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How to get business ideas – remove steps (ninjasandrobots.com)
147 points by nate on May 31, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

Then you have the problem of selling it. Some people I know made a piece of software that literally destroys half (or more) the jobs among broadcast TV operators. They regularly got shown the door harshly because they presented the solution to the wrong person: either someone who'd lose his job in the process, or someone who'd lose half the team under her orders and therefore her power in the company.

what is the software? please share a link? Something a small media company could use?

Definitely what a small media company should use. It combines traffic management, ads insertions, media asset management in a very easy to use, full drag-and-drop web UI, completely customizable and an impressively complete API with full documentation.

Really a fantastic product that puts everything from the big names to shame. It's available as both a standalone or cloud-hosted solution. It's so simple that usually only one journalist of graphic artist can manage a set of channels all by him/herself.


Having worked in an incubator space and constantly overhearing aspiring entrepreneurs' wildly impractical proposals...I've always wondered why it isn't just common sense that you heed the advice mentioned in another article currently on HN's front page:


> But our biggest self realization was that we were not users of our own product. We didn’t obsess over it and we didn’t love it. We loved the idea of it. That hurt.

In a way, the OP is just another re-phrasing of this...if you know the steps of a process pretty well, it's because you're an active user. You know what steps are worth removing, and as an active user, you can maintain a tight feedback loop informing you whether the cost of removing those steps are worth it. And, as a cherry on top, you're actively making something you already do more enjoyable.

The flip side is also sometimes true. When you know the steps of some process well, it means you've internalized all the existing assumptions. That can make it difficult to clearly realize where removing steps is possible.

Sort of like why sometimes experts in a field make the worst teachers. They've forgotten the important transitional steps.

I guess this is why I will never teach math.

When I was in high school I would always lose points on my tests because I never showed any work. It was always easier for me to imagine formulas in my head like puzzle pieces then writing them down.

I don't think this is necessarily the case. You do need to understand the idea's domain really well, but that doesn't have to be because it's something you do already. You could try to solve the problem of someone you know well, or have a cofounder who knows the problem domain better than you, or pick a market that seems underserved and learn about it until you get an idea and can make sure it's not a bad one.

There are benefits to picking something you don't already do - or rather, something that most people who start startups don't do. People naturally think the most about optimizing things they do often, and when most of them are being told to "scratch your own itch", they do even more of that. So most software startups will be about things that people who write software and found startups do a lot of, and those markets will be the most competitive. If you solve your grandmother's problems instead of your own, there's a lot less competition.

I would also like to add that you need make sure you really understand the whole context when improving something.

As someone who actually does the dishes, I cringed when I saw the OXO measuring cup, those small corners are hard to clean if flour gets stuck in there. Maybe the execution could use some work. If you consider washing part of the job, that measuring cup is worse than a common measuring cup.

If you're using it to measure solids like flour, you're actually using it incorrectly. The OXO cup is really for measuring liquids. To measure out solids (flour, sugar, etc.) you should be using solid measuring cups.

I will never understand the US idea of measuring solids by volume. If you recipes called for "200g of flour", then that's trivial to measure out on a scales.

They don't - they measure by ratio. 1 cup originally meant just that - whatever cup you had lying around. in an era in the late 19C when few had access to expensive scales, the idea of one level cup became a simple antidote to "butter the size of an egg" recipies. Fannie Farmer's book in 1896 popularised standard ratio measures - see an episode of QI for this and related jokes :-)

Except the sometimes come with units that aren't relative, such as "one egg" or "one teaspoon of sugar".

It's quicker sometimes.

This morning I made some oatmeal. I took a 1/2 measuring cup, scooped out some oatmeal, shook it quickly to remove the overflow, threw it in a pot, and dropped the measuring cup in my sink. It took around 5-10 seconds.

If I had to do the same by weight, I would have had to get my scale, put on a bowl, zero the scale, slowly start pouring oatmeal onto the scale until it reached the desired weight, throw that into a pot, put the bowl in my sink, and put the scale away. That'll probably run around 15-20 seconds. If I screw up and poured too much into the bowl by accident, it'll take a lot longer to correct than briefly shaking a pre-sized 1/2 measuring cup.

Other times a scale is much easier to use too; it just depends on the context.

You would put the pot directly on the scale, surely. No need for an intermediate container.

You'd put a pot of boiling water on a scale? Wouldn't that risk damaging it?

