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Ask HN: What will people pay money for?
19 points by davidjnelson on Jan 19, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments
I tried the idea of picking a market, emailing executives from top companies in that market on LinkedIn, and asking for their pain points. I didn't get any responses.

How can I figure out what to build? My goal is modest. 500k a year profit without employees would be adequate.

My goal is modest. 500k a year profit without employees would be adequate.

A) Maybe I am dumb, but it doesn't sound at all modest to me.

B) It sounds to me like you are lazy and expecting someone to hand you a get-rich-quick scheme on a silver platter. Most folks who make that kind of money actually work for it.

C) It sounds to me like you have it completely backwards and are in no way looking to add value, you just want money. It generally doesn't work that way. Even after you figure out how to do something of value that people want and/or need, figuring out how to monetize it can still be a separate challenge.

D) Given the above, I will suggest that buying lottery tickets would be a better bet than trying to start a business.

But feel free to prove me wrong on all counts. I have no problem eating humble pie.

Why would you imply that this person is lazy? That's offensive. You should apologize.

I'm sorry, but he doesn't have to prove anything to you, really. You read too much into it, he probably has the idea that 500k in profits (not revenue) is modest. That's all.

From what I gather, that's a heckuva lot of money even for the hn crowd. He wants someone to tell him what to build to get that. He doesn't even want to have to come up with the idea himself. Perhaps I am completely wrong, but that's the impression I am getting here. If the OP wants to rebutt that and explain to me why I am wrong, I am all ears. But your assessment that I am "rude" is not evidence that my assessment is wrong. If my assessment is correct, I don't think it does him any favors to feed his delusion there is some easy answer.

He wants someone to tell him what to build to get that.

I didn't read it that way at all. He said:

How can I figure out what to build?


Tell me what to build to make 500K / year profit

and he's already taken the initiative of emailing people asking about pain points. It sounds to me like he needs / wants

A. a better process for finding / identifying pain points


B. some motivation

I don't see laziness here, just a lack of experience.

I would have been generally inclined to agree with your view except for the closing line, which is why I quoted it. I don't know of any place in the world where $500k/year in profit with zero employees would be viewed as a modest goal.

He asks "what will people pay for?" Maybe just poor construction of an ESL speaker, but the title and other details look to me like he wants some easy answer handed to him. Even his earlier methodology was to email people he presumably felt should be in the know and ask for "pain points". If you can find one, yes, sometimes people manage to get big returns. But if finding a "pain point" and, moreover, good solution for it were as easy asking, I imagine we would all be millionaires.

Further, I don't know what difference you think there is between "needs some motivation" and "lazy". I don't get your point B at all.

I don't know of any place in the world where $500k/year in profit with zero employees would be viewed as a modest goal.

I never said it was a modest goal, and I don't see how that's relevant to what I said. The OP may be ambitious, but that's fine. What I'm saying is that I disagree what the OP is lazy.

Maybe just poor construction of an ESL speaker, but the title and other details look to me like he wants some easy answer handed to him.

That was just the title, you have to look at what he actually said in the body of the post, and he clearly did NOT ask anybody to just hand him the answer. That's what the body of a post does, ya know, it adds to / clarifies the point(s) from the headline.

But if finding a "pain point" and, moreover, good solution for it were as easy asking, I imagine we would all be millionaires.

Nah, because most people are too lazy to even bother doing the asking bit. The OP has already shown more initiative than probably 99% of the population.

Further, I don't know what difference you think there is between "needs some motivation" and "lazy". I don't get your point B at all.

Wow, I don't even know what to say to that. But whatever, believe what you want to believe.

My last point was an honest expression of bafflement. I don't know what you think is gained by trying to convince me I am wrong and then piss on me for trying to say I don't understand something you said. Anyone who thinks I am wrong can just answer the original question, which I am glad to see you also did in addition to feeling the need to crab at me.

