The practical guide to find startup ideas
How do you get startup ideas? This guide provides a practical method that helps you identify startup opportunities from your own life.
If you already have a startup idea and want to decide if it is worth pursuing it, you can skip this guide and check out The practical guide to evaluate your startup idea.
How do you get startup ideas?
Let’s start with what a startup idea is and what it isn’t. A startup idea is a problem you want to solve. A startup idea is not a solution and it is definitely not a collection of features. Those should come after you figure out what problem you ought to be solving.
The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It's to look for problems...
Cofounder of Y Combinator
The trick to find startup ideas is to find problems to solve. Most entrepreneurs claim to understand this but most startups fail. Most don't even have a prayer at succeeding because the underlying idea is not a good startup idea. What you need is not another startup idea that doesn't even have a prayer. What you need is a "good" startup idea.
What makes a startup idea "good"?
The requirement of a good startup is that the product or service that emanates from it gets adopted.
Adoption of a new product can be explained as a cost benefit analysis. The benefit one gets from the pain relief has to be bigger than the cost of changing one’s behavior.
This idea can lead to adoption.
This idea cannot lead to adoption.
Think of Slack and communication. Communicating at work through email was a big pain. Slack made communicating super easy and almost enjoyable. This resulted in people changing their long established behaviors of using email to communicate.
On the other hand, just like most people won’t take a painkiller for a paper-cut, they also won’t change their established routines to try a new product if the pain is not acute: if it is merely a discomfort and not a pain.
Ignore Yoda and embrace the hate
Given that the benefit of pain relief has to exceed the cost of changing one’s behavior, how do you come up with startup ideas?
The answer is to find acute pain. Acute pain leads to substantial pain relief, overcoming even large costs of change.
Yoda says “...hate leads to suffering”. To notice acute pain you must ignore Yoda and embrace the hate.
If you, and others you talk to, use the word “hate” accompanied by a healthy amount of profanity when describing the current status quo, that means there is some real acute pain there.
For instance, before Slack came around a lot of people used to say “I hate email.” Most would throw in an f-bomb in there for good measure: “I fucking hate email”. That pain was acute.
If, on the other hand, you catch yourself and others merely not liking something, then the pain is probably not acute enough to lend itself to a successful startup.
Step 1: List and prioritize frustrations
An easy exercise to find good startup ideas is to list things that frustrate you in an organized fashion. We recommend the following format:
This format forces you (i) to acknowledge the person/people who feel frustrated, (ii) decide whether the frustration is at the level of dislike, or hate, and (iii) analyze the reasons for the frustration. You can use these three data points to prioritize the frustrations.
First, you should focus on frustrations that boil up to the level of hate and eliminate dislikes. Second, you should prioritize personal “hates” over “hates” of others. Finally, you should give “hates” that have legitimate reasons higher priority.
Here is what a prioritized list looks.
Object of frustration
Reasons for being frustrated
- It is extremely inefficient. The tasks are repetitive and time-consuming.
- Using third party solutions is extremely costly.
- You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a few princes.
looking for a job
- It is emotionally taxing.
- You can't really get an interview with getting a referral.
the amount of food that goes to waste at home
- It feels like we are wasting money.
- There are so many people that could have used that food.
breaking down shipping boxes to make them fit in the recycling bin
- It takes too much time and effort for something that is supposed to make my life easier.
- I feel like I am living the story of Sisyphus. I break down boxes every day and the next day there are new boxes to break down.
- All this packaging can't be good for the environment.
The HR manager
reminding people to perform tasks individually
- It is inefficient and feels like it can be automated.
- She feels like people aren't taking her seriously.
not being able to see all my online subscriptions in one place
- It always feels like I am paying for something I don't need.
- Chasing them through credit card statements is a pain.
not having an easy way to track what was discussed in 1-1 meetings with my reports
- It feels like we end up having different flavors of the same discussion over and over again.
entering data into a CRM system
- It is time-consuming.
- It feels like there needs to be a more intelligent way of doing this.
Step 2: Evaluate whether your ideas are worth pursuing
Now that you have a prioritized list of ideas you can evaluate whether or not they are worth pursuing using. We have a guide dedicated to help you with that task : The practical guide to evaluate your startup idea.
If after evaluating your ideas you end up with none worth pursuing, start over. Continue living a full life and listing frustrations. New responsibilities at work or at home, new hobbies, learning new skills can all help you notice new frustrations.
On the side of the spectrum, if you have more than one idea worth pursuing choose one. Do not divide your attention.
Summarizing it all with a flowchart and concluding thoughts
- To find startup ideas you need to live a full life and find frustrations.
- You need to focus on frustrations that boil up to the level of “hate”.
- You need to evaluate your “hates” using The practical guide to evaluate your startup idea.
- If you can’t find any ideas worth pursuing you can always start over.
- It is crucial to focus on 1 startup idea at a time.
- For this approach to work you have to be honest with yourself. Do not make up frustrations and do not mark “dislikes” as “hates”. If your list is not full just continue living and expose yourself to new personal and professional experiences.
- Don’t worry about solutions just yet. Just make sure you have a problem worthy of solving. A good, not great, solution to the right problem has a much higher chance of succeeding than an awesome solution to a wrong problem.