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Ask YC: How did you come up with your startup idea?
15 points by plinkplonk 2806 days ago | 29 comments
What is the process by which you came up with your startup idea?

Did you

(a) build something you wanted and the realize you had a potential startup idea?

(b) do a careful market analysis and find a "hole"?

(c) suddenly get an idea in the shower/while mowing the lawn ?

(d) anything else?

Did you have the idea first and then look around for cofounders or did you first assemble a team you liked and then brainstorm?

Thanks in advance




A (more or less): I wanted something (encrypted snapshotted online backups); spent a while thinking about how to do it and convinced myself that I could do it; posted to my blog asking if anyone else wanted and would pay for it (about 10% of the people who read that blog entry wrote to say that they would); and then got started writing code.

As for cofounders, I don't have any -- having decided that I knew how to do this, I didn't want to waste time explaining to anyone else how to do this.

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I've been thinking about writing an app to provide services that would go great with online backups.

Hit me up if you're interested in discussing more: mrevelle (at) gmail

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It's still early enough that the "plus internet" strategy gets you pretty far when you're trying to come up with ideas.

By "plus internet," I mean, hang out with people who don't have an unhealthy obsession with the internet. Lend them an empathic ear, then take their pain/talent/idea and add the internet.

Let me give you an example. I met a musician the other day. He's got a kid now, and he said that most of the energy he formerly put into improvisational music now goes into improvisational storytelling; every night, he makes up a bedtime story with his kid. He said he was thinking about recording these stories for sentimental reasons.

Since I DO have an unhealthy obsession with the internet, my first thought was, "hm, ok, recorded stories plus internet equals ...?" That is, what if you had LOTS of families recording these stories and you managed to get all that data into one system. It doesn't quite work with bedtime stories -- I think those tend to be a little too personal to be of general appeal -- but there are plenty of very talented storytellers out there... there are local societies and whatnot. It's a tradition that dates back to the beginning of language. Why not create a Youtube-like environment where people with a passion for storytelling can share their stories with each other and the world? This guy I was chatting with said he'd never have thought of that, but you could see the wheels turning in his head as soon as I mentioned it.

So let's say you've gotten this far. At this point, if your goal is to create something cool that could change the lives of a group of people, you're all set. (I bet this story idea could turn into a cool folk-art community.) But if your goal is to turn it into a startup, there's one more step... you need to apply this filter: "ok, interesting idea, but is this a business?"

Point is, a good place to start is to get outside the YC/TechCrunch echo chamber and talk to people who have good ideas and painful frustrations but don't automatically think "ok... plus internet?"

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I think I should have made the original question clearer.

I was not trying to say "I need a startup idea. Please tell me how to get one" , though I don't mind if you answer it that way - "plus internet" is a very interesting direction. Thank you.

I was asking "How did you get your startup ideas?" which is a little different.

Some context. I was reading some books (Christiansen's "Innovator's Solution" and de Bono's "Serious Creativity" - I am a developer but I do read a business book once in a while! :-) ) which seem to advocate a deliberate, methodical approach to idea generation.

 I wondered how startup  founders (especially the YC folks) generate their ideas.
Hence the (original) question , trying to tap the experience of people reading this. Over the last couple of days I heard some debate on on whether creating an idea first and then gathering co founders is better than the other way round so I added that.

Apologies for any errors in phrasing. English is not my first language.

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The approach suggested here isn't bad in terms of a more methodical approach to creativity:

http://www.squeezedbooks.com/book/show/5/lateral-marketing-n...

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More difficult for me was finding an idea I loved enough to settle on. I probably have an idea for a startup around 1-2 times a day. Probably 25% of them could be hugely successful for someone interested enough. I bounced around a bit before settling on one that has stayed interesting to me (and my cofounder) everyday as we've worked on it. It's actually increased the amount of ideas I have though, since I have to create things that I wish someone had already created.

The idea we're working on now is a very focused version of a grander idea we have. It's super small and users love it already, so we're just working on growing it.

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For me it was totally (a).

My idea came after our second child. I made a New Year's resolution to send an email a week to update my extended family on what we were up to. I totally failed. The failure dogged me often. The problem was that when a lot was going on it was hard to find time to talk about it. When less was going on it was hard to remember all the interesting things we had done.

Then I thought about digital photos with timestamps. If I just took pictures when we did something interesting, later I could have the computer sort them out by date, and I could type in what we did each day that had photos.

I figured this would be useful for other busy parents, or for people who travel, or anybody else whose photos tell a story.

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Is this publicly available? I've been working on a (very) side project that's somewhat similar and for the same reasons.

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http://ourdoings.com/

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what email can I reach you at? I had a feature idea that I may never get around to implementing but would still love to see done and done well even if it's by someone else.

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brlewis at the aforementioned domain

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I've been working on various startup ideas for the past several years, trying to find something that really grabbed and inspired me to work on it full time. Nothing was doing that, even though I had worked on several different things.

So, I took a step back and looked at my life and the ideas I was working with to try to find out why I kept getting bored with them. Finally, I realized it was because I didn't personally care about what I was doing. Many of them were great ideas that had a real market willing to pay for the software, but I kept fizzling out because I didn't care one way or another if the product ever made it to market. Sure, the potential money provided some motivation, but not enough on its own. I needed the end product to have an influence on my life.

Lately, I've been looking at problems that affect me personally, and I'm much more inspired to follow through with them. Granted, I still have several things on my burner at once, so I need to narrow down to a single one and just get it done, but so far, working on something I care about is much more productive and inspiring for me.

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My friend learned how to do genetic testing and we both realized that it was a great market to be getting into right now.

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I built something I wanted and thought about shelving it until I realized people still encounter the same problems, so I am still working on it.

I never looked for co-founder, I just started building and gathering feedback.

Just build it and see if people you know like it or would use it.

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One company that I did was basically a hobby gone way overboard. I was interested in a particular type of technology, and ended up with company to sell/train/install/etc in that industry.

Another time, a friend asked me to build them a POS system. Then they recommended me to another friend, and then again. Soon I realized that most affordable POS software for small businesses sucked, so I put several elements together into an affordable networked POS package of my own.

One of the things I'm developing now is along the lines of an XaaS (X as a Service) play to an industry that is another hobby of mine.

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Do have a link to / are you still involved with your POS system?

(A friend wants me to build them a POS system and I know there has to be a decent working solution out there.)

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Try Turbocash (www.turbocash.net). It is open source and done in Delphi 7 but quite stable. I am doing one in python and wxpython but I am not done yet.

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Hmm, looks interesting but it fails the windows test.

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Wish I did, but that was about 10 years ago. Sorry.

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A good place to start:

1) Find the most active product forums on Amazon.com 2) Figure out what customers are complaining about 3) Solve their problems / make their lives easier 4) Profit

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A. I really wanted something and built it. I found out other people liked it and wanted it. I've been developing based on feedback and my larger plan.

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(a) Was my road. I needed an intelligent way to deal with all my work flows for my architecture firm and found nothing available, so I teamed with a SW architect partner and we're finishing it up now.

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(d) smoked some good weed

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As web services become easier to build (e.g., as Facebook apps), one would expect a more systematic and scientific approach to emerge for exploring web service ideas.

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a burning bush told me

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The secret agents firing at you didn't make it uncomfortable?

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The other burning bush.

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pretty much all of the above.

This is how I deal with ideas.

Get one, think about it, do a little research, build a tech demo, think about it some more and then move on to the next idea :P

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8 ball

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