If you're like most entrepreneurs, you struggle with ideation. When you’re just starting out, you either have way so many ideas you feel like you can't focus on a single one, or you have no ideas at all.
This article aims to help you find a worthwhile business idea you can pour your heart into for the next few weeks, months, or even years.
Based on my analysis of 50 products built by bootstrappers, one particular approach stands out from the crowd: solving your own problems.
Scratch your own itch
In my experience, taking a good, hard look at the problems you experience is the most efficient way to come up with good business ideas and increase your chances of success.
If something is frustrating you, it's probably frustrating a bunch of other people, too. By starting with solving your own problems, you know that the problem in question is real. You have an intimate understanding of the specific pain points of that problem. And most importantly, you're more likely to work harder to find a solution to a problem you experience, compared to solving someone else's problem.
How to find your own problems
If you've ever tried to make a list of your own problems, you might have found that it's not as easy as it may seem. You might have plenty of problems, but more often than not, you'll find that they seem boring, trivial, or not quite painful enough to necessitate a new product or service.
Below is a practical system you can use to deconstruct your life and uncover problems you might like to fix. The whole process takes an hour or two.
To start, you'll need a kanban board. I'm using Trello, but you can use any other similar tool. Create a new board, then go through the steps below in order.
Step 1: Define the sources of your problems
From the list below, pick the sources of problems that you have or have had in your life, and create a Trello list for each one. The more problem sources you have, the higher your chance of discovering a worthwhile problem to fix.
Below are some ideas of problem sources:
- Past and current jobs
- Companies or startups
- Past and current side projects
- Past and current hobbies
After you finish this step, you should have at least half a dozen lists on your board.
Step 2: Create problem categories for each source of your problems
Now it's time to categorize the potential problems you can discover.
To do so, create a card for each of the categories below and paste the description of the category inside the card. Then duplicate all the cards across all your existing lists.
Below is the list of categories I used, but feel free to rephrase the category names or add other categories as you see fit:
- Time-intensive tasks: tasks you felt you spent way more time on than was necessary
- Cumbersome processes: processes or tasks that required multiple tools, sites, and hacks to get done
- Inefficient processes: processes or tasks you found inefficient
- Dreadful tasks: tasks you hate (or hated) doing
- Unused tools: tools you or your boss paid for while using fewer than half the available features
Step 3: Dig deep and discover your problems
At this point, it's pretty straightforward. All you need to do is open each card and ask yourself:
What [category of problems] did I encounter at [source of problems]?
I suggest giving yourself an hour or two to complete this exercise slowly for each card in each list.
Whenever you discover a new problem, add it to the relevant card using the template below, or feel free to make your own template:
- Name of the problematic task or process
- A more detailed description of your frustration
- Would you pay for someone to do it for you? [No, Maybe, Definitely]
- Is this a problem you'd be proud of solving? [No, Maybe, Definitely]
- Without doing any research, do you think other people have the same problem? [I don't know, Probably, Definitely]
- Do you know any people who have expressed having the same problem? [No, Maybe, Definitely]
During this process, you might discover a problem that instantly sounds like a holy grail. Your mind (if it's anything like mine) will immediately start thinking of ways to solve the problem and coming up with product ideas. You might feel like ditching the Trello board to start researching, finding competitors, and sketching UIs.
But I would advise against that until you have at least three to five clearly defined problems.
The point of this exercise is to find a problem worth solving, not just the first problem that might have some potential. I suggest forcing yourself to stay in your Trello board until you're finished and can pick the one problem—from all your available options—that you'd most like to solve.
You might find that you have more than one interesting problem you'd like to get back to someday. In that case, you can always flag those problems as priorities for future work. In my boar for example, I used a green label for problems I think are very interesting and purple for those which were interesting but needed more research.
Remember that finding a problem to solve is just the tip of the iceberg. And no matter what problem you decide to solve at the beginning, you'll probably need to reiterate and pivot a few times before settling down.
Don't spend months trying to come up with an idea for your next thing. Get started as soon as possible and use the feedback (or lack thereof) from your early adopters to advance in your journey.
I suggest setting a limited number of days (two or three) to pick your next problem to solve and committing to it for a few weeks. You'll learn so much more by shipping something in a few weeks compared to spending all those weeks "brainstorming."
P.S: I'm using my approach to find problems for a new challenge. It's called the 1kB2B challenge. Go check it out if you want to see how I'm doing following my own advice.