I don't make oatmeal, so I don't know the exact procedure, but if one is bring the water to a boil before putting in the oats, then the simple solution is just to use your serving bowl — the one you will eat the cooked meal from — instead. I do that with pasta, for example.

The extra 10 seconds are an acceptable cost when it comes to trying to figure out how add 3/4 of a cup of margarine.

I hate measuring anything by volume. Life seems much easier if you just treat every liquid as 1g per ml and only ever use scales.

Also in regards to accuracy, weight never changes.

Volume fluctuates depending on temperature.

Weight does change around the world, mostly because at the equator you are farther away from the centre of mass of the earth than you are at the poles, but also because of local gravity anomalies. It's mass that never changes, so maybe we should all get an inertial balance for our kitchen!

Unless you are measuring ethanol, which is more like 0.78g per mL.

So his method comes with additional health benefits for free.

To measure out solids, you should be using a kitchen scale, but Fannie Farmer's legacy lives on: http://roadside-attraction.com/why-i-hate-measuring-cups-and...

This actually makes my point even more poignant.

Where I live, the majority measuring cups can be used both for liquid and solids, they usually come with a bunch of scales for a variety of products, both with volume and weight[1].

Recipes are usually "200ml of milk and 1 cup of flour, eggs, mix it" I put the 200ml on the measure a cup and add the rest on top of it and mix on the same cup to avoid having yet another bowl to wash. I only use another bowl for making larger things, like cakes.

[1] http://www.sousanatal.com.br/gerenciador/app/webroot/images/...

I like to measure solids like flour and sugar by weight whenever possible. Especially with flour, the packing density introduces too much variation to get a good measurement by volume (or so my experience has indicated).

I like to measure things like honey (21g = 1 tbsp) by weight too, because half of it tends to stick to the measuring spoon.

Accuracy aside, I find it easier to cook by weight (especially if I'm scaling the recipe). I set the bowl on the scale, dump in an ingredient, press tare, dump in the next one, press tare. No fiddling around with measuring cups and spoons.

What weight are you using for a cup of AP flour when converting recipes? (I usually go with 125 g, per the USDA nutrient database, but I've seen numbers as high as 150 g elsewhere.)

For my most common flour-using recipe (bread machine bread), I use 140 g/cup (the conversion in the recipe book suggests 137 g).

Edit: that's for high-gluten bread flour, which may have a different density than AP flour.

I have no problem using liquid measuring cups for solids. Just wiggle the cup a bit, and the flour will level itself. My main reason for segregating solids and liquids is to keep the solids from sticking in the cup. Nothing needs to be all that precise except for some kinds of sweets. At the end of the job, there's nothing to clean.

My dad, a chemist, insists on weighing the dry ingredients, and I agree in principle, but find volume to be quicker.

Have you used an OXO measuring cup? They really are a lot easier to use when baking and cooking, and my sponges never have a problem getting in those corners.

Yes, I have one. They are really easier to use. I usually have problems cleaning that top corner, my hands are a bit large so I have trouble cleaning that part. Also, I find pouring a bit more tricky when using the cup. I just asked about it to my wife (she bought it) and she said pretty much the same thing.

My main issues with it: the handle broke off, it can be tricky to read the top-down markings when dealing with dairy (fats tend to stick to plastic), and it's hard to mix things in it, due to the shape of chamber. (E.g. an egg yolk or two into the cream I just measured.)

On the other hand, my "pyrex" measuring cup lost all of its markings to the dishwasher, which also makes it a bit difficult to measure anything in it (without a scale).

> the handle broke off

This happened to mine as well, I was a bit disappointed, expect OXO to be better quality. They'd probably replace it if I asked but I feel like it's my fault since I dropped it, even though a plastic cup should survive a fall on the kitchen floor.

It wouldn't surprise me that the plastic had been carefully chosen to lack the plasticity to stay in one piece when dropped from counter-top height; bet that increases profits for the company (at the expense of wasted resources for everyone).

Actually, this wasn't a drop. I had just washed it and was holding it by the handle. I gave it a shake to get rid of the remaining water and it snapped.

I think the joint is somewhat plastic, to the point that it feels slightly flimsy, possibly to prevent drop failure.

OXO has an extremely generous warranty replacement policy so I doubt that's the case

It is not difficult to come up with new business ideas or ways to improve on businesses that already exist.

(As a side point, you don't really need to come up with new ideas or even make an improvement, you can just enter an existing market and be successful at selling.)

I come up with new business ideas probably once a week. Maybe several in a day.

