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How to Find a SaaS Idea (elliotbonneville.com)
132 points by elliotbnvl 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

> Call around, talk to your network. I don’t just mean those ~300 people you’ve never met on LinkedIn, but your actual family, Facebook friends, etc. ... Figure out what the problems that they’re having are. Solve exactly the problems they express

This is, imo, the biggest hurdle for engineers who want to become entrepreneurs. I've seen so many HN posts about people trying to crowd source startup problems, trying to automate away this piece and just get down to coding. I too struggled with this for the longest time. I felt like a solution looking for a problem. Just give me a problem, any problem, and I'll build the best damn app and be on my way!

But that's not how it works. If you want to stop being an engineer, you need to stop acting like one. Engineers have their problems roughly scoped and entered in a JIRA board. Entrepreneurs have to go find problems to solve. You want to go be an entrepreneur? Go learn to talk to people. Go learn to listen to others, empathize, and to convince people to believe in you. You will be a company of one - so go build out your personal sales & marketing departments.

A key thing most developers wanting the become entrepreneurs miss (I certainly did) is that more often then not coding something is the slowest and/or most expensive way to solve someone’s problem. Many, many business ideas could probably just be a Wordpress site with a small plugin which you can farm off to Upwork for a pittance that doesn’t make for a very good “Show HN”.

But that's not fun to build. And I suspect this is where the dichotomy comes in. Engineers want to have something that's fun to build while also making money, which can be the problem.

As an engineer, what is fun about it? From your statement it would be "something fun to build." I wonder why building a business and building a piece of software are so different, and why one is fun while the other is not.

Fun about what exactly? If you mean farming to Upwork, not building is not fun for engineers. Building a business can be, but again, only if the product itself is fun to build. Who wants to work in a business where the core product is boring? I mean boring as in the fundamental product, not the industries, such as healthcare, construction, and so on, basically all but consumer tech.

> Fun about what exactly? If you mean farming to Upwork, not building is not fun for engineers.

Nope. Never said anything about "not building." Only you have stated that.

This circles back to my original question/statement; "I wonder why building a business and building a piece of software are so different"

> Building a business can be [fun]

Absolutely! Remove the words "a business" and restate that as:

"Building can be [fun]"

Now you can insert almost anything...

"Building a bike can be fun" "Building a business can be fun" "Building a product can be fun" "Building software can be fun" "Building a computer can be fun" ... ... ...

> Who wants to work in a business where the core product is boring

Remove the words "wants to" in that sentence and you could apply that statement to most of the Software Engineers who work for others. SE's typically work around this limitation by justifying it with the technology they are working on instead.

"I'm learning React!" "I get to use Ruby on Rails everyday!" "I get to learn more about using all the AWS services!" ... ... ...

None of that matters.

The only thing that matters is "building." Building is fun!

Why can't building a business be just as fun as building software? ...and we're right back to my original question :-)

Because business is mostly about sales and marketing and not so much about the product. Exceptions occur, of course, but generally a better marketed product is more successful than a better built product.

Engineers don't like sales and marketing generally. That's why they're engineers. And unlike as you state, building in general is not necessarily fun, only specific things being built are fun, those that align with the interests of the builder. If you told me to build a house, I wouldn't necessarily consider that fun, so your initial premise is flawed. A business in this case also falls into the "not fun" category, again, in general to engineers.

I believe this is very common with web devs as well who argue all day over wordpress vs static site vs whatever. What works best? Usually the solution that is quick and web dev for small brochure sites is more a marketing skill than a technical one.

Honest question, is this worth it? I've noticed the same thing. Most requirements are simple, and can be done via upwork freelancer etc. What you can provide is extra customer service or maintenance. But that seems like a race to the bottom.

Whenever I come across these, it's in the territory of not worth my free time. But for the more complex projects they want a whole team, and I've found it's difficult as a solo person to sale that.

Yes! This is something I have noticed as well and it’s requiring a little rewiring of my brain.

I spent a lot of time going to angel rounds, vc meetups. Talking to a lot of people about their issues, what they needed. It was a great way to get exposed to a myriad of problems. Angel.co is also a good one for finding places where some one has an idea, but needs tech help.

