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How To Find Startup Ideas (wesleytansey.com)
66 points by tansey on May 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

I routinely trip over them getting out of the shower, preparing lunch, and getting into bed. Seriously, I didn't realize that a shortage of ideas was a problem for anyone--for me it's much harder to focus on a single one long enough to execute it well.

I just really cannot understand how people don't have ideas right now, the world is changing profoundly and practically every industry on earth needs to leverage web based software or fall out of relevance. This is a once in a generation opportunity. I can't imagine not having any ideas, it's always execution and dealing with (self and others) attention deficit that's key, everything else is basically a semantic issue.

There seems to be something similar going on with "side project" ideas, where there aree (I'm told) people who want to have a fun side project but don't have any ideas. I wish there was a good place where idea people can stick their excess ideas for other people to pick up. You could vote for ideas you want to see implemented, link to your own implementation, etc. I would probably do it myself, if I didn't have too many ideas already.

It's been an ongoing meta for nearly 10 years now, between ideatorrent, brainstorm, ideaswatch et al which have all failed to engage for one reason or another (I suppose because good ideas are something people don't want to share?). Can always keep a watch on un(der) funded projects on kickstarter or angellist to gain insights also.

I encounter plenty of engineers who are saying they can't come up with good ideas. I think the problem for us engineers is that we're trained to work around problems, not confront them head on. The list on this blog post is great, but it takes time for the habit to form once you change your mindset to pay attention to problems you encounter. It's a habit, and it takes time to form, but you'll notice it more and more as the months pass if you're committed to it.

They have a problem deciding on a idea. I share the same problem.

I just focus on bulding it to a MVP and putting it out. If it sticks, it was a good idea. If not, I move on to the other.

People, stop worrying about the idea and get working.

Here, let me help you with getting ideas.

Write the first three words that come to mind.

Example: Fruit, baby, car.

Now, think about each one.

I'd say fruit: Apple, car: app.

An app to use in the car? For the car? Baby


I got a couple of ideas already.

An app to unlock your car (through an afyermarket alarm) if your baby is locked inside with the keys.

An app that allows you to watch your kids through the in car navigation.

An app that plays a given set of songs for babies depending on the mood of the baby. Crying? hit the crying button. Sleepy? hit the sleepy button. etc.

And so on.

That's just stuff I came up while writing this post.

Use the technique, it works.

I have to disagree. As engineers we are trained to confront problems. If you are just working around problems then you're not doing good engineering.

In my experience the best way to come across startup ideas is to work at a startup. There's an pretty awful irony to the situation of being strapped for cash, resources, and sleep. Just about all I see are problems that I'd love for someone to take my money and solve!

Seriously. Just come sit by my desk with a notebook and scribble down what I'm doing anytime I curse at my computer.

More practically... join a startup, or tickle people who are knee-deep in one for ideas.

Not just startups, either!

At any organisation you'll experience this if you have your mind open.

The difference, I think (and from my own experience), is that at a start-up you are far more receptive to the opportunities.

The other side of the coin is this: don't forget the value of domain knowledge. Sometimes you need to work in an industry for a bit to understand what's holding people back. Not every startup has to be the next big consumer product - there are (and have always been) a lot of people quietly doing very well for themselves servicing specific industry needs.

(a gentle troll to some HN readers: Of course, that might involve building a "real" revenue driven business instead of hunting for a big close-out paycheck ;D)

The risk with this is that you'll end up in too much of a 'loop', dealing with stuff of interest to other techies.

One of the huge lessons I've learned from LiberWriter is how vast the world beyond "tech startups" is. If you can do something like that, or bingo cards, or whatever, that makes life easier for 'ordinary people', you'll get rave reviews.

If you build something for other techies, you run some real risks that if it's good, someone will build an open source competitor, others will complain about how they could "build it in a weekend", and so on.

Looking for an idea? Please follow this link: https://twitter.com/#!/search/software%20sucks

Listen to what people are complaining about. Can you do something about it?

This list is a nice analysis. However, coming up with a start-up idea is not something that should be forced. If you see a problem or a need for something, pursue a solution if you're passionate about it. If you have no passion and just want a business for the sake of having a business, you will eventually fail. Any successful company has some passionate people behind it. That's my 2 cents.

Make something less annoying to do, or help make your customers more money. Make sure the person keying in the card is using a business credit card.

Then profit.

Great article. There are various views on the best method of finding that startup idea.

The trap is getting caught up with the solution (the what) too soon. The process should really start with the problem and who you believe it impacts.

Next you get out the building (as described by Steve Blank) and speak to potential customers. This way you quickly evaluate your early idea and determine if anyone will use it and importantly buy it.

Usually a strong sign of a winner is when customers are willing to buy the product before it is even built - sell first, build second. 1

For more inspiration, read up on customer development and Steve Blank.

[1] http://sparknlaunch.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/a-smart-bear-ja...