It is orders of magnitude more difficult to actually effectively execute a business idea. And also often extremely difficult to successfully market it.

The reason it is relatively easy to come up with a new idea: you just need to make a loose identification of a product or solution. To actually implement it, you have to fill in all of the details and refine them. A simple concept can encapsulate a huge amount of complexity and engineering work. For example, the OXO cup. Once you have that idea, you need to work out exactly what design to use and where to place the measurement labels. Then you need some kind of manufacturing. Manufacturing a product can be very complex. You need distribution.

And then you need marketing. There are many reasons that marketing hard. For one thing, people are bombarded with products. There are so many new options that people have built up a tolerance for amazingness. Even if your product is absolutely incredible it may not break through into someone's consciousness for more than a moment. Also, people are busy and they have a limited capacity for learning new things. Even if your product makes things much easier, it is still a new thing for that person to learn, so they have to make an investment of their time and effort. And unfortunately with status quo bias there is a tendency for everyone to undervalue innovative ideas. And for your product to really become popular then you need to access network effects, i.e. move the entire herd.

The unstated assumption in this blog post is that any [ethical] idea that makes money is worthy.

I would hope that persons of talent aspire to higher goals. A better measuring cup is of trivial benefit to humanity. A new dessert is actually a detractor.

If all you can do is make new measuring cups and new desserts then, by all means, do it and support your family. But if you think you bring something special to the world, try to improve it in a significant way. If that means investing a few years of your life to go to nursing school (for example) and learn a profession of value, then make the investment. You will then find ample opportunities to innovate, and bring benefit to your fellow man.

I find this post incredibly off.

You are basically saying that it is pointless to be a pastry chef, and that joy in food is not significant.

I would be very, very, careful about judging what is significant to humanity and what is not.

You be the judge, but be fair about it. Does the world need more pastry chefs, or does it need more nurses? Does it need more people trying to improve on fresh strawberries, or does it need more water engineers to keep millions of people from dying of water-borne diarrheal diseases every year?

It's an easy calculation if you think big (which is what people of talent should do). If you think small, then, indeed, you can get whatever answer you want.

You're assuming that people are interchangeable cogs.

They aren't.

Most pastry chefs would be incompetent and unhappy as nurses or engineers, and vice versa.

> Most pastry chefs would be incompetent and unhappy as nurses or engineers, and vice versa.

This, though, is a subjective judgement too—even if presented as fact. Not that I disagree with your point or something.

Edit: come to think of it, it seems unlikely that many chefs were given a chance and tried training and working as nurses or engineers. So yes, I disagree with your point as well, not just scorn at subjectivity of the argument.

There is also the simple fact that there aren't enough nurses, and there aren't going to be. Baby boomers just didn't have enough kids to ensure a decent level of human care. Look at the numbers.

One thing's for sure : one person cannot make a difference here.

I'd disagree. If someone figures out the principles underlying an effective anti-Alzheimer vaccine, or anti-sarcopenia vaccine, that will be a "difference" no matter what definition is applied.

And if those Water Engineers are consumed with their jobs - and constantly stressed and depressed by the poor standing of the world - and cannot seek little pleasures in things like pastries or a craft beer or a street performer, would you say they would perform to the best of their abilities?

Could Earth use more Water Engineers? Certainly. Should people with passion be forced into pursuing careers that utilize their talents better? No way.

>Should people with passion be forced into pursuing careers that utilize their talents better? No way.

I agree with that statement but what you're saying is Peter Parker should not be forced to be a Spider-Man or Bill Gates should waste his billions on parties because he likes to party.

I'm not trying to sound socialist it's just the world would be a much better place to live if people with power and talent really took responsibility and made a good choice.

Generally people with extreme gifts or talents (and specifically the 2 examples you mentioned) find passion in their skillsets so the argument that they should do that anyways is somewhat unnecessary. And the ones who don't most likely have legitimate mental issues that would prohibit them from contributing at a consistent level. Of course there are deviations, but physchological studies have more than adequately shown the large deviation of mental stability in truly gifted individuals.

My argument is made for "normal" people.

And I don't think your opinion falls in the realm of socialism, fyi.

> physchological studies have more than adequately shown > the large deviation of mental stability in truly gifted > individuals

This is a common misconception. If, for example, one looks at physicians as a group (the occupational class with the highest so-called IQ), they are in general more stable and mentally healthier than the rest of the population.

If one ventures into the realm of savants, then those people are, by definition, not normal, so anything goes. But they are small in number.

