given legal status as long as they did a community dinner once a week. Punk bars and cafes would serve vegan chow for €2. It wasn't like a restaurant at all, more like visiting friends. Probably this still happens but I haven't gone in a long time.


> Yup. More important issues like no rule of law, no sanitation, low literacy rates, mob rule, etc.

That's just silly. There are plenty of countries out there with friendlier business climates that aren't still in the bush league. Most South American countries and Eastern Europe and many Asian countries should be on your list if you're considering moving abroad to start a business.

Personally my pick is Colombia.


Did the massive regulation on the taxi industry stop Uber? If you build something people find genuinely useful, you will become a force that causes the market to adapt. Regulation follows innovation.


I'm founding Uber for Biotech. No biosafety regulation is going to stop us from CRISPRing our way into better future!

Seriously though, I get that archaic rules need to be fought in order to be changed. But there are proper ways to do that, and Uber did it in about the most antisocial way possible aside from murdering people. Please, don't be like Uber. Innovations need a stable society to flourish.


Eh. No defence of the way Kalanick or some of his minions acted in certain situations, but... Uber was entering an incredibly difficult space, given the power and entrenchment of the existing taxi business/lobby, and the generally anti-innovation and protectionist approach of many local politicians.

Without their 'hustle' and willingness to take steps which were risky, relatively antisocial, and often illegal (e.g. entering cities illegally first and asking for permission later, organising pretty challenging pressure campaigns against local politicians, authorities, etc.) they'd not have made it past a year, let alone revolutionised an industry.

Their downfall was applying the same risk and hustle mentality indiscriminately, including within their own company.


>>Without their 'hustle' and willingness to take steps which were risky, relatively antisocial, and often illegal (e.g. entering cities illegally first and asking for permission later, organising pretty challenging pressure campaigns against local politicians, authorities, etc.) they'd not have made it past a year, let alone revolutionised an industry.

Are you kidding? If SpaceX was able to break ULA’s monopoly on launching god damn rockets to space and do it in a way that doesn’t break laws and regulations, Uber certainly could have done the same in the taxi industry.


C'mon, the two are utterly incomparable.

SpaceX had essentially one body to convince - NASA. And given NASA's dependence on ULA to get things into space, and ULA's reliance on Russian rocket engines (aside from NASA's traditional conservatism and reluctance to support a brash new young Silicon Valley upstart company not doing things the NASA way) they quietly welcomed SpaceX with open arms, and paid SpaceX huge amounts for their development. Also, I'm not aware that ULA was a 'monopoly' in the usual sense of the word - they've not taken measures to suppress potential competition in the past, have they? (There's no launch provider badge system!). They were just the only US company that could offer orbital services at that time.

tl;dr, NASA had major incentives to support SpaceX, and ULA wasn't a true monopoly.

In contrast, Uber faced hundreds of different NASAs - each one the local government of any and every major city they wanted to enter. In each case, the challenge and the hurdles in their way would have been different. In each case, there were multiple long-established alternatives (the incumbent taxi firms). And in many cases, the lobbying power of the incumbent taxi firms on the local decision makers would have been considerable (via overt lobbying, relationships, threat of strikes, maybe even bribery). All of this would have made making the case for Uber in theory to unenlightened local politicians almost a non-starter. What worked for Uber was getting their service up and running (sometimes illegally), users seeing that it was a dramatically better option than the incumbent uninnovative taxi firms offered, and then leveraging that support, together with other forms of pressure, to be allowed to continue business.

tl;dr, local governments generally had disincentives to support Uber, and Uber faced multiple entrenched competitors, sometimes in a monopoly position.


If you want to convince people, you should give an example of a business that faced a similar problem and fought it the correct way.


Discussing this locally, I usually give example of iCar, which is a people transportation company that run borderline-afoul of taxi laws in my city (Kraków, Poland). Their innovation back ~10 years ago (or more) was to drive primarily by GPS, bill by distance instead of time, and thus being able to tell you how much you'll pay before even starting the trip. The primary point of conflict was, AFAIR, that iCar figured out a sorta-loophole that allowed them to have one taxi license for the entire company instead of for each individual driver.

There was some bad blood between them and the regular taxi corps, some tyres got slashed, but the court sorted things out, updated the regulations a bit, and now iCar and other companies happily coexist. The major difference between them and Uber is that they didn't keep breaking law with impunity, but engaged in finding a legal solution and made the entire space better for everyone.

Sure, this is not the path to exponential growth, but maybe not everything is best done by VC-backed "zero to billion dollars corporation in 5 years" businesses.


I would suggest trying to think about what task your team has to do often that is better done by a software--a minor but recurring annoyance. Like, in my case,

- Backend and Frontend development are never in sync, so we have to resort to mocking the API by using dummy code. There are API mocking services, but I would prefer something that mocks locally. Charles Proxy is great for this but it can be limiting and isn't very intuitive.

