I see people asking this question quite a lot. First off if you really can’t see how anything around you can be improved or done 10x better, then you’re either not the ideas guy or you haven’t got enough exposure to people’s problems to have the ideas yet and that’s fine. Why not join someone else’s startup who has a really good idea? There’s a hell of a lot to starting a business that’s about execution and lots of different skill sets, marketing, sales, business development, strategy and development. The idea takes by far the least amount of time, so you only need one ideas guy and hopefully he’s got other talents too.
If you are an ideas person and you’re trying to figure out what’s worth pursuing and putting time into and what’s not, here are a few bits I picked up on along the way.
From my own experience the main problem was that I could see a huge gap in the market but by the time I’d manage to build something to fill it in my spare time, someone else would launch a more complete offering with a bunch of marketing money to make a big splash. If you’ve spotted a big gap in the mainstream market, with 7 billion people someone else probably has too and some of those people probably have VCs on speed dial.
I then started looking for more niche gaps as my thinking was that they wouldn’t be as obvious or have as many people chasing after them. I had a friend tell me about a problem that they had in his company where the market leading software was too slow. I thought great I can write fast code, I’ll just build one of those. The company I was planning on doing a better job than had just sold for 11.5 million which is too small to attract VC money. I made a solution 200x faster but didn’t know the industry well enough to realise that my system would have to integrate with a million different tools and I had no desire to build all of that. The lesson for me was if you go niche make sure you have someone in the startup that knows the niche inside out, things often seem simpler from the outside.
The next project, I joined a team with sales guys from the industry we were targeting and datascientists. This again was niche but this time we had industry expertise in call centre sales and cool tech. Call centres were perfect for AI to come along and improve things 4 years ago and it was niche enough we wouldn’t be butting heads with Google and the big boys. Thing is call centres had never heard of of AI 4 years ago and despite great proof points getting them to hand over customer data to prove it was close to impossible. Lesson if they don’t know its broke they won’t let you fix it. When looking for a niche, look for people actually complaining about the problem and actively looking for a solution. If they’re not shouting about it, even if it can be done better they probably won’t invest the time to look at better ways to do it.
We actually pivoted into consulting and got talking to lots of businesses helping them solve their problems. This proved to be amazing instead of having an idea and trying to foist it onto companies we were simply asking them to tell us their problems. Month on month we learned lots about the real problems businesses were facing and the product that worked was one that came out of hearing that so many people were struggling with the same issue.
I think too many people think it has to be idea first, then build and finally once its ready talk to investors / business. Get the team, talk to businesses, find the idea it doesn’t have to be revolutionary it just has to be better to pay you than do themselves and start talking to investors early.
Anyway hope that’s useful!