"A better measuring cup is of trivial benefit to humanity. A new dessert is actually a detractor."

Disagree in both cases. A "better" measuring cup would be one that either saved time (freeing it for other productive uses) or provided more accurate measurements (reducing the number of ruined recipes and food waste).

A new dessert provides pleasure. And no, pleasure is not bad. Gluttony can be.

This perfectly illustrates the difference in worldview between a capitalist and a socialist, and you so clearly see the problems with both.

The capitalist argument is essentially that anything that saves time/money/... is worth it, if people pay for it and it's self-sustaining. But the criticism of this position is valid too : what if caring for people is not worth it ? Will we simply not care for people ? How will this affect you ?

The socialist argument is that certain things are to be constant at any price, like nursing. Problem here of course is that the price has risen quite considerably, and people aren't willing to pay. So it's not self-sustaining, and therefore wouldn't normally be done. But the socialist would simply use (some form of) force to get it done anyway. From forcing people into professions, to shaming, ... Of course having a nurse that was denied what (s)he saw as a better career caring for me is unlikely to result in a good relationship.

But you see the problem too, right. I don't want to be subject to that socialism thing, but I do agree it sure would be nice if we cared for people better. And when I'm older, I'm sure I'll agree even more.

Here's what it comes down to : who determines what society's resources get spent on : people themselves (but of course they'll be forced to admit that there's no nursing because they haven't paid for it), or the "intellectuals" who want to protect people from themselves, make sure they don't die uncared for ?

It is this experimentation, however, that creates large improvements in the world. Creating a hobby operating system, for example, may seem like a waste of time. Why would CS students spend time creating something only for themselves, when they could be creating software to change the world? Aren't they wasting their talents by building something that they don't intend for anyone to use?

Of course, one of those hobby operating system grows into Linux, and suddenly that experimentation doesn't seem pointless anymore.

A contractor at CERN wants a faster way to share research papers. Isn't this outside the scope of his work, though? Isn't he wasting CERN's money with this project? People can just share papers via Usenet anyway. Who even needs the World Wide Web?

Most people don't set out to "bring benefit to your fellow man." Most people fool around with side projects or new ideas. These projects, which seemingly offer "trivial benefit to humanity," are the ones which make a difference in the world.

Experimentation or invention for any reason (including profit) is valuable, precisely because we don't know where this experimentation will go.

The reasonable upper bound of benefit when designing a new OS or a new information-sharing medium is, a priori, much higher than the upper bound of a new measuring cup or a new dessert. So, this means someone entering those quests can reasonably state that they are tackling something big, i.e. worthwhile.

I see your point. While breakthroughs (such as Penicillin) can still be a result of unrelated research, it is true that focused experimentation is more likely to make an impact.

The penicillin story is not what most people think.

Fleming discovered the mold and its anti-bacterial effect in 1928 by happenstance, but this knowledge languished until the outbreak of WW2 in Europe in 1939. At that point, the Oxford group realized the war was going to cause enormous numbers of gas gangrene cases (truly a terrible affliction), and they very deliberately set out to find a treatment. Their research was, therefore, incredibly directed, and, indeed, most of their work centered on culture and chemical preparation.

Fire, wheels, writing, and industrial production of penicillin -- greatest inventions ever.

Hello. Thanks for the feedback on the post! I definitely wasn't assuming that when I wrote it. In fact, what I was trying to show was a simple framework for looking at processes in the world and improving them. And if some folks can come up with innovative ideas for things already as simple and "old" as measuring cups and S'mores recipes, imagine what you can come up with when you look at more complicated processes in this world. This framework could very well inspire someone to trace out the steps of the job someone has of retrieving water or building wells in Africa and try to figure out which of those steps can be removed. That being said, I really try not to judge if people want to make a better dessert. Dessert makes people incredible happy.


The "save some money" bracket was not intended. If you can do that, great, it will give you flexibility. But the real value is in learning deeply about non-trivial problems.

And, yes, I am saying the best preparation for worthy entrepreneurship is to do something else. Using the method outlined by the blogpost, the only problems you can solve are the problems that you encounter in your everyday life. If, however, you go (for example) to nursing school, you will learn about [a] a much larger population of problems, and [b] a population of problems that are, in many cases, grievous.

We all get one crack at life. Solving silly problems is one way to spend it. Solving real problems is another.