- Every time our customers face an obscure issue with the product, there's plenty of to and fro to understand the root cause of the issue. If there was a product that could tell us the trail of actions that the customers followed, it'll make debugging vastly easier.

Of course, there's a world of difference in recognizing the problem and creating a sustainable product. But, every organization is inefficient in some sort of way. It's just a matter of observing carefully.


> If there was a product that could tell us the trail of actions that the customers followed, it'll make debugging vastly easier.

Sentry.io may be a good start, perhaps?


Regarding your specific problem, maybe it's not as grim as you see, you just have to think bigger and farther ahead: I am talking of course about Robot Kitchens. After automated driving this will probably be the next big frontier.

This seems to be the state of the art: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNcPVvIs_tk http://www.moley.com/about-us/

They state that the consumer version is set to launch in 2018. It will probably take several more years to work out all the kinks. But this is likely the actual future of cooking, not the local outsourcing.


I came around to this couple of days late, so I don't know if it's worth it but here's my take on it.

Your identified problem was - Don't like cooking and don't want to eat outside.

The solution you had was - crowdsource cooking.

But how about looking it in another way? What do you disliked more - cooking or unhealthy outside food?

I dislike cooking. One of the issues with cooking is that prep, measurement and deciding menu takes time. Lot of times I am stuck with - what to cook today?

So, how do we solve this problem? Meal Kits.

I know they still don't take away from the fact that you need to cook. But it is similar to getting food from outside, even if they are your neighbor.

So, it is not only the problem but solution that matters as well.


Ideas are a dime a dozen, execution is what wins (or sometimes you just get lucky).

Your cooking annoyance is a good place to do thought experiments. I don't always want to cook, but in cases where I don't want to cook I don't always want to go out. Proposed solution: Get my neighbours to cook for me. It's a good idea, but after you investigated, it was infeasible.

There are two ways you can go with this. First, you now have a new annoyance: normal people can't sell their own food creations without poisoning people (or, alternatively, the government discourages people poisoning each other :-) ). Nothing is saying that you have to stay with your original annoyance. You can move. And since this is a thought experiment, maybe you might come up with another idea and investigate that. If it doesn't pan out, then you will get new annoyances.

This technique is pretty similar to Toyota's "5 whys". Before they decide on how to fix a problem they first ask why the problem exists. When they answer that question, they ask why that situation exists. They go down 5 times (I don't think that number is actually carved out in stone, but you get the idea). At that point they have a much better idea of the situation and can choose the most effective place to solve their problem.

But you may come to a realisation that "getting my neighbours to cook for me" is not going to be feasible -- and that nothing down that chain is going to work out. That's not a problem, because it's not the only solution to the problem.

For example (and feel free to steal this idea) I live in Japan and my wife was ill the other day. Normally she makes me a packed lunch. I was too busy with work to return the favour, so instead I went to the convenience store and bought some instant ramen.

You may have eaten instant ramen before. When I lived in Canada, I learned how horrible it is. But in Japan, if you spend $2 instead of $1 the instant ramen is pretty freaking good. If you spend $3 instead of $2, it's almost as good as I can make myself (the only real downside is that the toppings are not really numerous enough).

I thought to myself, "I wonder if I could export these amazing ramen soups to the US. I'm sure you can get them in specialty stores, but this is absolutely ripe for exploitation on the web. These things weigh nothing and they will ship perfectly. And they don't rot in any reasonable time frame. Why the heck is there not anything like this?"

So I did my 5 why's and realised that if you want to do it, you have to be in the US (or wherever you want to sell) because you need to order container sized amounts to make the overseas shipping reasonable. This means you need a distribution centre at the destination. But I absolutely guarantee that Nissin (or whoever you want to talk to) would be thrilled to sell you a container of ramen, with which you can do a "Ramen of the week club" on the internet (surely this already exists... surely... I haven't actually checked).

Anyway, that's an example. Don't give up is the answer. One idea is nothing. Let it go. Use it to inform your next move. Keep going and never stop.

Edit: I just had a quick look. There are internet ramen clubs, but their ramen is all crap. Ripe for disruption -- look for ramen in a bowl shaped container.

Edit Edit: Darn: https://japanramenbox.com This is exactly what I was thinking. Hope they do well (though you might be able to undercut them ;-) ).


There's a number of sites that actually do as you describe, except it’s for Japanese candy, not ramen. An example: https://www.candyjapan.com



From your example you came across a nested problem with the safety regulations. What about building something trying to ease the pain and streamline getting the required permits to cook domestically?


>Can you crowdsource cooking from your neighbors?

They have what is essentially this service in Singapore. Professional kitchens that make home cooked meals. Very popular.


Professional kitchens doing home delivery isn’t a new concept though. The OP wanted to scale it in the mode of AirBnB or Uber where margins are reduced by replacing professional staff and rented locations with itinerant labour providing their own setup and shouldering much of the risk.


Not at all but they have been enabled by Internet technologies and the cultural change brought about by Internet technologies.


