How to get startup ideas
For a discussion in the Inverted Passion group, I was reading the Paul Graham’s How to Get Startup Ideas written 6 years ago. It is still super-relevant and very fresh. Here are my notes interlinking lessons from other great minds:
“The most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”
“Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly dangerous: it doesn’t merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.”
We don’t build a product and then find a market for it. Its always the other way.
Product Market Fit (PMF) is a very common thing to measure the traction and growth. But still is a wrong notion as it emphasises on the product first. Brian Balfour says that it is always market that comes first and its better we rephrase it as Market/Product fit (MPF).
Marc Andreessen and Andy Rachleff, the original proponents of the PMF, also mean the emphasis is on market but they have somehow coined it as product/market fit:
When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.
Go small to go big:
People put on the “sexy idea” filter, “revolutionary product” filter when evaluating the initial ideas. But the emphasis in the early stages should be on building things which are needed for a small segment of people. Even though it is counter intuitive, it is better to focus on a small number of people initially:
“you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.”
Kevin Kelly says in his influential essay:
“To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
Eric Ries’ lean startup and Steve Blank’s customer development processes gives frameworks and methodologies to focus on this initial true fans. You build a scrappy prototype and put it out to get feedback, before polishing it.
Live in the future and build what seems interesting:
“how do you choose between ideas? The truth is disappointing but interesting: if you’re the right sort of person, you have the right sort of hunches. If you’re at the leading edge of a field that’s changing fast, when you have a hunch that something is worth doing, you’re more likely to be right.”
If I had read this passage few years ago, I would have said this is batshit-crazy. But that is in fact very true. Jeff Bezos in one of his epic annual letters says this:
“Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste.”
Alright, I get it. The market trumps all else. How do I live in the future? This is where I find the lesson from PG that is very being blunt and to the point:
“the way to have good startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them.”
This resonates well with the point from another huge master, Charlie Munger. When asked : “How to find a good spouse?”, Charlie’s answer was “Be worthy of a good spouse”. First you become a good spouse, and then you can deserve one.
A little more actionable insights comes from Chris Dixon:
“It is easy to think that because you like food you can create a better restaurant. It is an entirely different matter to rent and build a space, market your restaurant, manage inventory, inspire your staff, and do all the other difficult things it takes to create a successful restaurant. Similarly, just because you can imagine a website you’d like to use, doesn’t mean you have founder/market fit with the consumer internet market.”
The option he suggests is:
“No one is born with knowledge of the education market, online advertising, or clean energy technologies. You can learn about these markets by building test projects, working at relevant companies, or simply doing extensive research. I have a friend who decided to work in the magazine industry. He discovered some massive inefficiencies and built a very successful technology company that addressed them”