September 13, 2017

How can I start my own company when I'm not an idea guy?

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I'm a developer but I'm not an idea guy. I'd love to create (or co-create) a product that would allow me to be helpful to other people and also to reach the lifestyle I'm looking for. But I'm not sure how I could find such balance. I'd love to read your thoughts on it or if you find yourself in the same position: what did you do?


  1. 8

    This speaks to me. I feel like I have ideas but they're all really stupid and awful, or they're too big for me to take on. Even though I'm a developer, I catch myself complaining about things and never thinking, "Maybe I could solve it." I think it's something that comes more naturally to some people but it's also learnable/trainable.

    It took me weeks to come up w/ an idea that I actually liked (Key Values). I literally did nothing but try to think of ideas for days and days. It was a full-time job. You have to just force yourself to see the world through a particular lens (where anything that is annoying, inconvenient, or missing is an opportunity).

    Then you should decide whether it's feasible to build, whether you'll enjoy building it, and generally validate the idea. For some people, this means thinking about it and creating a checklist of some kind. For me, it involves talking to different people about it and seeing if 48 hours later, I'm still excited about it.

    Hope that helps?! Anyway, just know you're not alone. There are lots of "idea people" out there too. I'm sure you're friends w/ some of them :)

    1. 4

      Wow, Lynne - Key Values is amazing! Hard work I'm sure but what a great outcome.

      1. 3

        Thank you!

        FYI EVERYONE ELSE: Jess' profile says, "I love side projects, if you're a developer looking for a designer - pick me!"

        Just sayin'...

    2. 1

      I love the "has good beer" option😂😂

    3. 0

      cool idea!

    4. 0

      Key values is beautifully implemented. If that took you only weeks to come up with, well worth the wait. Your colour palette is strong 💪!

      1. 0

        Hi Stevie and thank you!

        To be clear, it took me several months to actually flush out and build. Plus, I've spent the last couple of years "passively brainstorming". The other ideas I seriously entertained before Key Values included "something regarding car insurance in the age of driverless cars," "documenting my journey learning VR," "a tool to help fitness instructors create music playlists," and "suggesting new hobbies for people to try".

        Honestly, the only thing that makes these ideas terrible is that I personally can't be excited about any of them for more than a few days. I think that's the real key.

    5. 0

      hay @lynnetye, just checkout Key Values, thats a great idea, would you mind sharing your stack and your MRR , if you dont mind....

      1. 0

        Thank you! And of course I don't mind -- isn't that what IH is all about?! :D

        Node, Firebase, Heroku and MRR is $0. 😂

        I haven't started charging for my service yet and don't plan to for another few weeks. I'm actually about to post to the forum about this in a little bit if you're curious.

        Edit: Didn't post because the IH Gods answered my prayers with this AMA.

    6. 0

      Thinking of problems that would be too big for me to tackle alone is often a problem I have too. Glad to know you've managed to launch your idea nevertheless. BTW terrific idea and beautifully designed, congratulations! :)

  2. 3

    Hey @vcamargo!

    Some ways you can get ideas:

    • There are tons of apps with no competitors, a big user base (which is great, market is already validated) but have a terrible UX/design and never launch new features;

    • Look into niche communities that aren't obvious. Everybody is focusing on the cool stuff (e.g. food delivery, digital marketing, chatbots, VR etc.) while there are many teachers, painters and librarians out there facing a variety of problems that could be solved with simple software. I work on the granite industry and you'd be amazed if you saw how QR codes are life changing to them;

    • Extract one valuable aspect or feature of a bulky software and make it stupid simple and easy to use (e.g. Shopify but only for monthly subscription boxes, the search feature from Amazon but with better usability, etc.);

    • Get good at something you like and start teaching and creating content about it, you'll become a reference and be able to charge for it in the future;

    • Sell plugins for existing software like Wordpress, Slack, Shopify, etc. There are many successful cases here on IH of people who have done it.

    Hope that helps you!

    1. 1

      This is great advice. Couple of things I would like to add.

      There are tons of apps with no competitors, a big user base (which is great, market is already validated) but have a terrible UX/design and never launch new features;

      Products with lots of users but terrible UX/design are good targets. When I was doing user interviews for one of my projects (https://homeflow.io/) the term "WAF" or "wife acceptance factor" came up. The interviewee said that he put all the products in his home through the WAF test. So UX/design really do matter.