Find something new-ish (e.g. AI, cryptocurrencies), and learn as much as possible about that thing (like, build a toy version of it, get an intuitive understanding of its parts). Product ideas and applications will jump out at you. The kind of ideas you get when you're deliberately trying to come up with ideas, are always obvious and often startup cliches (like food delivery).


> AI, cryptocurrencies [...] The kind of ideas you get when you're deliberately trying to come up with ideas, are always obvious and often startup cliches (like food delivery).

I would say that AI and cryptocurrencies are the startup clichés of today.

Don't start with a solution in search of a problem. Instead, start with a problem, and see if you can find a solution. When comparing problem-solution pairs, discount those that involve trendy, hyped technologies, to account for mental bias.


> I would say that AI and cryptocurrencies are the startup clichés of today.

To say they're cliche suggests we've exhausted all ideas in the space which we definitely have not.


I mean... you may not be able to distribute food, but as far as I know, it's certainly not illegal to create a social networking app where someone can say "I'm interested in a sandwich" and another person says "I'll make you a sandwich for $5". If Tinder is legal, I don't see how that could not be.


I'm also in the "everything is kind of okay in my workflow" boat. One of the major problems I hear about and encounter frequently is that biotech is a painful industry. Creating and selling new drugs takes decades and costs millions of dollars. This isn't some immutable law of pharmacology, it's because drugs have to be approved by regulatory agencies like the FDA, and no amount of clever engineering is going to make clinical trials less onerous.

I think just about every industry that seems, from the outside, to have exploitable conditions like this has hidden barriers. The taxi industry looked exploitable, but in fact was tightly regulated. Uber has managed to capture some of the market by pretending to not be a taxi company, and wound up in a plethora of legal battles for their trouble.

I propose that how obvious or necessary a business idea appears at first glance is directly proportional to how difficult it would be to implement.


Because Tinder isnt bound by the FDA or any commercial food distribution regulations. Try again.


Neither is connecting people to cook food for each other. If your tinder date cooks you breakfast, has anyone run afoul of food safety laws?

You can't be a food distributor if you're not distributing food. I've gone to our local small business seminars for food service, and I've been told that as long as you're not handling food at any point, you can't be held responsible.


Having a pain point and validating it with a set of other users is a good vector for success. While that is true I have seen/heard/read many ideas that are brainstormed in a room and selected at random becoming widely successful.

Anyway, regarding food you could have thought about a machine/robot based solution, at least to begin with :)


I disagree. Many people lack the vision, or sometimes the same negative experience to understand that something needs changing, of people with the original idea. And people often default to the negative, in my experience.

Brainstorm Uber with a group of people and you'd get challenges that taxis already exist and are fine, that laws stand in your way, and that people wouldn't want to get in a stranger's car.

Or to misquote (I think?) Steve Jobs, if Henry Ford had asked his users what they'd wanted before building the Model T, they'd have asked for a faster horse.


Crowdsource cooking from neighbors startup 'Josephine' recently shutdown https://medium.com/the-dish/continuing-the-home-cooking-move...


Yep, you're definitely not alone here.

I also find that sometimes I can think of problems that aren't really a single problem but a whole category of problems, and I have no idea which particular piece I'd like to break off, or any idea for a solution.


Exactly. Because breaking the law really shows your integrity.

Especially regarding food intake, where one un-hygienic perdon could endanger the lives of many.

Personally I like the idea of regulation to ensure a minimum level of quality and security. Look at the aviation industry. Just as an example. What do you think makes flying one of the safest methods of travel?

It is easy to dismiss regulations as hindering. But be prepared to have the consequences dealt with.


Hey, I think you meant to respond to tropshop, not ajdlinux :)


In case you haven’t noticed, Uber, AirBnB don’t care about regulations


Edsger Dykstra wrote one of his many famous notes on project selection[1]. In his case, it was choosing projects for scientific research, but his guidelines are definitely worth a look:

"Raise your quality standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this, because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward."

"We all like our work to be socially relevant and scientifically sound. If we can find a topic satisfying both desires, we are lucky; if the two targets are in conflict with each other, let the requirement of scientific soundness prevail."

"Never tackle a problem of which you can be pretty sure that (now or in the near future) it will be tackled by others who are, in relation to that problem, at least as competent and well-equipped as you."

[1] http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD06xx/EW...


Customers are also a great source of project ideas. You can pick a customer, like "small business owner" or "wealth advisor," and interview them.

My favorite question that leads to ideas is "tell me everything you did from when you started your day until now," and dig into all the annoying/painful things they mention.


Yes! In many ways, all your initial idea needs to be is a launch pad. Once you get your foot in the door, you can always refine based on what users tell you.

Per your point, it's important to learn from their workflow, not ask them what they want. When you ask someone what they want, they often perform attribute substitution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attribute_substitution) and answer a different question.


Great point. Also important that your customers may not even know what is possible, so they won't know to ask for it directly. Instead, if we ask why they want something, we can understand their intents - and translate that into technology.

