How To Find Startup Ideas

I recently have met a number of people who expressed how badly they wanted to do a startup but said they lacked any good ideas. I know that startup ideas are worthless, especially since I have lived through the dozens of iterations involved, first with EffectCheck and now with Curvio. Nevertheless, you need to start somewhere and that means you need an idea that sufficiently captivates you. Now, I could simply give these people a list of startup ideas, but for an idea to really stick in your mind enough that you’ll want to start a company around it, you need to come up with it yourself.

 

My Strategies

I’ve come up with a brief collection of strategies that you can use to generate new ideas for startups:

Repurpose

Take a service or approach applied to one market, and apply it to another.
Examples: Chill (Turntable.fm), Yammer (social networks for businesses)

Digitize

Take content or functionality that exists only in a legacy form and put it online or in an app.
Examples: Dr. Chrono (medical records), Google Books

Automate

Take a task that seems tedious and currently requires humans and automate it away.
Examples: Google (search rankings), EffectCheck (emotional impact analysis)

Unify

Create a common platform that ties together proprietary solutions or providers.
Examples: Twilio (abstracts away carrier-specific APIs), Greplin (single search engine for lots of services)

Componentize

Take a piece of functionality that people currently implement themselves and make it a reusable component.
Examples: Apigee (APIs), Get Satisfaction (support forums)

Connect

Transform a situation where people are isolated or lonely by connecting them in a novel way.
Examples: Facebook, Meetup, LetsLunch

Catalyze

Encourage people in a community to generate data that would otherwise be less structured or available.
Examples: StackOverflow (programming Q/A), reddit (social news), Curvio (IMDB for products and apparel)

 

Applying the Strategies

One important thing to remember is that these are not meant to be options that you choose at the start. Rather, consider each of these strategies to be a background process that runs continuously in your mind. Every time you encounter a problem, if it may be solvable by one of these strategies, that’s a potential startup idea!

When you have such an idea, write it down. It doesn’t have to scale or be clear how you’ll monetize, it’s just important that you finish the thought. I typically send myself an email with the subject prefix “Startup Idea: ” and a brief synopsis of the idea. This process helps ensure your mind offloads the mental weight of the idea so it can move on, either to generating the next idea or exploring the current one further.

Also, don’t feel that these are discrete categories of startups. Most startups have some element of more than one strategy. For instance, I listed my startup Curvio in Catalzye, but it also has elements of Digitize, Repurpose, and Connect. The strategies are just there to give you a foothold to begin thinking about how to discover and attack a problem.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully after reading this, those of you with “startup block” may find some inspiration. Remember, though, the idea is just the very start. Each idea you have will likely be twisted, contorted, and maybe even discarded once you start gathering user metrics and getting customer feedback. So don’t over-analyze it: take the little idea you generated and just do it. If you need help launching your minimum viable product, here’s a list of tools I found helpful the first time. You’ll soon discover that finding and building your idea was the easy part.

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Comments

  1. I also thought simplification was a powerful idea to generate start up ideas – as in “how can you take away all of the fluff to generate a strong value proposition?”

  2. I’m so so greatful for the insight. As you stated I have had many ‘ideas’ but limited by the so called ‘startup block’. I put your strategies to practice(digitize and unify) and was surprised at the progess. I hope to apply the other strategies and pick out the best idea. THANKS VERY MUCH!

  3. Nice list!

    One way I use to look at ideas is to broadly categorise them into 2 groups:
    1) Is it a utility site?
    2) Is it an entertain me site?

    These are two very different types of sites that appeal to a different set of needs (emotive vs. functional).

  4. My idea found me. I was having a problem and I didn’t see anybody addressing that problem, and I could see others having the same problem. It’s also important to find something you are passionate about solving, to keep you afloat when the going gets tough.

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  8. This is quite a great list. Actually we have several projects in progress, and I see that all of them fit nicely in this list.

    Flabell, Themesbell, Blogvio – Componentize
    Eclipo – Automate
    Fodeli – Digitize

    You got it quite right. Well done! :)

  9. I feel some memory of TRIZ: a tecnique to create idea, which list some of your ways.
    Basicly it’s a process to take some product/service and reshape some fundamentals to “invent” a new concept.

    Nice post

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