How to Get Startup Ideas - Deepstash
How to Get Startup Ideas

How to Get Startup Ideas

paulgraham.com

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Don't Think Of An Idea

Don't Think Of An Idea

The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It's to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.

The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.

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Problems Should Be There For A Startup To Get Birth

Problems Should Be There For A Startup To Get Birth

Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far, 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 modus operandi is doubly dangerous: it doesn't merely yield a few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.

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At Least One User Who Needs Your Service

At Least One User Who Needs Your Service

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they're making — not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently.

You have to compromise on one dimension: 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.

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Identify The Immediate Need

Identify The Immediate Need

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they'll use it even when it's a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they've never heard of? If you can't answer that, the idea is probably bad.

You don't need the narrowness. It's depth you need; you get narrowness as a byproduct of optimizing for depth (and speed). But you almost always do get it. In practice, the link between depth and narrowness is so strong that it's a good sign when you know that an idea will appeal strongly to a specific group or type of user.

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Big Idea Small Idea

Big Idea Small Idea

How do you tell whether there's a path out of an idea? How do you tell whether something is the germ of a giant company or just a niche product? Often you can't.

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.

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ROBERT PIRSIG

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

ROBERT PIRSIG

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PAUL GRAHAM

The way to have good startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them.

PAUL GRAHAM

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Live in The Future, Then Build What's Missing

Live in The Future, Then Build What's Missing

The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not "think up" but "notice."

We can call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders' own experiences "organic" startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.

That may not have been what you wanted to hear. 

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There Is No Recipe

There Is No Recipe

You may have expected recipes for coming up with startup ideas, and instead I'm telling you that the key is to have a mind that's prepared in the right way. But disappointing though it may be, this is the truth. And it is a recipe of a sort, just one that in the worst case takes a year rather than a weekend.

If you're not at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you can get to one.

For example, anyone reasonably smart can probably get to an edge of programming (e.g. building mobile apps) in a year. 

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The Visionary

The Visionary

Once you're living in the future in some respect, the way to notice startup ideas is to look for things that seem to be missing. If you're really at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field, there will be things that are obviously missing.

What won't be obvious is that they're startup ideas. So if you want to find startup ideas, don't merely turn on the filter "What's missing?" Also turn off every other filter, particularly "Could this be a big company?" There's plenty of time to apply that test later.  

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Stuff That Annoys You

Stuff That Annoys You

Pay particular attention to things that chafe you. The advantage of taking the status quo for granted is not just that it makes life (locally) more efficient, but also that it makes life more tolerable.

If you knew about all the things we'll get in the next 50 years but don't have yet, you'd find present-day life pretty constraining, just as someone from the present would if they were sent back 50 years in a time machine. When something annoys you, it could be because you're living in the future.

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Something Obvious That No One Saw

Something Obvious That No One Saw

When you find the right sort of problem, you should probably be able to describe it as obvious, at least to you.

This means, strangely enough, that coming up with startup ideas is a question of seeing the obvious. That suggests how weird this process is: you're trying to see things that are obvious, and yet that you hadn't seen.

 The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing. Work on hard problems, driven mainly by curiosity, but have a second self watching over your shoulder, taking note of gaps and anomalies.

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Just Do It

Just Do It

Entrepreneurship" is something you learn best by doing it.

The examples of the most successful founders make that clear. What you should be spending your time on in college is ratcheting yourself into the future. College is an incomparable opportunity to do that. What a waste to sacrifice an opportunity to solve the hard part of starting a startup — becoming the sort of person who can have organic startup ideas — by spending time learning about the easy part.

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The Great Mixup

The Great Mixup

The clash of domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas. If you know a lot about programming and you start learning about some other field, you'll probably see problems that software could solve. In fact, you're doubly likely to find good problems in another domain:

(a) The inhabitants of that domain are not as likely as software people to have already solved their problems with software.

(b) Since you come into the new domain totally ignorant, you don't even know what the status quo is to take it for granted.

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You Are Not Late

You Are Not Late

Because a good idea should seem obvious, when you have one you'll tend to feel that you're late. Don't let that deter you. Worrying that you're late is one of the signs of a good idea. Ten minutes of searching the web will usually settle the question.

Even if you find someone else working on the same thing, you're probably not too late. It's exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by competitors — so rare that you can almost discount the possibility. So unless you discover a competitor with the sort of lock-in that would prevent users from choosing you, don't discard the idea.

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A Crowded Market

A Crowded Market

A crowded market is actually a good sign because it means both that there's demand and that none of the existing solutions is good enough. A startup can't hope to enter a market that's obviously big and yet in which they have no competitors.

So any startup that succeeds is either going to be entering a market with existing competitors, but armed with some secret weapon that will get them all the users (like Google), or entering a market that looks small but which will turn out to be big (like Microsoft).

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Don't Avoid The Problem, Move Towards It

Don't Avoid The Problem, Move Towards It

Thousands of programmers were in a position to see this idea of having a smooth and seamless process to make a payment; thousands of programmers knew how painful it was to process payments before Stripe. But when they looked for startup ideas they didn't see this one, because unconsciously they shrank from having to deal with payments.

Stripe has had comparatively smooth sailing in other areas that are sometimes painful, like user acquisition. They didn't have to try very hard to make themselves heard by users, because users were desperately waiting for what they were building.

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Go For Organic Ideas

Go For Organic Ideas

One of the biggest dangers of not using the organic method is the example of the organic method. Organic ideas feel like inspirations. There are a lot of stories about successful startups that began when the founders had what seemed a crazy idea but "just knew" it was promising.

When you feel that about an idea you've had while trying to come up with startup ideas, you're probably mistaken.

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