A Summary of My Learnings On How To Find Startup Ideas
As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been searching for new startup ideas and problem areas to tackle. It’s quite difficult to do, especially when you begin adding constraints to the criteria such as “Am I excited about this problem space?”. The internet is filled with helpful ways to come up with startup ideas and below is the summary of what I’ve learned on the topic during the last few months.
I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that you’ll be able to point out what’s missing and help me fill in any gaps.
Of course, a great starting point is Paul Graham’s blog on how to get startup ideas. If you haven’t read it before, I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. Here’s a quick summary:
Build something you want i.e. solve your own problem
The next best thing to an unmet need of your own is an unmet need of someone else.
Live in the future, then build what's missing.
Turn off your “unsexy problems” filter.
Turn off your “schlep” filter i.e. your filter for tasks that are tedious or unpleasant.
Ask yourself whether in your previous job you ever found yourself saying "Why doesn't someone make x? If someone made x we'd buy it in a second.”
YCombinator also has great videos on the topic (one, two, three, four). Here are things I learned from their videos that weren’t already in Paul Graham’s blog:
What are you/your team especially good at? What ideas take advantage of this expertise?
Go through every job and life experience you’ve ever had:
What are problems did you come across?
What opportunities have you been in a special position to see?
What are the unique skills you learned?
What seemed broken?
What did you develop in-house?
What industries seem broken?
Look for things that have changed in the world recently e.g. new technological changes, new regulations, new problems in the world.
What things do you personally wish existed?
Look for variants of existing successful companies e.g. company X but for a different country.
Brainstorm with friends.
EDIT: After posting this, a few people shared their methods:
Unbundling larger platforms (example)
Trawl through the last YC Startup Directory list and figure out what might fit your particular favourite domain, with some modification
Audience: Brainstorm personas you identify with or wish to help, then I look at market research to find the obstacles they face.
Putting it into Practice
Some of the above points are fairly straightforward to put into practice e.g. notice what problems you have, speak to people you know about what problems they have, attend meet-ups and events. However, a framework I found very helpful is one described to me by Gary Lin from Airwork. A few months ago they needed to pivot to a new idea and so they implemented a standard “divergent convergent” design-thinking approach to coming up with an idea:
Essentially what they did is spend an entire week coming up with as many ideas as possible (i.e diverging). They did this by brainstorming and writing down every idea they had, no matter bad it seemed. They brainstormed on the themes mentioned above as well as some additional ones, such as “What are emerging markets that are small right now but will be big in 5 years?” and “The X for Y model” e.g. Uber but for Y.
They then spent the next two weeks after the brainstorm reducing their list by evaluating their ideas and eventually landing on Airwork.
One of the topics mentioned above is “what’s changed recently” or “why now?” (Garry Tran also has a nice video on this). I’ve listed out some topics to brainstorm around below, but I’d love to hear your input on what can be added to this list:
Open AI’s GPT-3 and Codex
AI Image Generation / Dall-E
Improvements in AI classification + recommendation algorithms
ML algorithms that can run on smartphones
Web3 / Crypto / Digital Money / New Economic Models from Crypto
Wearables and accumulation of health data e.g. Apple Watch heart data, Continuous glucose monitors
Shift to remote work (or hybrid)
Shift to remote everything - e.g. people more open to doing video calls, cohort-based courses, remote doctors etc.
Inflation, economic uncertainty, layoffs + hiring freezes
Regulatory changes (I found this one the most difficult):
Data privacy laws getting stricter.
Climate change: Increased government spending and regulation.
Various countries around the world adopting remote-work friendly policies.
I hope you’ve found this useful. I’d love to hear from you if there’s anything I’ve missed, or if you have any other tips or advice.
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Thank you so much for sharing. Everything was so useful. I wonder if another bucket would be dedicated to Audience. In the past, when I've thought of startup ideas, I've brainstormed personas I identify with or wish to help, then I look at market research to find the obstacles they face. Lastly, I look at how I could battle those obstacles with a startup. I subscribed and can't wait to see your future writings!
Nice post, I suspect most unsexy businesses will be auto filtered out by this framework so perhaps there needs to be a 4th section on opportunities/ arbitrage or something similar