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Ask HN: How to find an idea for a product / genuine need?
4 points by smartial_arts on Nov 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments
Dear HN,

I have quit my job recently with an idea of spending some time on need finding and further customer and product development.

My initial plan is to catch up with as many various small to medium business owners and try to figure out what sort of problems they may be having. Admittedly, this is just one way of finding a need / idea for a product.

How would you approach this task, or may be have already approached it in the past?

Thank you!

I left a corporate job a couple of years ago to pursue technology development in areas that I think will be making a huge impact across all industries in the near future, notably computer vision and artificial intelligence.

One of my biggest problems is that though I have many ideas about how to implement advanced technologies I haven't had much luck finding intersections between the following requirements :

1) Problems of a scale that don't require a large team to achieve meaningful results (ie. no competing with IBM at natural language query or building humanoid robots).

2) Problems for which people with money are willing to pay for solutions.

Generally speaking I have few social connections and most of the ones I do have haven't proved very helpful in meeting my goals.

I too believed (and to an extent still do) that there can be good opportunities in meeting the needs of smaller businesses. However to date my only attempt at this sort of thing yielded no results. You can read about my idea here : http://cogniception.com/products/rmds.html. I sent out a dozen or so emails to restaurants in my vicinity but didn't receive a single response.

I think that one of the problems is that there is a tremendous gulf in knowledge between someone like me who has worked with these types of technologies and understands what they can accomplish and small business people who's concept of what computers can do doesn't extend much beyond Word and Excel.

If you're interested maybe we could work together. At the very least you seem to have a greater interest than I in the social aspects of business. I'm definitely open to business ventures with anyone who would be able and willing to help with business development, both at the stage of identifying good matches between business needs and my technology (ie, pre-product development) and with actual sales once products have been developed.

"I sent out a dozen or so emails to restaurants in my vicinity but didn't receive a single response."

You need to call them.

Thanks for the detailed reply, and I wish you all the best in your area of choice - indeed, too many man/hours are being spent unnecessarily on mindless tasks that scream for automation.

I'd totally catch up for a chat but provided you're in US and I'm in Australia that's not going to happen soon :)

Well, first off, you're already on the right track. So many "entrepreneurs" start off with some idea and try to make problems "fit" this idea. You've started by trying to first identify problems.

Disclaimer: I'm pretty new to this too.

I obtain ideas by talking to friends/family about areas they're expert in. Sometimes I'll bounce ideas off of people in my network. Sometimes I'll check out stuff from http://ideaswatch.com too.

Then I'll try to minimally validate the idea and run through my "filter". It's a list of questions and validation methods I've obtained from the web.

Example: A couple weeks ago I talked to a friend about improving comic book store inventory systems. So I went to the local comic shop, and spent some time talking to the owner about his story - how he opened the store.

I mentioned I am a web developer and like solving problems. I asked if we could meetup the next day and discuss some of his day-to-day problems in the shop.

Well we did meetup and it turns out he doesn't really have problems in regard to inventory management (but does in other areas).

This is just my approach but I'd love to hear what does and doesn't work for you in the future.

Wow, I must say this is brilliant - the sort of answer I am looking for!

Would you be able to share what your "filter" is? I.e. what sort of questions do you ask when evaluating new product idea?


I'll be posting a video about this tomorrow/Tuesday so hopefully you can wait till then. Definitely start by googling "lean startup machine validation board". Watch those videos.

Dude, totally awesome video, thanks! Loved the idea of using Graigslist for assumption validation too.

Hey so I posted a video that talks about validating ideas. There is a link to a big list of questions I've compiled.

Only found that link in your profile :) Thanks!

PS I wish HN notified users of replies...

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