I'm not trying to convince you you're wrong. I think you're so wrong, you're not even wrong, therefore I can't even respond to what you said in any reasonable manner. Again, believe what you want to believe, it doesn't much affect me one way or the other.

If you think that's "crabbing at you" or "pissing on you" then I think that's more of a reflection of your worldview, outlook, personality, whatever, than it is anything else. At any rate, I'm done with this line of conversation, since it isn't benefiting anyone. Please, have the last word if you'd like.

Mz, I apologize if I hurt your feelings.

No, you didn't. Best of luck.

Thanks mindcrime, I couldn't have said it better myself. I suppose I should have left my goal out, but I thought it was useful context. Where I live and work (palo alto), modest 3 bedroom homes average $2,000,000. Nice ones bump up into the $5,000,000 range.

I think money's not fun to talk about, since it's easy to hurt someone's feelings due to people having such radically differing worldviews.

I am very ambitious, and personally 500k a year is a good "start" towards success. There's a lot of great books about the power of thought. I like "The Magic Of Thinking Big".

I assume you are almost doing something for living. May be you can come to great ideas and pain points in your OWN business. Most of the great startups started by founders scratching their own itch. You should be more alert while living you daily life.

There is also another method suggested by Pual Graham think about your daily task and imagine them 100 years later. How do you think they will be perfumed in the future?

Also here is a recommended read for you if you hadn't read it before David http://www.paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

Thanks Arash for the fantastic resources and thoughts.

I have read that essay by PG numerous times.

I come up with lots of ideas, some I think are quite good. Unfortunately it's hard to find one that I like so much that I stick with it all the way to launch.

Even finishing an MVP is a lot of work, and I'm trying to do a better job of researching up front so I don't waste time.

You either have to find a pain point or just jump into a saturated market with a better product. There is always room for something polished.

For years I've been jumping from wpengine, to posterous, tumblr, blogspot, trying to find a blogging platform that suited my needs. I never liked any of them. So last week I was listening listening music on pandora and heard about squarespace. And checked it later.

It is GREAT and cheap. I signed up and I'm a paying user.

The problem I have with pain points is: they are usually already covered or are in a such niche market that are not viable.

Thanks! What were your pain points, and how much do you happily pay?

I don't know (that's my point about pain points being useless - nothing really bothered my on posterous or tumblr)

Their themes are not so great. Their interface looks good but has glitches. The way they built their navigation system is awesome, but nothing that really stands out. This is very subjective.

The vast majority of things people buys have nothing to do with solving problems.

What pain point do moleskine notebooks solve? None. There are a myriad of internet websites that sell the same thing: an idea, an illusion. And people will buy it, happily.

That said, I think you shouldn't concentrate exclusively on solving problems but maybe trying to 'overthink' people and creating something they would pay for.

If you really want to cover some pain point, realize that people are usually numb and do not realize that X could be solved with a service. Asking people about pain points is useless, you need to watch them working.

I suggest you find a job in the market you want to enter. After a few years you should know what their pain is.

Honestly, there isn't much pain that can't be solved by a good engineer doing their job at the places I've worked. So I guess I could do consulting, but I don't know how to get clients. And I personally find it more fun to build and sell a product than to just do more programming for higher pay. There is something special about owning something.

Cold emailing people and asking about their pain points is probably not the best way to go. That said, you're on (sort of) the right path by understanding that you need to find potential customers and talk to them early on, so that's a good step.

What I'd recommend is this:

1. Network, in person, as much as possible, and make real-world connections with people. If you're not a natural schmoozer, don't sweat it, it can be learned. Just go to events and talk to people. In the earliest phases, if you're just trying to get comfortable doing that sort of thing, don't worry too much about what kind of event, or what the person's title is, etc. Go to Java User's Group meetings, go to Entrepreneurship Meetups you find on Meetup.com, go to local Chamber of Commerce schmoozefests, etc, etc. If you live in or near any reasonably sized city, there should be an event calendar somewhere online that lists upcoming networking events. Seek them out and go and talk to people.

