The reason people make money from these niche sites isn't that they're niche. It's that they gasp SELL PEOPLE SOMETHING THEY NEED.
So rather than take random stabs at stuff that might be useful, it's a quicker path to success to ask people (preferably ones with money) what problems they have in day to day work. Here are a couple ones that I've found random business people on the net say they need.
- Simple inventory for very small businesses
- Site to enter customer details, create an invoice, a packing list and a shipping label. Bonus points for USPS, UPS, FedEx etc integration
- Job estimation: a way to enter time, hourly rate, materials, job details, customer info. and create an estimate for a job to bid on.
Note that similar sites already exist. The problem is often that they are laden with features, and are confusing and overpriced for someone who really only needs the barebones functionality.
So maybe that's what you can brainstorm: pick a bunch of profitable sites, tear them apart into their elements and figure out which 3 features are the most important and then create your own site that implements only those three.
Last time I checked the net was a pretty huge place. Can you please share specifics? Are general "biz" forums a good place to spend time on looking for ideas?
My methodology is: pick a business domain and then google it to see if it sounds interesting and if there's an online presence devoted to it. There are hundreds, thousands of businesses in every city in the US and their trucks and vans are driving past you all the time with their names proudly emblazoned on the sides. No need to brainstorm anything!
What about a small town in Europe's less advanced country?
Also, I realize the niche aspect isn't what drives the success, but at the same time it is surely easier pursuing smaller markets due to lower competition.
Thanks for kicking off some ideas!
Bingo Card Creator: a ton of SEO work. Patrick himself has admitted that BCC isn't much more than a random number generator, so how is it making him $40K/yr? Long tail SEO, paid content writers to whip up semi-templated pages and non-stop optimizing. If I he handed you the source code and all his product/audience knowledge, you would still be so far behind. It's been years in the making.
Amy Hoy: Her product empire is all about appealing to the right audience. In her case: freelancers. She was a freelance web developer. Her SaaS app is a time tracking tool...for freelancers. Her online course is for people who have the desire to escape their current situation and build profitable products. Who has that burning desire? Freelancers tired of chasing their next client. Freckle isn't making six-figured a year because it was a damn good idea that was the result of brainstorming. She knows her audience, can speak to them and understands good copy writing. Freckle has also been around for quite a few years. Let me ask you this: how do you even know Amy Hoy exists? Hint: it's not because she invented time-tracking tools.
I've been in your shoes. I've thought, for a long time, all I needed is a simple product and a Bootstrap'd landing page and I'd be making a cool $80K/yr. If it was that easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it?
My advice is to build something (anything!) and try to market it. Try to sell something. Try Google Adwords and A/B testing. See how far you get. If, after six months, you haven't sold anything try to understand why and what you could do better.
Final remark about marketing: Amy Hoy is selling a course for potential bootstrappers/single-founders. Patrick McKenzie sells $XX,000/week consulting for small/med-sized SaaS shops. They often post and have their content submitted here. Can you spot the intersection between the HN audience and what they are selling?
I'm reminded of Paul G's interview with Zuck at Startup School where he said (more or less) "I wish more startups started the founders".
I would start by (a) putting an ad in the jobs section of craigslist and asking for owner/manager types to do some interviewing/beta testing. Many see it as a cool opportunity and will sit down and tell you their problems. Then, (b) take 2 days off and go talk to owner/manager types at local businesses in your town. Make sure to visit during slow times (don't go to a restaurant at 7pm on Friday or a bank on the 1st of the month).
Now that I have that out of the way, here are actual ideas I think could work because I've heard people complain about them:
Weekly schedule manager: I personally help a few local gyms and churches manage web stuff. Every day they field phone calls that ask "What time is yoga tonight?" or "What time are your Sunday services?". Now, imagine if they could manage that info in one place and then embed it in their website, post on their Facebook page, print it, embed it in a mobile or native app, or have an automatic voice/text line (Twilio).
Niche SEO: we do some SEO work for wedding vendors, but I think there's a need for other segments too. Basically, any business that is going to get traffic from regional google searches but not necessarily Yelp (think lawyers, dentists but not restaurants or hotels). This company in my town is doing it for plastic surgeons (along with web design) and killing it: http://www.etnainteractive.com
I will add some more later ...
Nagios and pretty much all other system monitoring tools are very ugly, hard to use and hard to install. Put a pretty bootstrappy face in front of nagios and make it easy to install and make it simpler with only the stuff I should care, and collect your $100/month from half of the HN crowd.
I don't know of any general biz forums besides the Bank of America small business forum and it's pretty dead over there."
small business forums
So I really am skeptical about brainstorming a list of niche thingies to choose from, picking one, and raking in the dough. I do not really agree that "ideas are worthless, it is all about execution". But I don't think the language exists to readily express the difference between some completely superficial idea like listing off a bunch of niche markets and the deeper conceptualization that makes "an idea" valuable and executable. Clearly, Patrick had that second thing. His tale is not one of "I know, I am going to brainstorm An Idea and then rake in the dough!"
Ironically, I am routinely told that two of my sites can't be monetized at least in part because they are "too niche". I don't think that is necessarily true, but so far I have not found a solution (and I am willing to go do something else and let those go, if I can figure out what else to do that would actually work for me). I have no idea what Amy Hoy does, but I have some passing familiarity with Patrick's story. He knew the market -- i.e. the people who needed this -- and he saw that what was available was utterly crappy. Then he made something better -- as in vastly superior and actually functional. I vaguely recall some tale of what a nightmare it was to actually print the bingo cards from some site that existed at the time he began working on solving this. As someone else here said, he also did some heavy duty SEO/marketing.
Ironically, I am routinely told that two of my sites can't be monetized at least in part because they are "too niche". I don't think that is necessarily true, but so far I have not found a solution (and I am willing to go do something else and let those go, if I can figure out what else to do that would actually work for me).