May 3, 2019

Ask IH: What do I do if I have no problems?

Ephatha

Common advice is to build a product that solves problems you personally have. Reading through https://www.reddit.com/r/startups/comments/bjwn5p/how_to_build_a_successful_product_by_justintv/ solidifies this advice and encourages you to also talk to customers that potentially share your problem.

What if I don't really have any problems? My biggest problem is finding a product idea. What words of wisdom do you have for me?

  1. 3

    Before I created Indie Hackers, my biggest problem was also finding a product idea. The best solution I could find to that problem was reading through stories that other founders posted to online forums to see how they did it. Then I realized that other people had the same problem and enjoyed the same solution, but the solution was pretty mediocre. So I started the {Indie Hackers interviews series](/interviews) to provide a better solution.

    (That said, it wasn't the most valuable problem to solve. People aren't exactly willing to pay for inspiration, at least not that I've found. But they will share it and spend lots of time reading it, and that opened up alternative business models e.g. sponsorships.)

    Personally, I think that "solve your own problem" is overrated advice. It's really a proxy for, "make sure you really understand the problem you're solving." But I don't think it's a particularly good shortcut, because not everybody is like you, and you will eventually have to talk to customers to understand their needs instead of relying on your own experiences. That's inescapable."Solve your own problem" sometimes acts as an excuse to put off talking to customers for far too long.

    So what's the alternative? My bias is toward solving problems that the market has proven it finds valuable. Look for places where lots of money is changing hands, but people still aren't totally happy with existing solutions, as evidenced by the fact that new companies continue to spring up and do well. A few such problems:

    • Finding, interviewing, and hiring developers. It's extremely lucrative, yet almost nobody is happy with the process. Hence, there are tons of businesses that approach this in different ways, many of which are wildly profitable. Recruiting agencies, job boards, applicant tracking software, and then more niche things like Key Values, Glassdoor, Hired, Triplebyte, HackerRank, CoderPad, Interviewing.io, etc.
    • Making a website. There are so many services for hosting websites, creating websites, designing websites, etc. for pretty much every purpose. It's a difficult problem, and all sorts of people value different parts of it. Even if we were to zoom in on, say, design, there are dozens of opportunities: templates, a marketplace for finding designers, design tools, etc.
    • Education. Learning is one of the few things consumers are willing to dish out the big bucks for, especially if you can make the case that the thing you're teaching/selling will increase their salaries in the future. There are also a million different ways to learn, so no one company or institution will ever have a monopoly here. There's always room for a new entrant.
    • Research. Perhaps this is a subset of education, but people love it when you save them time from doing research. Scour the web and do their job for them. Indie Hackers does that, to a degree, with its interviews. Nomad List does that with travel destinations. Key Values does that with company culture. Scott's Cheap Flights does that with flights. Etc. This is one of the easiest things to get started with, too.
    • E-commerce. Sell people one the millions of items that they commonly pay for, or (even easier) curate these items to help people find the best.
    • Helping businesses grow. Million ways to do this, and will always be immensely valuable.
    • etc.
  2. 3

    Looking for a problem is a problem!

    From the paul graham essay that someone linked here:

    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.

    Notice that he doesn't say "it solves a problem they have". I would say they don't even seem to need it; Gates was smart enough to use any OS , he didn't need a simpler one, Zuck didn't need a social network , the google guys werent in need of a search engine, but they saw an opening, they wanted to built it , and they were lucky that it was a great market fit.

    I would say stop thinking about what you absolutely need, and think about what you would like.

  3. 2

    Having no problems means not having enough experiences in life. I don't know about your lifestyle or work routine but you can try going out there, joining events, small communities doing something or having a new hobby. This way you can talk to other people having different lifestyles than yours & doing different stuff. then you will start seeing real life problems.

  4. 1

    To echo what many are saying, it will likely take becoming involved in something to uncover potential problems to solve. Second job, charity, volunteer, hobby, things you are interested in, research. Start with your curiosities and interests and see where it leads. Start asking questions. I think you will want to have some vested interest, such as relation to existing work or a connection to something you are passionate about. No one can tell you what that is or what it will be. The answer will likely end up surprising you.

  5. 1

    Hi Ephatha

    I think the comments below already help you out a lot but just wanted to share my thoughts with you as well.

    In some sense, this is actually a luxurious position. Given that you do not have anything to work on, you can actually choose and industry or field you genuinely care about and are interested in, and just immerse yourself. Talk to everybody you know in that field, evaluate what they are working on, what common "problems" might be, or what can be better, and just build on those people to test simple ideas. Just keep it super lean, throw something out there see how it is received, and if there is no genuine interest (genuine is very important), try something else. And only once you start to see some real interest across the board, start building a bit of a bigger MVP, test again, and so forth.

    Given that you do not have a thing to work on you are in the position to actually hope to combine it with your genuine fields of interest and hopefully what you are good at. Both will be incredibly helpful over the long-run when building a product or service.

    All the best 🙏

    Valentijn

  6. 1

    Hi Epatha, welcome to IH!

    My first suggestion is to stop looking for problems to solve. And start looking for pains to heal.

    When you do that, it forces you to talk to more prospective customers and really understand how and why you're providing value to them.

    You'll be much more likely to build a product they want to pay you for, and much more likely to know how to sell it.

    What if I don't really have any problems? My biggest problem is finding a product idea. What words of wisdom do you have for me?

    Going about this the right way is a big chunk of my Sales For Founders course.

    One approach that works well is to just spend time talking to people in an industry you know well/are interested in...

    What do they spend their time doing? Where does money flow in and out? Why do their customers leave? How do they acquire new ones?

    Really, really understand their business.

    And then pick one of the inevitable pain points you discover and sell different iterations of a solution to that pain point, until you have something several customers are willing to pay for...

    This isn't the only way to do it at all, but I do think it's the most easily replicated.

    Good luck!

  7. 1

    I also recommend you it also ;)
    http://www.paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

    1. 1

      ycombinator also has a list of "Request for startups"

      https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs/

    2. 1

      This comment was deleted a year ago.

  8. 1

    @Ephatha I have often the same problem. But don't you have really the problem? For example, do you have enough money to be free to do anything? If you don't so, you should set the specific goal and find what helps you to achieve it.

    I wrote about this problem before :)
    http://shunyamada.com/2017-10-22/slow-startup
    http://shunyamada.com/2018-11-15/yamady-problem

  9. 1

    What have you tried for finding a Product idea?