We've seen this a lot with text analytics - instead of trying to repeat what humans do manually (reading/annotating), we try to understand the questions that clients are interested in (the drivers behind their current workflow).


The Sources of Innovation by von Hippel [1] tries to answer this question of when innovation comes from users vs. manufacturers vs. suppliers. The book is nearly unreadable, but the topic is interesting.

[1] http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www-old/books/sources/SofI.pdf


This kind of question is a gold mine, IME. When I interview network protocol devs, my favorite question is:

"tell me what happens between the time you type something into the address bar and when you see a result". so many opportunities to show understanding at various levels there.


The reaction here is interesting, but it won't change my opinion without concrete feedback. Please tell me why this opinion is wrong.


I think your comment is being downvoted because it's irrelevant. The discussion is about "how to figure out what to build" and you pivoted to an interview question you like to use. So it's wrong conversationally, not factually.


> validate your market

how do you do this? Smartphones existed as PDAs for 10-20yrs before iPhone. If I had shown someone my Sony Clie and said "if I make this work with your finger instead of a stylus, simplify the UI, and charge you $80+ a month for service would you be interested?". except for a few geeks like myself the answer would have been "no, that stuff is for geeks" for most people and yet here we are 10 years later and everyone has a smartphone.

So I don't really see how to "validate your market". I've got a few ideas I'm 99% sure would be successful given the correct marketing and PR but because they are new or at least new for a given country people tell me they don't get it, not interested. They might be right but it might also just something they need to correctly ibtroduced to.

Netflix comes up in my mind as an example. It seems obvious but if you'd asked Mom and Dad if they wanted internet movies 10 yrs ago theyd have looked at you like your crazy


Advice like "validate your market," strategies for chicken-egg problems, or the first point (start from a beachhead).... These are not the same as "get a good accountant" or "incorporate this way." They're not hurdles to pass with good advice in specific detail.

These are problems that need clever & creative solutions, and the answers usually aren't do exactly what you are doing now and also this thing. AirBnB started around conferences, momentary and local spikes in demand that let them solve chicken-eggs one user at a time, face to face. This gave them a beachhead strategy, a hardcore users strategy, chicken-egg strategy, a way of validating.

The iphone "boiled an ocean." A thousand man years spent in secret. A big product launch, after which everything about that market changed. It's not an impossibility, boiling a metaphorical ocean. But, it's risky and mostly out of bounds to a startup. If a startup wanted to do this, they'd need to find a different path.

There's a common Henry Ford quote (apocryphal, whatever) about the pointlessness of asking people. They would have told him to make a faster horse, supposedly. You can skip market validation in some cases, with historic products like the iphone, model T, teleportation, cure for baldness or magic sex dust.

A lot of startup advice is about leveraging the strengths of being new and flexible. For an Amazon, Walmart or GM, they are locked in to most of what they do. Startups can adapt everything around a smart strategy.


This is good insight, and I upvoted you for it, but it doesn't really answer his question. Validating your market is business speak for making sure that you won't lose a ton of money at launch, assuming your execution isn't horrible.

All you have to do is to collect some amount of interest through something like a landing page. It won't guarantee runaway success, but it won't break the bank either.


It does exactly answer the question. It's just that the answer is not what most people expect: an algorithm. Some problems have simple solutions, or simple explanations. Other problems require deep consideration and almost philosophical shifts in one's mind. There is no algorithm for this problem. This requires creative process. Creative process is impossible to describe in a couple of sentences in a way that will be enough to teach it to someone.


This is a long way to say “people don’t know what you want until you give it to them”. See famous Henry Ford quote.

If ‘validate your market’ means ask people what they want - that’s bad. If it means show a small audience a prototype - that’s good.


Maybe the problem is in how the questions are being formulated.

Netflix isn’t “do you want internet movies?”. That’s the technology, not the service. Netflix is “do you want immediate access to any movie, from the comfort of your home and for and for a low price?”. That, I believe, would have been intriguing ten years ago. Especially after they ask “how low is the price?” and you respond “cheaper than going to the movies”; “per viewing?”; “per month. Unlimited viewings of every movie”. Now that would have gotten their attention.

Similarly, I didn’t want your Sony CLIÉ then and I don’t want it now. “Make this work with your finger instead of a stylus” and “simplify the UI” are too abstract. We didn’t know we wanted those until the iPhone showed what they are. Granted, you want to ask people before wasting resources making something, but the appeal of the iPhone isn’t just that it did those things better, but that those better interactions opened the door for things we hadn’t yet envisioned. The success of the iPhone is not the device, but what the device allows you to do.

You’re asking about the “what”. You need to instead ask about the “why”. Only then think about the “how” and “what”. I highly recommend Simon Sinek’s “how great leaders inspire action”[1] to explain what that means. He also has a book, but I’d say you can skip it. The video has the gist.

[1]: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_insp...


