How to get Startup Ideas

Notes from PG’s essay

  • startups usually
    • are something the founders want
    • are something the founders can build
    • are something that few others realize has worth
  • look for problems rather than ideas. Ideally problems you personally deal with.
    • this is to ensure that the problem actually exists.
    • doing the opposite (looking for ideas), usually results in bad ideas, ideas that are plausible enough to fool you in working on them, even though the problem may not exist.
      • the danger of these ideas is that they are difficult to catch as being useless, because they seem plausible.
    • if all you know about a startup idea is that it sounds plausible, it is better to assume that it is bad, because most plausible ideas are bad.
  • There is another balance to hit: instead of making something many people are somewhat interested in, make something a few people are very interested in, almost desperate to use.
    • ask yourself: who wants my product so much that they would use a crappy version of it made by an unknown startup?
      • if you can’t answer that, then perhaps it is not a good startup idea.
  • OK, but this way our product risks just being a niche, how do we discern whether there is a path leading outwards, leading to growth beyond a niche?
    • Well, truth is, it’s hard to tell, and just part of the risks you take as a founder.
    • If you’re at the leading edge of the field, your intuition is probably right.
  • The takeaway then, really, is that there isn’t a recipe for coming up with startup ideas, but rather a mindset. One doesn’t “think up” startups. One notices the gaps for them. An observant mindset, open to new possibilities in the world, will be able to notice these gaps.
    • One does not necessarily even need to be in the leading-edge; becoming leading-edge is feasible within a year for many things. For the life-span of a startup, that is a reasonable time investment.
  • How do we notice?
    • ask yourself what’s missing from your field/the world
      • don’t take the current state of the world for granted.
      • pay attention to things that bother you
      • see the obvious that isn’t so obvious: the problem and solution you find should seem obvious in retrospect
        • It’s a weird process, admittedly
    • don’t ask yourself “Could this be a big business?”
    • We need a loose mind for the above. Floating Attention
      • keep a background process running, rather than facing the issue of coming up with an idea head-on.
        • that’s just not how ideas are formed.
    • Give yourself time. Don’t fret. Pressure will only make it worse.
      • A rushed idea is probably not the best
    • Work on projects that seem like they would be cool
      • you’ll practice building things that are missing.
      • many startup ideas started off as “toys”. “Toys” may matter more than they seem.

Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

  • Another tactic is to work on the boundary of fields, the “clash of domains”.
    • This will allow you to better see the gaps in each domain, since you’ll be both an insider and an outsider to both.
  • Don’t build while aiming to start a startup. Just build
    • that’s premature optimization otherwise.
  • Don’t worry about competition and being “late”
    • it’s rare for startups to be killed by competitors.
      • success depends much more on you than on competitors.
    • focus on users, not competitors.
    • a crowded market is actually a good sign
      • there’s demand
      • there isn’t an optimal solution yet

Notes mentioning this note

Here are all the zettels in this zettelkasten, along with their links, visualized as a graph. You may need to zoom and pan around to see something.