      Extract one valuable aspect or feature of a bulky software and make it stupid simple and easy to use (e.g. Shopify but only for monthly subscription boxes, the search feature from Amazon but with better usability, etc.);

      However, in my experience, good UX/design is not enough to convince everyone to jump to your product. This is why I think ruanmartinelli's point on extracting one key value and doing it really well is valuable. My current thought framework is... Do one thing way better than incumbents currently in the market and slowly grow from there.

      1. 0

        Thanks for adding up, Jonathan! The design on homeflow looks gorgeous, by the way. 😍

    2. 1

      BTW could expand on what you're doing with QR code in your industry? Sounds like a good story.

      1. 1

        Sure! It's basically used to track down granite slabs (the granite in the US comes from multiple factories spread across 6-7 countries), automate data entry (there are too many items to do things manually or use paper) and display relevant information on a smartphone (warehouses are huge, people needed to call the office to get info on materials). There is really nothing fancy on the technical side, it's just that the existing software on the industry is awful (bulky desktop ERPs, IE-only systems, spreadsheets, etc.)

        --

        Thanks for checking the article, I'm really glad that you liked it!

    3. 1

      Nice tips @ruanmartinelli. Also, cool artile at http://ruanmartinelli.com/2017/09/10/async-await/. Thanks man!

  3. 1

    The biggest myth in being an entrepreneur is that you need a "big idea" that has never been done before.

    Look at the things around you that you enjoy. What SaaS products do you value? What apps? What's wrong with them? What would you do better?

    There you go. Do that.

    The advantage of "copying" an existing app and making it your own and improving on it is that the market is already validated, but you know that the execution is off. If it's not quite right for you, it's not quite right for others.

    Don't steal/rip off assets or any of that stuff: make it your own. But the idea, you can take, and you can take it to a different audience, or the same audience but do it better.

    If that were not possible, there would only be one bakery in the World, one car maker, one brand of phone, one search engine (OK, maybe not a great example), one programming language, one web framework.

    Riff on what's out there. You'll start seeing ideas everywhere after a short while.

  4. 1

    From james altucher, coming up with ideas is like building up a muscle. You have to practice developing it. I followed his 10 ideas a day rule. Now I just cant stop my mind. It has taken me to the other side that I can't execute now because there is always a small thing that can be improved, a new feature that can be added, a new way a product can be launched.

    So try it 10 ideas for anything, any problem that you see. One word of advice dont filter out ideas as you write them, turn off your inner critic. Analyze them after a week or a day or so...

    1. 2

      Love that James Altucher article. Here's the link for those too lazy to google ;)

      http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2014/05/the-ultimate-guide-for-becoming-an-idea-machine/

  5. 1

    Can we connect? If you're in SF, would love to meet. I am a serial entrepreneur, I have started 3 projects, but now struggling to push all of them at once. Need technology support, I will share ideas, the progress in each one, and if anything looks exciting, we can chat further. Cheers email: dv at dvcoolster dot com

  6. 1

    I enjoy going out to meet and talk with people, preferably outside of my interest bubble. I mostly hang out with developers before, but try to go find people who gather around other interests. If i'm open that i'm looking for ideas in life, some people go as far as telling me their ideas ("I always wanted to have this").

    1. 0

      And how do you meet these groups with different interests? I presume they are outside of your day to day activities. Also, did it helped you to launch any product yet?

  7. 1

    If you're moderately sociable, then talk to people. A lot of people. :)

    Or find a product that exists and you think you could replicate, and find their customers, figure out what they're annoyed at and determine if there's a business there.

    Or do freelance on Upwork until you find something that seems like a potential product. Even better, notice when the same type of job is posted by multiple people. Tyler Tringas used this approach for store locator maps and started StoreMapper.

    No matter what I think you'll most likely end up changing it along the way, so don't be too stressed about it. Pick a thing and try it out. :)

  8. 1

    I'm a sales/marketing guy with ideas, want to connect?

    1. 0

      Can I contact You too?

