When I landed in Asia to start my digital nomad journey I had truly no idea what I wanted to do.
Before, I was running, along with my studies, a successful online letting agency in the Netherlands (roughly making €250k/year in revenue) but since laws changed, the business got far less revenue & I sold part of my shares in 2016.
In 2017, I went to work at a ridesharing company in Uganda and also had a brief internship at the Belgian embassy.
However, I really felt the urge to make something new. It was super frustrating to work for someone else after I had been working for my own company. My only motivation to work for someone else was to learn. 😅
I decided to quit my internship, and truly had no idea what I wanted to do. 😝 I was 25 and thought:
"OMG, I do not have any good ideas, what am I going to do? My savings are decreasing? Should I get a job? Should I go back to university to do a MBA and be better at business?"
I decided to leave Africa, book a one-way flight ticket to Taiwan, and thought I would get inspired and start something online there.
How I came up with the idea
While running my online letting agency I always needed on-demand graphic designers to design banners, posters, or even do long-term full scale projects such as redesigning a landing page. I was always scouting Dribbble (or even Upwork at times) but mostly all I got was: unreliable designers, high expenses, and results that weren't guaranteed.
When I was at my coworking space I overheard some guys running a startup who were tired of looking for designers and also saw many post-its with "Looking for a freelance UI/UX designer". I thought: OK let's try to fix that 😃
Step 1: Building the MVP
I literally opened my laptop, went on Themeforest, bought the "Stack" theme, and "coded" the site in 5 hours. I say "coded" because I actually used the drag and drop function of Stack & edited just some bits of code via SublimeText.
I am not technical. I just know a little bit of HMTL/CSS and PHP.
That's all. You do not need more to build your MVP, seriously. If you have a great idea, just create a simple HTML page to validate demand. There are a lot of online services that help you do that (starting with Wordpress, but also carrd.co is quite a good one and allows you to charge your users). I know, I know, it will hurt because you will feel like a loser of trying to promote a site that looks ugly, but really, make it a point not to seek perfection.
I looked at what I needed for my MVP to deliver the highest possible value with as little possible of work (and code): A website where they can see the work we did, a few questions/answsers, a chat to answer more questions (I would also even go on Whatsapp with potential customers), and of course, a payment system (I used Paywhirl for that, so that I would not have to code a payment page). That's all! OK. Let's do it 😃
Wait. This is basic stuff I already know, Robin: Product/Market fit and MVP. How can I come up with an idea and be successful?
I have always been a fast follower (creating businesses based on proven ideas) and I like to copy and remix existing businesses.
When I started my letting agency in the Netherlands there were 35 agencies in a town of 120k people. All agencies were doing everything. One of them was even doing the following: Selling bikes + organising events + selling insurances + selling forks and plates + renting homes for students + renting homes for expats. I just thought: "OK, I'll do a letting agency just for international students". In addition I thought: "I will build a group for international students in order to gather demand, other agencies do not do that".
A good way to get ideas and remix pieces is to be insanely curious about stuff, and be a bit more unique. Soon, you'll start putting bits and pieces together and have something quite unique.
This processs has actually a name: It's called creative destruction (that's how economist Schumpeter called it). As an entrepreneur you shift resources from an area of lower productivity to an area of higher productivity and get profits for yourself.
In my case, sure I could have created another freelane design business but instead I sought to shift resources from a lower area of productivity (my designer friends in Asia not having a lot of work despite being excellent) to an area of higher productivity (suggest those services to a niche in the market who need constant design help which was undeserved). By identifying which resources are at stake in a system and where you can shift them to influence the outcome it results in created value.
Step 2: After shipping, talk to customers.
Once you put online your product, the idea is to gather demand for it. You have a few ways to do that: direct sales, content marketing, referrals, Facebook ads, affiliate sales, ...
Then I would advocate to talk to customers as much as possible, they often have the answers.
For us what worked particularly well was to reach founders on niche Facebook groups if they would be interested in our product. Secondly, directly reaching out startups on Angel List was quite successful too. We grew to $10k MRR solely by actually reaching out directly on founders on Facebook and Angel list.
- Always think about your value proposition. It is good to talk to users to get it right, but even better is to actually launch something and put it in front of them with a buy button.
- As regard to finding an idea to work on, look at what works, and try to see which components you can move and how you can create something unique.
- More on that: Try to find problems you may have and try to be curious.
- Just ship!