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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ideas for Startups

Along with Guy Kawasaki's "The Art of Start", I can highly recommend Paul Graham's essays for every new entrepreneur. I found his "How to start a startup", "Ideas for startups" and "How to fund a startup" succinct, informative and inspirational.

I have returned to Graham's "Ideas for startups" again and again, especially when I wanted my brainwaves to focus on "innovation". After my last read, I've quickly summarized my highlights of the essay's main points, for future reference. They are best read in context, but here goes anyways -

Understanding Startup Ideas

  • Startup ideas are not million dollar ideas. The fact there's no market for startup ideas suggests there's no demand - startup ideas by themselves are worthless
  • Most startups end up nothing like the initial idea. The main value of your initial idea is that, in the process of discovering it's broken, you'll come up with your real idea

What to Look For in an Idea

  • An the idea for a startup is an idea for something people want.
  • You're looking for a valuable idea. Good ideas and valuable ideas are not quite the same thing.
  • Valuable ideas are very close to good ideas. You can get away with working as if the goal were to discover good ideas, as long as, in the final stage, you stop and ask: will people actually pay for this?

Prerequisites to Finding Ideas

  • To generate questions you need two things: to be familiar with promising new technologies and to have the right kind of friends.
  • You can't just think of new ideas yourself. Ideas get developed in the process of explaining them to the right kind of person.

Find the Right Problem to Solve

  • Recipe: finding the problem intolerable and feeling it must be possible to solve it.
  • One way to make something people want is to look at stuff people use now that's broken.
  • Another classic way to make something people want is to take a luxury and make it into a commodity.
  • You can take almost any existing technology produced by a big company, and assume you could build something way easier to use.
  • Look at big companies, this what they should be doing and do it yourself. Even if the already know it, you'll probably be done faster.
  • The best way to generate startup ideas is to do what hackers do for fun: cook up amusing hacks with your friends.

Refining an Idea

  • Start with a problem then let your mind wander just far enough for new ideas to form.
  • Is there some way to bite off some subset of the problem, then gradually expand from there?
How would you lead your startup idea-hunting expedition?