Many people find it hard to actually come up with the idea for a startup or a pet project. Some time ago it was the same for me, but now it’s not: I can generate dozens of ideas daily, thanks to the method I’ve come up with through all these years. Here’s the transcript of a small talk I did on the matter of generating and validating ideas.
First of all, it is important to answer this question:
“Do you want do it because of fun or to make money?”
Fun or money, either is great, but settle on that as early as possible. “Fun” doesn’t imply that it will be something easy to do, it implies that you’ll do something you can relate to or something you will enjoy doing. “Fun” is fun for you.
Now, some may think it is too early to make this decision, and why can’t I get both? This “fun or money” choice will be a rule of thumb for the decisions throughout the project: marketing, goals, priorities, everything.
Asking right questions
Now let’s find the idea. To do this, we need to ask questions to people (you didn’t think you’ll do well without going out and talking to people, did you?). And obviously you need to listen to their answers. I will give you three questions to ask, but you can easily work out more. One thing you shouldn’t ask: “Do you have any idea for a possible project?”. Just don’t ask this one, believe me.
What do you hate doing?
This may relate to work, daily life, pets, anything. This may be something happening once a month or on a daily basis. What you should look for is The Pain Point. Remembering and typing in passwords, trying new (and bad tasting) beers, choosing route in heavily trafficked city. We hate that. That’s why there’s LastPass, Untappd and Google Maps. Solve The Pain Point for people and you’ll have the fame.
What steals your time?
Here you should find out what takes away from people some fair amount of their time. Again, this can be related to work, personal life, etc. The big difference with previous questions is that “steals your time” doesn’t imply people hate it. You may (should) love talking to your clients, plan your budget, and organize your tasks. That’s why there’s Mailchimp, YNAB and Trello. Actually, that’s exactly how Downosaur was born: we love to stay updated on status of things we use (GitHub outage, anyone?), but it takes a lot of time for a newly onboarded person in a company/freelance gig/startup to subscribe to status updates of all services we use.
What doesn’t work well enough?
Last but not least question, and it can actually give you surprisingly lot of insights. This one looks like the reverse of “what do you hate?” coin, and it is. If there’s something people lack in existing product, they will adore the product where those features are present. Sketch to Figma, Blogger to Medium, hosting provider DNS to Cloudlfare’s one.
Now you need to refine your idea, be it The Pain Point elimination, something to save people time or fixing what is broken. Try to say it in a single, short sentence. “Status updates for small teams” is great, “The website where you put your emails to receive messages when GitHub or something else goes down” is not. Reduce as much as possible, this will help you throughout next steps (not only in the context of this article).
Now when you have your idea idea, don’t rush to implement it. Don’t start a MVP. You need to validate the idea first, and not waste any time implementing something that will not take off. So here’re two things you should do.
We’re in beta, leave your email
That’s it: simple landing page capturing subscriptions. Mailchimp has those, as well as tons of others. Now share the link across some Reddit/Twitter and across your own network. You may also go and chip in a $50 into Google Ads and get some traffic from Google’s search. Keep in mind that ad clicks are validations too, it’s not about subscriptions themselves.
We’re in beta, here’s your email
Alternative way of validating your idea [cheap and quickly] is to find your potential customers and ask them, if they want it. And optionally, if they are willing to pay for it. It often takes more than 10 emails before you get any reply, but it totally worth it. A friend of mine was to develop a Shopify plugin and just went and contacted a bunch of Shopify-driven shops via contact form on their site. The feedback he’s got saved him a couple of months of implementing the app nobody was going to use because they have already had an app for that.
If you decide to go with implementing your new idea, then keep it simple. Don’t give up too soon, yet don’t try to make something unmanageable work. Ideas are free, your time isn’t. And now when you can generate a bunch of ideas you shouldn’t care too much when one of them looks like a possible failure. Throw it away, come up with 10 new ones, and 🚀