      1. 0

        of course, thanks for asking :) please see my email below

    2. 0

      Sure! I don't think IH supports PMs though. Would you mind to share your email?

  9. 0

    Don't think a lot, just start it.

    I am also a developer or digital marketing enthusiast, I was wondering same as you are now. But I couldn't do anything until I was just thinking. it was looking tough, lot's of fear were surround me. But when I just jump into. I felt, It is not much tough. I enjoy!

    So starts yours, with a simple step(1 to 2 projects) and walk further step by step. You will get your answer.

    Thanks!

  10. 0

    That's a great question @vcamargo. I would actually challenge your assumption that you are not an "idea guy." I built an app a few years ago and afterwards had trouble thinking of ideas. I was trying to force myself into coming up with the next big idea that I'd work on and was getting down on myself. My cousin gave me some good advice. Creativity is a muscle the needs to be exercised. She recommended that I write down 5 ideas a day in a journal or notes app. It didn't matter how big, small or stupid I thought the idea was. I should just write them down and assess the value of them another time. I found this approach to be super helpful and a few good ideas have come out of this list. So, I'd challenge you, try writing down ideas every day and you may become the idea guy :)

  11. 0

    It's tough isn't it? I have wanted to own a business for the longest time, and often tried too hard to come up with an idea, often thinking too big.

    I wish I could tell you a particular method or whatever, but how it happened for me, is via the plain old 9-5.

    I discovered my problem at work, as the Head of IT for a startup. It was to replace a spreadsheet that was out of date every meeting, and was a pain to keep up to date.

    It was so much of a pain, I dreamt up a solution that I figured was perfect for me. As I went out and didn't find anything suitable, I figured I had to do it myself (after almost a year of nothing).

    I think there was a post somewhere, saying to go around asking companies what they use spreadsheets for. There's often a few solutions there.

    If you're currently working a 9-5, and you make yourself aware of how the business operates, I'm pretty sure you can come up with a few problems to solve.

    Hope this helps somewhat.

  12. 0

    I recommend just reflecting on things that bug you, things in life which are not efficient or could be better. Write them down, review and consider what's out there.

    That's all it is to really coming up with ideas. You should be able to come up with some ideas, maybe they've been done but that's a start.

    Just think of this problem you're talking about. This is a problem, aspiring founders looking for solid ideas that need to be implemented. Is there a site for this? Probably, but is it good enough?

    Eventually once you get a few good ideas, or just one, run it through some vetting processing like Canvas Model or a basic SWAT to do some paper validation. The real challenge is having a good idea or not that has a market.... or can disrupt a market and create a new one.

    Then figure out if there are customers here. If you're not a sales person at heart, I would go for the approach that a lot of founders are doing here. Landing page, market it through various online channels (reedit, hacker news, twitter)... and continue onwards.

  13. 0

    First, the upside is that you are a developer and that's a huge advantage! That means you can build and experiment but of course really nailing something is not easy.

    I would encourage you to think really deeply about different ideas and gravitate towards the ideas that continue to stick around, ones that after a few days you're still thinking about.

    On the surface of an idea is usually the obvious but not particularly innovative solutions. If you give yourself the space to think deeply, you'll have a better chance of thinking innovatively.

    Also, look into some of the Lean UX methodologies. These are things anyone can learn and do. You want to get into a space where you can experiment quickly for the sake of learning.

    Also, consider finding a partner! It took me a long time to learn but merely talking through ideas with someone is so valuable. It really helps the brain process.

    Get a waterproof notebook for your shower - this is where most of the good ideas happen, you want to write them down. :)

  14. 0

    I imagine plenty of people will want to work with you, but in my experience, the only things that stick in the long run are things you have an organic motivation to do.

    Shameless plug for something I wrote: https://hackernoon.com/a-guide-for-getting-lucky-in-startups-1ec24ee40c5c

    Basic idea: establish yourself in an area that you really like. Eventually you'll probably discover problems that you can solve and profit from.

  15. 0

    One thing you could try is writing down problems that you encounter or ideas you have in your daily life as they occur. Then you can go back later and look at all of the problems all at once (maybe once a week or so) and see if any of them are things you feel like you could fix.

    I like doing this because it lets me clear up my mind and continue with whatever I was doing while not worrying about forgetting the idea.