Some questions I'd ask, off the top of my head:

Have you ever tried a touchscreen computer? Was it better than when you use a mouse? Why? Which interface do you prefer - your computer or your phone? Why? Show me how you would go to www.altavista.com on your PDA. It looked like it was hard to find the browser - is it often hard to find the right application on your PDA? When you bought this PDA, were there cheaper PDAs you could have bought? How much more did you spend on this PDA because it was better?

Do you have lots of VHS videos at home? When did you last watch one? Do you have a lot of DVDs? How are they stored? Is it a problem that you have them? Would you rather not have to store them, and why? Have you ever watched a YouTube video? Is it easier to find something on YouTube or to watch a DVD?


iPhone example; Apple had tons of experience selling iPods first. They had probably learned that users desired more functionality, they would pay for it. The iPod became a device people would carry everywhere. So it made sense to combine it with a phone, which people also wanted to carry everywhere. (The phone was the iPods biggest threat.) Now, how to design it is where you get to be creative and where Apple excelled. Also, I think them partnering with AT&T (I think) to ensure proper network availability helped them out. Otherwise, people would have just complained that it cost too much for data. This was already a big hindrance in the US market for any type of smart device. Point is, Apple through the iPod had a good idea that the iPhone would be a success if executed properly.

Netflix example; because of their DVD business, they knew users wanted on-demand. Mail was a bottleneck. So they had a pretty good idea their customers would see the benefit of streaming.

As you mentioned, new ideas are tougher because you can't learn from your existing customers. There's no simple answer, but you just have to formulate a strategy. Target a particular segment that "get's it". Take it one day at a time. Some things are only possible with enormous resources. If you can't find the resources, it's not possible and you should move on.


> One strategy is to think of annoyances you have in your life

In this way you will only end up with consumer products. I did this when I was 12 and ended up building a fully automated "egg cutting machine" which solved my annoyance (and created a ton more) but had little market value. The B2B market is huge. I am most interested in solving hard problems that large organizations have with their internal processes. Unfortunately I don't work for one, so the annoyances I want to solve are not my own.


The B2B market is huge, but still somewhat smaller than B2C. Look at the top tech companies by market cap today. Each is one that I've used as a consumer:

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook.

If you think the measure of dollars in top market cap companies isn't representative of companies a tier lower, this is likewise true for the highest value YC companies: Dropbox, AirBnB.

As a founder or an investor, it's important not to forget about B2B, but directionally, thinking B2C is correct.

(This is in contrast to, say, thinking of only game companies if you're a gamer; most tech company values are indeed not in games.)


A lot of us make the mistake of waiting for the “right” idea until we decide to pursue something. Huge mistake.

Joe Gebbia put it nicely by making an analogy to the “gym of entrepreneurship.” Building a startup is one of those things that you need to work to get better at over time. Not many founders have many regrets but when they do express regrets it’s usually them wishing they had started earlier. Here’s Joes quote from his interview with Tim Ferris.

“People think we woke up and Airbnb was just created out of thin air. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I hope if there’s any takeaway from the stories that we’ve talked about today, it’s that there’s a long lineage of trying things, bumping into walls, getting rejected, failing, reframing that failure into learning, and trying to continue forward.

And so, by the time Airbnb came around, it was like I’d been in the gym of entrepreneurship for many years. So, it’s like you don’t wake up and just run a marathon all of a sudden. Nobody does that. You train for it. So, by the time it’s ready for race day, your body is conditioned for it. Your muscles and your system – everything is ready for you to go run 26+ miles.

I think entrepreneurship is the exact same way. I think it’s a misconception when people look at the magazine covers and they read the stories of a successful company and they think, “Wow, the people who started that, they built it and everybody came.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think “Field of Dreams” is probably the worst movie to ever happen to entrepreneurship. It created this idea, like, “Oh, wow, if you build it, they will come.” I can tell you, if you build it, they don’t come.

It takes this incredible perseverance and sometimes irrational belief in yourself to bring something to life in the face of lot of adversity and a lot of people saying it can’t happen. So, I hope if there’s any takeaway from the stories that I shared today, it’s that the simple act of spotting an opportunity, coming up with original solution and then taking that third, hardest step of putting something into the world, of trying something, putting your idea into practice – it doesn’t have to be the big idea.

It’s just about being in the gym and doing a rep, the gym of entrepreneurship, doing curls or something. It’s just getting in the habit of those three things. You spot an opportunity, you come up with an original solution, and you put your idea into the world. And the more you can do that, the better you are at spotting the next opportunity. Airbnb just happened to be a part of the lineage of all the things I’ve told you that happened before it.”


There was an article on here a little back about how stories like "Netflix founder got a fee for returning a movie late and got the idea to start netflix" are entirely misleading.

Everyone has problems, and everyone has ideas how to fix them, especially in the consumer products space. Everything outside of the idea itself, like marketing, execution, finance, and customer support are all things that take practice, or reps as you say, to gain experience which hopefully leads to instinct.

