Ideas and Validation March 24, 2020

How do you get ideas if you're stuck and don't know what to do?

RJ Youngling @RjYoungling

TLDR: In a subreddit, someone asked if anyone had any suggestions/insight as to how to go about getting ideas for starting a business cuz they felt stuck. I wrote this reply, people seemed to like it so perhaps it'll help someone out here as well. Three things to get ideas: 1. Don't obsess over ideas, focus on problems. 2. Look at current solutions (which prove there's a real problem) and determine how you improve those. 3. Look at difficult but straightforward problems that, if solved, will instantly have an audience.

Let's get into it.

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'Hello, I am a 20 year old looking into starting a business and I have been so stuck lately.. I have experience in building e-commerce stores, but never have really found much success on the marketing side of things. Any suggestions on where to find business ideas for a business to start, inspiration, or books to read to learn the language of business, marketing or anything related to that nature. Thank you guys...'

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Yes.

Three things:

i. Keep an annoying book.

Everything that’s annoying, write it down. If something pissed you off, bothers you or is frustrating, put it in the book. Any time you hear yourself think “FFS it’s 2020! Why on earth is this so cumbersome!” Write it down.

Training your mind to start noticing shit that’s broken is a great place to start. I also think it’s a big fat lie that you find Google, Netflix or any other hugeee unicorn idea by searching for them.

You notice them by observing what frustrates you, and most of the time that’s small.

Think of Uber (wanted to be ballers in San Fran)

Warby Parker (lost his glasses and designer glasses would cost you your firstborn plus grandma)

or Spanx (wanted her butt to look good so cut off feet of pantyhose, but it kept cropping up.)

I can give hundreds more examples of these.

ii. The second one is a bit harder. You’re basically looking for proof that there’s a human need for smth and then you try to find the next iteration of that.

At my company, we call this archeology (which is a subset of pragmatic behavioral psychology). You’re essentially excavating a site to find an artifact.

You didn’t create that artifact, it was already there.

So you’re looking for a way to give people a better version of smth they already want.

An example of this could be, you see the horse and expensive cars, and decide to create a cheap car for everyone (Ford).

You see huge mainframes and decide to build a ghetto personal computer (Woz at Apple).

You see blogs and wanna pull them into one spot (Ev’s Medium).

Etc.

This approach requires you to look at the current solution, figure out the problem they’re trying to solve and then trying to figure out what the next iteration would be like.

The best part is that risk is slightly reduced because you know where to find your users, who they are and that there’s demand (because there already products trying to solve the problem).

There is one last one for the sake of being complete.

iii. Hard tech

These are pretty easy. In these situations, you already know what people want but all the difficulty is in figuring out how to create the damn thing.

Curing cancer, getting to mars, solving the aging problem.

This was pretty much the landscape of startups back in the 60s -90s btw. You knew what users wanted, the hard part was just making the hardware.

Think of Fairchild semiconductor and companies like that.

So there you have it, what you need to know to come up with ideas.

One final note, execution is everything.

When you have an idea, you actually don’t really have an idea.

What you have is the building blocks that you need to use to turn into testable hypotheses. (Yes I’m aware that’s a tautology but I wanna stress it.)

It needs to be falsifiable. The quicker you validate your idea the better.

There are two ways:

The right way and the stupid way (being facetious).

The first one is to assume your hypothesis is false and prove yourself wrong by getting 3 paying users in a weekend.

The second way is to assume your hypothesis is right and try to disprove that by investing time and money until you run out.

The problem with the latter approach is that if you’re right (and you don’t run out of money) you’ll succeed. But the much more likely situation is that you’ll burn through months (or years) of time and tons of money before finally realizing your idea is a dog and markets don’t want it.

So optimize for accepting false negatives (rejecting good ideas based on failed MVP) vs the other way around. Should you want to learn more about this approach, this essay covers that topic in more detail: Paradigm Shift: Drastically Increase The Odds of Success

Accepting false positives out of fear of rejecting a good idea.

Unfortunately, that’s both very difficult emotionally and highly counterintuitive.

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Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it I write rigorous essays about entrepreneurial science to help founders and companies over at https://www.younglingfeynman.com/featured

RJ