I agree. Coming right out of school, most people have only a little understanding of what real problems are. This was illustrated in an article a few days ago about "dudes, or duos of dudes, who have only recently experienced the crushing realization that their laundry is now their own responsibility, forever. Paradoxically, many of these dudes start companies that make laundry the central focus of their lives." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7817895

I agree with you - and I understand the intent of your statement. Others may be inferring your sentiment too harshly. Like you, I am very tired of the great brainpower of the community, to solve simple/trivial problems that have a negligible impact on the world.

Measuring cups do make a difference - albeit proportionally smaller than say finding a way to remove society from fossil fuels. Measuring cup creation is much lower on the totem pole than, say relativity as examples.

I'm not sure that coming from the field is a requirement to getting good ideas(in important fields).

Being able to learn subjects deeply and communicate with subject matter experts , do in depth market studies of potential customers and creating collaborations could all be good options for creation of innovations. Hell, it works quite well for academics.

Nurses use measuring cups too.

> A better measuring cup is of trivial benefit to humanity

Oh, so it is of benefit, is it? What, exactly, is the minimal amount of positive benefit to humanity I must exert in my work to be deemed worthy in your optics?

What, exactly, is it about nursing, as a whole, that makes the field universally superior to the measuring cup industry? Is all of nursing equally deserving? What if you, as a nurse, spend your entire career caring for the morbidly obese, extending their lives so then can eat more smores? Is it OK to care for the obese, but not to feed them better desserts?

Human development is a long, hard trudge of incremental improvements, with a few leaps here and there. If you insist on sitting around waiting to be part of a leap, resisting the temptation to incrementally bringing benefit to your fellow man, you're missing the forest for all the trees.


> A new dessert is actually a detractor


EDIT: Try not to be provocative.

> I'm guessing you're a lot of fun at parties.

Please don't address other users this way on Hacker News. (It's a bad way to respond to provocation because it degrades the discourse further and invites worse.)

Yeah, you're right. I got pretty worked up over the premise.

> What, exactly, is it about nursing, as a whole, that > makes the field universally superior to the measuring > cup industry?

You lose credibility when you ask a question like this.

You completely miss the impact of a better measuring cup. It saves time during a menial task - only a few seconds but this builds up.


I would think that now that measuring cup has saved many times the time taken to design it, and the people whose time has been saved include (and is not limited to) doctors, nurses, various scientists, and your 'everyday' man. So I think it is quite obvious that the contribution of the angled measuring cup could indeed be much greater than any single nurse.

The marketplace disagrees strongly. Otherwise the cost of an angled measuring cup would approximate the cost of a nurse, which it does not -- the difference is at least 4 [decimal] orders of magnitude.

That's the wrong comparison: you have to combine the cost of ALL angled cup (possibly deduct the value of all non angled cup) and compare with the cost of one nurse, since the two scenarios are: angled cups vs no angled cup at all and one more nurse

Actually it's potentially worse still.

The marketplace won't necessarily value the angled measuring cup inventor as a nurse at all, indeed it may value them negatively (eg by reducing patients who attend a clinic because this person is a nurse there). That would mean that on a market based evaluation, for a person who makes a bad enough nurse, the availability of the cup "improvement" would have to be detrimental to measuring-cup users in order for the market to value the person as a nurse above them as a measuring-cup inventor.

As you note there's a big problem with working out how the market values the item in the first place. Just because something costs more doens't mean it's better value, of course. In a way if the cup costs less than the traditional measuring-cup it's a better product; in another way if it costs more but the same number buy it then it's a better product. You have to make a cost-benefit judgement.

If people say they wouldn't buy a new angled measuring-cup just for the USP, but that they would replace a broken traditional cup with the new style one, how then do you establish the value? You have to take in to account the person's value judgements on disposal of working items. I don't think you can genuinely make an objective market-based analysis here?

I do not understand this. It seems to be an argument that a measuring cup is more valuable than a nurse. All the words in the world won't convince. Ever been sick?

Yes. A measuring cup that aids 10 million people in saving 10c is more valuable to society than a specific person becoming a nurse [who makes you sick].

Obviously if you need a nurse then 10 million measuring cups won't make you better. But if you need a measuring cup, a nurse won't really be that helpful either.

The world needs both, but generally we don't need people who have inventive ideas to shun them in favouring of doing things they are ill-suited and unmotivated to do.

A measuring cup is not valuable than a nurse. Hundreds of millions of measuring cups serving hundreds of millions of people, on the other hand, IS more valuable than a nurse

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