I think we like these tales because they exaggerate the importance of an idea.


Many times when people ask what to build or work on (much like the author) are told to focus on things they need - Scratch your own itch! Lately I haven't really found many things to focus on working on due to this. I highly doubt I can think of many things in my life that would be close to a "stand up comedy routine".

I mostly just want to figure out something I can work on in my spare time to learn outside of work. It doesn't have to be a business (although I wouldn't be upset if it eventually turned into that), but even having a userbase would be a fun experience.


I used to make ultra-low budget short films, and I feel like there's a lot of crossover between planning those projects and planning a product.

One lesson I learned: make a list of your assets and consider them when deciding on a project. Your assets include the things you own, the skills you have, and the resources of your network. By creating a project around these you can maximize your production value, and make a project that no one else could have made on your budget.

I recently realized that my love of rap, and my connections to the local community of rappers and hip hop producers, is a huge and unique asset in the software industry. I'm currently working on a product for rappers, that also serves as a platform for producers to make money and advertise themselves. My network has made it really easy to solicit feedback from both my target audience and my target content providers, and create mutually beneficial zero-cost licensing agreements.

So far, the response has been huge, lots of passionate support and interesting suggestions.


> Focus on the repeat offenders. The ideas that you keep coming back to.

I totally buy this. Linked to it, I think the it's good to be able to entertain obviously bad ideas for a short while. You think of an idea because of some set of underlying prompts, so even if the idea as a whole doesn't have legs, there are often insights lurking somewhere in it that you'll end up coming back to.


I'm worried though this statement is heavily colored by "survivorship bias"- Certainly ultra-successful people are often obsessed with their ideas, but it does not logically follow that being obsessed with an idea is a good metric to base decisions on. Just look at all the people obsessed with writing the great American novel and/or next hit song.

I think what is more important is to focus on ideas for which you have a comparative advantage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage) which frequently, but certainly not always, will mean there's a certain amount of obsession as a side-effect.


perhaps it's not the obsession of the idea that counts but rather the obsession with the Problem you want to solve.


I like the idea of just decide on something to build and than build it. Worst case scenario you get a learning experience. And I like building things I enjoy or products I really wish I had. So I get benefit in that way. With software inputs outside of labor are low, so you won't lose out financially in most cases.


That is FAR from the worst case scenario.


In your opinion, what would be the worse case scenario?


Just because you learn something doesn't mean the time isnt wasted. If you try to make a business of it and it doesn't work...more wasted time. Wasted relationships. Wasted money. Wasted confidence.

I'm all for the silver lining of having learned something. That's good for sure. But there are almost always costs when building anything from model cars to software applications.


> Wasted confidence.

This is probably the biggest factor (money is the least). I've had numerous failed projects. I have a current project/business (it's in my profile) which I believe to be in the process of failing. I don't know if I have another one in me.

Sure, I've learned a lot. From a purely technical standpoint, each new project has been superior to the one before - and in the case of my latest, I've at least produced something that I find useful. But, the ego can only take so much abuse.

Not sure I trust myself with ideas anymore. I need someone to tell me what to build :)


After my first startup went down in a burst of flames I spent years angry at everyone and everything like a big black tumor carried inside my heart. It sounds dramatic but that doesn't make it untrue. I learned a lot but I lost a lot more.


I currently have one of these tumours.


Take some time off, do something totally different. After my biggest fail I spent 3 days in water filled caves. New experience partially erased these bad emotions. But they are not completely gone even after 10 years.


Get up off the mat. Its time.


I assume you're referring to https://www.contabulo.com

With the disclaimer that I'm nothing more than an oddly engaged person on the internet, and least of all a marketing expert, and the caveat that I'm not even likely the target market for this:

1) How does this remain sticky for the long term contrary to traditional wikis?

2) How is this different from other virtual card / sticky note project management options like Zenhub or Trello?

3) What is supposed to be compelling about the demo boards? I can see how the product can potentially fill different niches, but none of them show how productivity is significantly improved as a result.

4) Is the price of $7 a month a per user price?

In case it's not obvious, I don't personally need the answer to these questions.

I think you could be much more direct and clear about your value. I sort-of get the sense that you're almost ashamed at the possibility that you're better than everything else at solving your chosen problem. But I think both you and your prospective customer would be better served by you directly speaking to the pain you're addressing and why / how your unique solution addresses things better than any other offering you're aware of.

Signing up is a pain. How feasible would an immediate ephemeral instance be, where the user signs up in order to save their work? Assuming I'm normal, I'd expect users to be a lot more likely to sign up if they're already convinced that they want something vs still in the 'this looks potentially interesting' stage.

I also wonder if you're somewhat low-balling yourself at what I assume is $7 per user month, especially given this is mostly a business oriented product.

I think this looks cool, and has the potential to significantly lower engagement friction compared to other solutions, but would like some guidance to condense those good feelings into a clear value proposition.

Anyway, hopefully that was useful enough to warrant reading.