I have idea overflow so finding something to work on isn't my problem, but I once wondered if browsing Twitter for #firstworldproblems might reveal some ideas. Turns out it doesn't really. Just thought I'd save everyone the time!


This is actually a great conceptual list. Well done.

There are many more strategies and it can be refined but as a core set in one place, that's pretty handy.

Personally however I've found great strategy to be, "solve for x".

Where x is some fucking annoying thing day in and day out, and no-one is doing anything about it.

These labels feel problematic - they don't seem to accurately describe any of the companies listed, nor do they really offer much in the way of analysing new ideas.

How To Find Startup Ideas?

Well, apply to YC of course, they'll give you an idea. It's that simple.

OK, I can understand not being able to decide which idea to pursue, or not being sure if your idea is going to be popular. But not being able to come up with "good" ideas in the first place? Unless you are discarding ideas because you think that you did not come up with them out of the sky on your own, or you only are interested in completely unique ideas, which is ridiculous, then I just don't see how that can be.

If you can't come up with good ideas for a startup, then you shouldn't be running a startup. There are enough startups. Find someone who is smarter than you, or creative enough to come up with their own ideas, and help them.

Or maybe you are just confused about what an idea is. "Creativity is taking known elements and putting them together in unique ways." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKEgf0BV7Qg

Anyway I love talking about my many ideas, and if I had lots and lots of money, I think I would have several very interesting projects going on. But since I don't have money, I am just working alone trying to get a prototype ready for one particular idea.

Here are some free ideas:

justkittens.com : web page that just shows kittens on camera all day.. you can sign up and show off your own kittens, or browse kitten cams. Probably could make a hundred bucks a month just from Google Ads. Now, is this the first time that anyone thought of this, or the only one of its kind? No, but you could make it better than most, and probably popular. Is it a "good" idea? Sure, if you like kittens and have time to build it out.

justpuppies.com ..

Completely open source weebly/wix competitors: I am working on something like this, but I believe there is always room for better website/web application builders, especially if they are totally open source and easily extensible like WordPress and you can get some people authoring plugins/components. Mine is being built on Node.

Hydroponic gardening for your apartment/any sort of ultralocal food production: inspired by http://www.windowfarms.org/ .. or maybe even something more high-tech, based on in-depth knowledge of human nutritional needs and bioprogramming or something .. along those lines, fiber optic solar lighting, I don't see a lot of that at Walmart yet.

Solar panels you can install yourself.

A new non-linux, non-unix based operating system with a 3D HMD and VR glove interface.. like a "deck" from a cyberpunk novel/movie.. Maybe write the whole OS in CoffeeScript or something (slightly modified to allow for types or pointers to be inserted where necessary) . Find the specs and linux code for interfacing with SATA and ATI/Nvidia and start with that. I want to boot up to a wizard's tower or whatever 3D scene I specify, rather than a flat desktop.

Electric/Hydrogen fuel cell conversions for cars. Or little cars that run on electricity. Or charging stations for electric cars. Better batteries for electric cars.

An inexpensive LIDAR system.

>A new non-linux, non-unix based operating system with a 3D HMD and VR glove interface.. like a "deck" from a cyberpunk novel/movie.. Maybe write the whole OS in CoffeeScript or something (slightly modified to allow for types or pointers to be inserted where necessary) . Find the specs and linux code for interfacing with SATA and ATI/Nvidia and start with that. I want to boot up to a wizard's tower or whatever 3D scene I specify, rather than a flat desktop.

I'm curious as to why it has to be "non-linux, non-unix". Going with that would leave you rewriting large portions of code for little gain.

If you're concerned about licensing, then BSD would be a good start. However, even using Linux, you'd only really have to release the hardware drivers. You can build your own GUI on top of Linux and not be bound by the GPL.

You could build your own GUI on top of Linux.. really doesn't have to be so from-scratch, and I am also interested in pursuing that idea if I ever have the time or resources, but doing everything sort of from scratch is just a more seductive fantasy for me I guess, because it would be fun to see how much I could optimize things and fun to get down to the lowest level.

The other reason is just to get rid of the legacy complexity.. true that a lot of stuff that is in Unix you really do have to have for an operating system, but there are also a number of different varying approaches to problems that have been duplicated over the years so that there is extra complexity that really isn't necessary. Also doing things from scratch would allow me to take exactly the approach that I wanted to every major decision, which in some cases really might be better served by taking a different approach from linux. Also I could just say "well, not going to support any of this other Linux stuff, you have to use a remote desktop for that" which would eliminate a huge amount of code.

There is actually some stuff for Compiz loading models in the middle of the cube, I could just start messing with that, would be the most straightforward.

I have to admit that would be pretty interesting.

I still contend that you should leverage a lot of existing code, and build on top of that; if for no other reason than it gets you to a working system ASAP.

There are too many promising-looking projects that try to start from first principles and end up achieving nothing but a poor, half-rewrite of existing systems.

If you find an existing system is holding you back, try to improve that, then do your own as a last resort - preferably after you have a user/customer base.

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