“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.” In his essay author and VC Paul Graham (2012) shows striving entrepreneurs, how to come up with good startup ideas. We summarize his article here and highlight the main ideas.
The sobering news upfront: there is no such thing as a recipe on how to create a good startup idea. However, there are some points worth to consider.
It all begins with the problem: find a problem, preferably a problem you have, and then start developing a solution for it. It sounds intuitive to work on an existing problem, “[…] and yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”
Be a well – narrow and deep
Every good startup idea should have at least a small group of users at the beginning, who really and sincerely want your product or solution. Initially, you can choose between a small group of first-time users with a big and urgent need or you can choose a wider range of users with a smaller and less urgent need. Here the advice would be: take the former one. Be the Well. For example, the founders of AirBnB started with a very narrow idea, i.e. providing sleeping spaces to visitors during conferences. Or Facebook was only available to a smaller group of for Harvard-students. At the beginning both companies were not aware of how big their market will be, eventually.
How can a startup founder assess whether his/her idea has the potential to become the next unicorn? Unfortunately, there is no answer to this. Either you have the guts and you as a person are a natural talent in coming up and assessing good ideas organically, or you have to start preparing your mind-set for it and start finding yourself at the “[…]leading edge of a rapidly changing field.”
Noticing – look around you
Most of the good ideas from the past started with an external stimulus startup founders started noticing. You know there are a lot of startup ideas out there, but it takes time to realize a good one. Pay specific attention to areas which annoy you a lot yourself.
School – other subjects
Look in areas which are not your home turf: As an example, you are studying Computer Science, and you want to be exposed to startups and ideas, instead of taking a course in “Entrepreneurship” enrol for something which is unrelated to your studies, such as pharmacy. It will help see problems and apply solutions other people from this sphere would not be able to see.
Competition – yes
Competition is good. As long as you focus on a specific niche or your technology advantage, you should not care too much about other competitors. “It’s exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by competitors […]”. Google, for example, was able to replace existing solutions thanks to its superior search technology.
Filters – switch them off
Among the two most important filters you should switch off are the “unsexy” and the “schlep” filter. Whenever you see in a startup idea parts you do not like, stick to your gut and focus on the problem you going to solve. Switch off the unsexy filter. Whenever you have a startup idea, but you see a lot of work in different, unknown areas, do not get deterred by this. Switch of the schlep filter and go ahead.
If you are not blessed with generating ideas organically (probably this holds true for the large majority of us), you can try and look for unmet needs in your own area of expertise. Maybe you have had moments in the past when you asked yourself “why doesn’t someone make X”. Another approach is to look for problems or needs other people have. First it might not be obvious to you, but a good starting point would be to make other peoples’ problems your own. Go ahead from there.
Good startup ideas are rare and hence it is rather difficult to come up with one. Most people will fail. Prepare yourself with the right mindset and start noticing external stimuli to create your very own startup idea organically.
As a bottom line, like Paul Graham puts it:
“Live in the future and build what seems interesting. Strange as it sounds, that’s the real recipe.”
You have an idea? Let us know and talk about it!
Source: Paul Graham (2012) „How to Get Startup Ideas”, http://www.paulgraham.com/startupideas.html
About Paul Graham (Wikipedia): Paul Graham (born 13 November 1964) is an English-born computer scientist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and essayist. He is best known for his work on Lisp, his former startup Viaweb (later renamed “Yahoo! Store”), co-founding the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator, his blog, and Hacker News. He is the author of several programming books. Technology journalist Steven Levy has described Graham as a “hacker philosopher”.