Yes, thanks.

> ...has the potential to significantly lower engagement friction compared to other solutions

That's the idea, yes. But it seems I'm having trouble communicating that :)

> I also wonder if you're somewhat low-balling yourself at what I assume is $7 per user month

Yes $7/user/month. Though, the thought is to move into the "enterprise" at some point, since I would bet a lot of companies wouldn't be comfortable putting all of their organizational knowledge in the cloud (at least I wouldn't).


Maybe (assuming you're in a startup) you could think of the corporate world as a sort of paid rehab. Go and hang out there for a year or two. Make some bank. Regain your mojo. You'll know when its time to quite the corporate job and return to the fray.


The purpose is not fulfilled but hindered to a big degree. Is a good question.


To quote from the text:

"Focus on the repeat offenders. The ideas that you keep coming back to. When I think of a new idea, I get deeply infected with it. It takes over my mind. It’s all I can think about. Over time, most of the ideas fade. But a choice few keep on coming back. Pay attention to those. You know you’ve got something good when you’re thinking about it in the shower.

Tell your friends what you’re doing. This accomplishes two goals. First, you’ll refine your idea. Conversation is a very powerful way of sharpening your own thoughts. Second, you’ll find yourself more motivated to finish your project. Another common refrain I hear is “I’m not good at self-motivating myself”. All this means is that you just don’t see the benefit of doing a certain thing. You can hack that feedback loop by committing to others (especially people you respect), who you won’t want to let down.

Make sure you enjoy thinking about it. Your primary edge as a founder will be the number of hours you spent thinking about the specific problem. Over time, you should accumulate more hours than almost anyone on earth. This will only work if it doesn’t feel like a chore. If you genuinely are fascinated by the problem."

The problem is: I love to think (and sometimes solve) deep mathematical questions. I also love to talk about them all the time. The problem is: hardly anybody except me seems to care about them. So it does not seem like a good startup idea, even though it satisfies the critera.


> The problem is: hardly anybody except me seems to care about them.

I'm not so sure. Being able to solve hard mathematical problems probably is a niche problem but that doesn't mean you're the only one experiencing it.

Fortunately, it's not limited locally but can easily be tackled at a global scale, i.e. by addressing potential customers around the world.

I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people interested in pondering deep mathematical questions and quite a few might be willing to pay a monthly fee for having access to a community that helps them with doing so.

There are all sorts of online communities for all sorts of weird and extraordinary stuff. Why not one dedicated to solving hard mathematical problems?


I'd like to see more discussion about different strategies for how to manage and live with your "idea faucet".

When day after day, you frequently notice people's "pain points", and low-hanging opportunities for reducing system dysfunction, you quickly accumulate a backlog. Which makes it a triage problem. With the associated burdens of "I think I see how I might make this better... and instead I'm going to walk away".

As health professional, you get advice and support on dealing with your limits with respect to people's often unhappy outcomes.

We don't seem to do that much.

There's some around a consultant's limits of professional responsibility. There's hierarchical workplace subordination - "above my pay grade", "not my call". And professional craftsmanship. There's a lot of entrepreneurial mission focus - find one viable/important idea to pursue, and focus narrowly on that. And the seemingly common "it's just a job, to support things like family, that actually matter".

Around here, there's a lot of upbeat use of status quo as baseline. If my product helps people, it's a win. If it doesn't, a null. Anyone else's problems... they're not my market, not my problem.

Market opportunity root cause analysis sometimes turns up a happy "A just hasn't talked to B yet". But sometimes turns up noisome tangles of "I'd be fine with not having seen this" ugliness.

I've seen a great many posts on finding your first viable idea. But I've seen very few posts on remaining ok with leaving the idea faucet running, once it gets going.


I like the advice to actively record your ideas (every little one). Thinking about things in abstract, it can seem like all the good problems are solved, but listed out on paper it is a lot easier to analyze and notice patterns.


“everything in the world was created by people no smarter than you”.

Is there actually any validity to that? Assuming you is a human of average intelligence...


I really don't think intelligence is the most important part of innovation. That sounds silly, and you obviously need some baseline of intelligence and having more certainly helps. But insights come from context and having the right dots to connect. Talking to the right people, knocking the right rocks together, reading the right books, and having the courage to act on the insights that show up.

Context and action seem to be the most important parts of innovation to me. The reason mathematicians come up with incredible and novel mathematics isn't because they were just more intelligent, it's because they were the ones looking and the ones who had spent time building up their knowledge around mathematics. They could have been just as intelligent but raised to work on a farm instead, having none of the dots, context or impetus to make novel connections in fields that seem driven by intelligence.


The more different "big, professional" companies I've worked at, the more I've come to the conclusion that no-one knows what they're doing and everyone's just making things up on the fly. So yeah, I'd pay it.


I think this quote is less about the majority, or the absolute truth and more about encouraging that one person who is to not get tripped up on the way there. It may not be true for most, but it's true for a few, and those few need encouragement and support to change the world.