The problem I had. Is that a majority of what I came across was mobile and web orientated. As a back-end dev, it's not something I can help with. Especially when for the pitch deck metrics/numbers and a pretty demo are the big selling points.

This is a great, great point. I struggled with this feeling for a while too. It's amazingly frustrating.

SaaS ideas are a dime a dozen. Being in the right market at the right time against the right competition with the right access to the right resources to do the right advertising to perform the right acquiring without the wrong churn is where the magic is at.

Things you need (in my opinion) for an even semi-successful SaaS platform: Good UI with an easy to understand idea that provides an immediately obvious value, all while being easy to monetize sustainably. Coupled that with being able to actually find + reach customers.

I struggle with finding ways to create functionality with good UI without coding (like the author mentions). I seem to always fall into a situation where I need a bit more than the no code solution I’m using offers.

what no-code solutions are you using?

If they’re really a dime a dozen I’ll take twelve please. I’ve been trying to find a good one for 20 years now.

Oof. Really? Have you built anything? Solved your own problems?

Has our industry just given up on any software which isn't "SaaS"? I have a lot of problems with software today, and none of them can be solved by a web app.

SaaS / "web app" represents a shift in business model. There's arguably a lot more money to be made by renting access than by selling software

What problems do you have that you'd be willing to pay to have them solved by (non-web) software?

> So, expand your horizons: look at the construction industry, the dentist industry, the fishing industry, the graveyard management industry, the gym pool management industry (these are not made up, by the way).

> But let’s reiterate the big advantage you get from considering building a product in an industry outside of yours (software development): It’s just now you’re going to be operating in an industry which has software problems and isn’t particularly optimized to solve them.

Be careful about this. There is money to be made in those industries, and they might not have as much competition as software for software companies do.

But do you really want to be in those industries? Would you enjoy going to industry-specific conferences and mingling with those folks? If your business gets even a modicum of success, you will be working on it for several years to come.

Market/founder fit is something that isn't talked enough: who you choose to serve matters. What good is your business if you feel trapped inside it?

So the next time you set out to build a business, do yourself a favor and think about this from the beginning.

Relevant thread: https://capiche.com/q/looking-back-would-you-have-done-anyth...

Im coming to this realization right now, it looks like one of these cliche but actually profound ideas like you can truly be great at something if its not simply job or career but something you can not not do, obsession, sickness.

The big takeaway from this article for me was this line:

"Create a solution to somebody else’s problem, where that problem sits at the intersection of being genuinely interesting / meaningful to you and being something that you are reasonably capable of addressing."

I also want to second his book recommendation [The Mom Test](https://www.amazon.com/Mom-Test-customers-business-everyone/...). It's really short and will save you a lot of time building things nobody will pay for.

Finding a SaaS idea isn't hard. Finding one that actually makes money is. I'm talking real money, not a couple thousand bucks a month.

You may go down a path of a "big problem" that requires tons and tons of effort and overhead, only to find the market is too small, companies rather just do it "the old way", or they simply don't want to pay enough money.

Do your research.

If you'd like to throw me a few of those easy "couple thousand a month" ideas then I'll happily take those while you catch bigger fish.

They are easy to find. Just check out the sites selling SaaS businesses and request prospectuses. FEInternational.com is one of the better ones. These will give you inspiration.

Good article, Elliot!

The convention is "Show HN" implies the author has created something for people to "play with or try out." Showing Hacker News something to read is just the title or description of the article even if the author is posting.

It's an interesting and well written article. Thanks.

Oh, woops – that makes sense. Thanks!

Title fixed now.

Thanks. Didn't realize I could just edit the title.

You can for a couple hours, after which a mod has to do it. But we're happy to take such requests at hn@ycombinator.com.

Instead of finding a good SaaS idea, I would rephrase the question to finding a valuable problem to solve, a problem which people are very willing to solve in exchange for other resources like money.

In school, we are trained to solve a problem very well. But the problems are given by teachers. There is no one to train you finding a valuable since kindergarten. That's why it's so hard to find it as an adult.

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