2. Leverage your existing network of real world connections, as well as any new connections you make, to make warm introductions for you, to other people you want to meet.

3. If you DO cold email people, don't just ask them to write up a thesis on their pain points for you, and send it to you. You'd probably get more traction saying something roughly like "I'm looking at creating a product targeted towards (your industry | people in your position | whatever) and would love to pick your brain for a little while. Could I grab 30 minutes of your time in exchange for lunch (or a coffee / beverage of your choice)? I can also share some really interesting research with you, that we've done in regards to $FOO."

Note that that last bit is optional, but it is always good if you can offer the other person something for their time. There are people out there who will sit and talk to you, either out of pure altruism, a desire to "give back", or because it strokes their ego to think that you consider them important, or a myriad of other reasons. But quid pro quo is a pretty powerful mindset and having something to offer is usually good.

Also, I think it would be good if you had at least a vague idea of an area you want/expect to work in, and could develop some decent domain knowledge of that area. This goes to credibility, and will be important in getting other people to risk their reputation on you, which is what they are doing when they make introductions to their connections, on your behalf. You need to impress people as "someone who knows his shit and is worth spending time with" for best effect.

I recommend reading Steve Blank's book The Four Steps To The Epiphany as there's a good section in there about what he calls "Friendly First Contacts" which would be relevant to you. There are also a lot of old threads on the Lean Startup Circle mailing list about how to get introductions, meet customers, interview people, etc. Dig through those archives and you'll find some golden stuff.

Edit: one last thing... there is something to be said for persistence, and there are some gimmicks you can use to get a better response rate on cold emails / letters. I'm not necessarily an advocate for either badgering people or engaging in a lot of gimmicks, but don't be afraid to send more than one email, and - if you feel the urge - send a handwritten letter and send it via Priority Mail or Fedex or whatever. Or send a stupid little trinket (a plastic bottle opener keyring thing or something) along with your letter. Chet Holmes did a section on this on one of his DVD series, one he did with Anthony Robbins. If you can get your hands on those videos somehow, he has a lot of material on that "getting in the door" problem.

Great answer, thanks! I would also recommend setting a smaller goal of say 500 a month. If you can reach this goal and you get some understanding of your industry, niche and audience, you will see if you have a chance to grow and can invest more. O to 500k doesn't happen unfortuntely, even if you come across an underserved niche with little competiton and huge margins you will need partners, employees and "proper" business. Also as they me mentioned the best route to take now is to become a supplier of your own needs, start with what you personally need, be it computer games, dev tools, or anything else. Good luck!

This is fantastic, thank you so much for all the thoughts and advice. I own The Four Steps To The Epiphany and have not finished it. I'll check out that section.

Actually you don't need a problem solving idea to start a startup. I wrote an essay about ideas http://www.vusal.me/essays/ideas/ which was a discussion on HN some time ago.

This is awesome, thanks. One of my current ideas is in this category: "IDEAS/INVENTIONS THAT ARE BETTER VERSIONS OF EXISTING SOLUTIONS FOR PROBLEMS"

Thanks, checking it out!

Study an industry. Be involved with it. In depth. Pain points are discovered during research more than they are just handed to you.

Thanks. How do you get involved in an industry?

Thanks. How do you get involved in an industry?

I was totally with you up until this question. This is such an absurd question. It's either your being lazy, your being stupid, or you being a troll. I don't know which but I'm convinced it's at least one of the three.

If you want to build an app for traders, start trading yourself. If you want to build an app for mass email campaigns, look for web marketing work to pay for some R and D. Approach things practically, keeping the theory to a minimum (though it's vital too). Really ask yourself who you have access to (friends, colleagues) and what you are passionate about. Chances are that's the domain your best ideas will apply to.

This is good advice, thanks. I've been doing this.

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