I think you are right that people do not need much encouragement. I still don't think saying that most successful people are of average intelligence is a "smart" thing to say unless it is true. I don't think it is true at all but I was opening up the floor for a fact or two. In the end, whatever helps someone make a net positive change is good so maybe i'm just being annoying :)


It’s certainly false though the sentiment might still be valid, basically that the lack of smarts isn’t something that’s holding up more inventions from coming into this world.


Yes, this is the case. Smartness is not the limiting factor. The biggest limiting factor is number of opportunities.


> The biggest limiting factor is number of opportunities.

Could you elaborate. Do you mean more opportunities to fail and learn ?


Someone who is more intelligent will create more opportunities for themselves. Seems to be pretty linked.


That statement is wrong, but it has the nice effect to remove self inhibition due to complex of inferiority.

Replacing everything with most things would be correct.

Creating some things did not require intelligence.


Sure, but what's the point of putting a giant false statement right at the start of the post? It just makes the rest seem silly. I'm not convinced it's even motivational to the average person.


I think what he meant is that if you look into the process of how products and system are designed, you will likely find out most of them quite comprehensible, and more than often made by a group of men/women that are not necessarily passionate about it. Hence with great passion and even average intelligence, there is no reason we can not achieve a far better product than the current one.


Could be true but a different kind of intelligence. E.g at any point in time of their teenage time, woz would have been considered superior to jobs in terms of intelligence, but may be now we realise both are intelligent in their own ways. You definitely need to be intelligent to build a (successful) business, but not certainly hacker kind of intelligent but intelligent.


Of course this isn't true.


The best bit of advice I saw (on HN no less) that helped frame this in my mind was "every spreadsheet is an opportunity". This was in reference to processes within a company, where employees use spreadsheets to manage data, etc.


I don't believe it's true that "you are whatever you tell yourself you are". Obviously you don't change if you tell yourself you're this or that because it takes more than that to change yourself. And also, this sounds like something you'd read in The Secret: all it takes to make something happen is to believe in it or think of it.

However, this is most likely not what Daniel really meant. In the same paragraph, he refers to a person who literally doesn't believe that they have the idea-generating ability. So then, what he really meant is related to someone's belief in their possession of ability to do something or make something happen. In other words, their belief in their power.

So, a better articulation would be: your belief in your power affects your power. Which makes sense; if you don't actually believe you have power, you won't try to use it, and you'll have effectively crippled your power.

This comment might seem trivial at this point, but I think the principle behind it is important. Namely, the principle of precise and accurate articulation of thought. The new articulation I presented is accurate, empowering, and useful. A person can directly use it and it will have a positive effect. The old articulation is confusing, inaccurate, and untrue, which I don't intend to say as an insult or an attack, but rather intend to say as an accurate description of how I understand it.

Now, you might think, "I understood what it meant given the context, and so did you, so what is the point of accurately articulating it?" I believe it is true that I understood it given context because I believe that's how I came to form the new articulation. However, the effect of understanding an idea from an inaccurate phrasing or wording is that the person doesn't have a proper articulation to give form to the idea, and so it stays formless, in the subconscious, and cannot be directly used, and the person isn't consciously aware of it. The only effect it has is that it influences conscious thought and requires annoying deconstruction of thought patterns to catch if it's a bad idea ("Why do I think that?").

In contrast, proper articulation increases a person's consciousness, self-awareness, power, and gives life and color to their minds as thoughts are being fully expressed (expression leads to colorfulness, lushness, etc. etc.). So your PSA for today is: strive for precise, accurate articulation in all of your thoughts. :)


I've always had lots of ideas, just none I've wanted to follow through on, now I'm in the early stages of an idea I think will be useful ( at least it will be for me ). It's an idea that was simplified out of another idea that's just too large for me to tackle at the moment. In fact it's an idea that's been part of a variety of other ideas. It's also part of a number of other peoples products, and is probably one of the trickier bits of their products, but it's not a product in itself.

So, at the moment, my market size is at least 1, because I want it.

Odd thing is, given I have free range on everything, I'm suffering tech choice anxiety, which is slowing me down a bit.


Use C#.


I am using C# on both .net core and framework for the bulk of it.


Are you running into problems because of it? Or what's causing the anxiety?


How could you make such a confident and strong recommendation given the vague nature of keithnz's comment?


I originally wrote, "flip a coin", but then decided to go the extra mile.


So the way you were able to make a confident and strong recommendation, despite his vague comment, is by deciding to put in effort into a proper recommendation?

Well, isn't it obvious that you must have put in effort to deal with the vagueness of his comment? I already knew that. I wanted to know specifically what you did, the moves you made, in order to deal with the vagueness effectively in order to produce your strong recommendation.


I totally agree with this entire article, however the author may want to fix this awkward sentence: "Travis Kalanick started Uber was a hack to split a few private cars with his friends."


I'd love to have a peek at Daniel's idea list :)


Find the duct tape.




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