few days ago Paul Graham wrote an essay about finding ideas for startups. Although it contains plenty of great advices, he concentrates on only finding ideas those are about unsolved problems that people have and how to find them. In my opinion the essay should also contain other important types of finding startup ideas. I divide successful startup ideas in 4 main groups:
1. Ideas/Inventions that solve some problem. Well, most of people that want to start a startup look for this options. It would be great opportunity if you could find some problems that aren’t solved by an invention yet. Because most of essential problems are already solved, you can only find solutions for unsolved small problems that interests only small group of people.
This is why people don’t start a new Facebook but social network for pet owners. Because people don’t know what actually will work. Ideas like invention of light bulb or Walkman are big problem-solving ideas. Ideas like Filepicker.io (YC startup) or Light Table (YC startup) solve small problems, but still they help people and make money.
2. Ideas/Inventions that are better versions of existing solutions for problems. With better version I mean some tweaks that makes your solution to stand out. It can also be not a functional tweak but visual tweak. Most of successful startups belong to this group. The founders of these startups actually didn’t look for problems that are unsolved and tried to solve them. The problem with finding ideas for startups is that most of people that are passionate about startups and entrepreneurship, they look intensively around to find some problems to solve. They could actually watch the existing businesses and think about that how they could make it better. Sergey and Larry had some great search engines available in their office computers but they thought that these search engines doesn’t search very well, they only look to keywords tag which could be misused by website owners. And they decided to make a new search engine and to count the backlinks as vote factor for websites, which couldn’t be misused so easily. And they created Google.
Take Nest. Who could think of? Tweaked thermostat? Well, there were already plenty of thermostat types but Nest made it different. They made it with storage, making possible to save energy, and the visual look, its design. Millions of people shared it in Internet without knowing what is it. It just looked nice and modern. It was featured in every single design portal. I’m not sure about it’s usability, whether it would really save me energy but I would definitely buy it when I someday will need a thermostat for my house.
This kind of ideas are my favorites. If you ask why, well because: if there is solution and it works, this means there is a problem that could have a better solution, at least more beautiful solution (as you know humans love beautiful things). And the whole industry exists, you don’t have to predict if you would have costumers if you start your startup. If you are sure that you make the existing solution better, it would definitely work. I always look for these ideas and find them very quickly. For time reasons I can’t make all of them happen. This is the best way you could come up with an idea for a startup. You don’t need a new problem-solving idea.
3. Ideas/Inventions that make people to feel different, stand them out, gives them happiness or get rid of agony. This kind of ideas doesn’t solve a problem actually. Instagram, for example. Some days ago, my wife asked me “should we also use instagram? it looks so cool to be an instagram user.” Most of people who use instagram want to show how their day, meal, clothes, traveled places etc. cool are. So they want to stand out and show their friends how they happy and cool on their daily life. Instagram just made it easy to take a photo, to give it cool photo effects so easily and share it in several social networks. Another example are Apple gadgets. Don’t take me wrong, Apple is a great innovator in my opinion. Daily I use all sorts of Apple products (except iPod) and I’m so happy that I turned from a PC user to an Apple user 4 years ago. But actually 90% Apple costumers buy Apple products because they look nice and shiny, they are expensive and they make stand them out. Some guy made an iPhone app last year. I think its name was “I’m rich” or something like that, and it’s price was 999,9 $. It didn’t have any functions, just empty screen. It was only for people who just wants to show off that they are different. Apple approved the app and it sold 4 times in an hour (or something like that). After an hour Apple banned the app and removed from AppStore, saying it was against AppStore guidelines. I’m sure it would have one of biggest revenues among iPhone apps, if Apple wouldn’t ban it. There are plenty of examples for this kind of business ideas in daily life.
4. Application of successful global ideas as local. If you’re not US- and English-speaking country based, probably there are plenty of ideas that work in real time, and most of people in your country don’t use it because English isn’t their mother tongue. I don’t say that you should copy existing startups, but you can simply use the same ideas. Don’t forget what Picasso said. Take Yandex. It’s Google for Russian-speaking countries. As of May 15, 2012, it had a market capitalization of $37.5 billion. They started after Altavista, and named it Yet Another Search engine, shortly Yandex. Some time ago they also launched a turkish version, with great success (where Google was sued and banned because of Youtube videos and Blogspot posts). Take Payleven. German version for Square.