How to find start-up ideas

Chris Dixon had an interesting post a while ago about how to find start-up ideas. The advice boiled down to keeping a spreadsheet of ideas and talking to lots of smart people (entrepreneurs, potential customers, VCs, people at big companies). It’s good advice. Paul Graham also wrote in 2008 about startup ideas he’d like to fund.

Here’s another way to come up with startup ideas: walk around your house or apartment, and look for “hot spots.” A hotspot can be an area of high information density, clutter, stress, disorganization, or any place that has a suboptimal solution. Then think about a web or cloud solution to that hot spot. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Music CDs -> iTunes, Amazon MP3 store, doubleTwist, MP3tunes, etc.
Bookshelf -> Amazon, Kindle, iBooks
Stereo system -> Sonos, Squeezebox, Rhapsody, Pandora, last.fm, Spotify, Grooveshark, MOG, Rdio, etc.
External hard drives -> Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Pogoplug

Okay, those all seem simple or obvious, right? Let’s go a little deeper. What would you do with this pile of business cards?

pile of business cards

Pile of business cards -> CloudContacts

Here are a few more that come to mind:
Bank statements -> Mint
Photo Albums -> ScanCafe
Bathroom scale -> Withings
Pedometer -> Fitbit
Phone -> Google Voice, Twilio, Ribbit, Rebtel
Camera -> EyeFi
Stack of video games -> Steam, OnLive
DVD player -> Roku, Netflix Instant movies
Treadmill or Elliptical machine -> Nike+ shoe sensor, LoseIt! iPhone app, CardioTrainer app for Android, Fitbit
Pen -> Livescribe

All of these take a hotspot in your home and inject a cloud or web element to make life easier, more efficient or better. So what happens when you look at a pile of manuals, or receipts? Your alarm clock? Those “Learning Japanese” CDs? A stack of take-out menus? A stack of cookbooks? A hard drive full of MP3s that are disorganized? A hard drive that doesn’t have a back-up copy? An out-of-date programming book? A box full of videotapes? All those back issues of magazines? A blank wall, with no posters or other decoration? Stuff in your garage that you’ve been meaning to sell or give away? Your wallet?

Ideas are sitting all around where you live. If you have a small snag, irritation, or hotspot in your life, probably a lot of other people do too. You can make it easier to organize something (can you convert something physical to digital and store it in the cloud?). You can sell niche versions of a product (e.g. Threadless for T-shirts), you can let people make something that they couldn’t make before (CafePress for T-shirts, LuLu for books), you can pool people with similar interests (a blog like Craftzine, or a forum for book lovers or body builders), you can review products in a particular space, you can teach someone to do something. You can become a well-known expert in something and then sell your time or expertise as a consultant. You can make a free version of something useful or fun, then sell more features or consult on more involved cases. You can do meta versions of lots of these, e.g. Etsy is a marketplace for people who like to buy and sell custom crafted objects.

I’ll stop with a story. I have a friend at Google who is really good at noticing things that annoy him. While walking from his car to his desk in the morning, he can easily find six things that irritate him because they should be improved. I’m not recommending that you make yourself more irritable, but I am saying that if you notice all the times you run across something that can be improved, those are opportunities. And I think one of the easy methods of spotting start-up ideas is looking around where you live and how you spend your time. Find the hotspots in your own life and you might identify some great products or services to build.

105 Responses to How to find start-up ideas (Leave a comment)

  1. Great ideas as always.. Thank you Matt for these ideas… Sometimes even I think of some innovative ideas, but if I just google them to get more info, I will end up in a site which has already built a ready to use application

  2. Great points Matt

    I would also add that if you find a hotspot and the solutions offered are not what you need them to be, don’t be afraid to explore the opportunity to create something even though a solution for that something exists. The risk vs. reward would be something that you will need to calculate. If we all kept with what was out there or ‘the industry standard’ then we would all be using IE (that solved that hotspot problem at the time) and not worried about Firefox, Chrome etc.

    Sometimes hotspots can be small niches that derive from your own interests. I know for a fact that a friend’s mother wanted to share her scrapbooking layouts with others on the Internet. That ended up being the largest forum/gallery and more in its kind. Equally I am administering a discussion forum regarding women of color that want to have long hair. That one too is the largest one of its kind. Some of my acquaintances have forums for percussion, hunting, fishing, fishing a particular kind of fish etc.

    My point is that if your hotspot is something that you are passionate about, you will succeed :) If you are patient enough the money will come too.

    /0.02 USD

  3. Well it’s possible that I live in another world but I have a problem to stop getting business ideas…. My head is filled with all these ideas, but I have no time to make a reality of all of them. I just have to pick the ones I believe in most or those that seems most fun to do…

    But I almost every time end up getting a new idea that I just “must” try out before I have the time to really finish my projects… I should get an employee to finish the projects I start…

    Well it’s a few nice tips for those who might have a problem finding them. The more interest you have in an area and the more knowledge you got from it, the chance of fidning problems to solve (business ideas) increases greatly…

  4. The act of “walking around your house or apartment, and looking for hot spots” = search engines, spiders = Google! :) Uh oh….

  5. Hi Matt-

    I agree with this as a strategy for identifying pain points (as a matter of fact, the pain of managing frequent flyer miles was the inspiration for my newest startup, GoMiles.com), but it is not sufficient to identify a startup opportunity, IMO.

    I think the next step is just as important – is there a way to make the experience of this situation “awesomely” better than it is today? People won’t switch from their existing managements of these pain points if your solution is 10% better – but if it is 10x better they will. So before diving into a startup, you have to think through why your idea is going to blow the doors off of this problem – not just make it a little bit easier for users.

  6. Tell me one thing sir,

    What if you have 100s of ideas, that you want to work on.
    But cant because you are afraid about things that you have worked on till now will vanish..

    Then What?

  7. This is spot on. Some of the best innovations were done by people solving their own problem. My latest problem was finding an easy way to add and organize recipes I found online, including adding the proverbial stack of paper recipes I’ve had since college. I had hoped the answer was something like Google Sites or Evernote, but they didn’t quite cut it. So I decided to build Foodfolio instead. It was a hotspot that was also a blind spot until I stepped back and saw it for what it was, a mess (much like my kitchen after cooking).

  8. Matt, nice writeup. Here is a core principal, that I live by when it comes to thinking of new and innovative ideas: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)”. The web is purely taking what exists in the real world and creating it electronically; of course with enhancements or in ways that solve the problem in a more eloquent matter (most of the time). One of my ideas is My Twig a social wish list; I think the concept of a social wish list has potential in the future. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  9. Nice concepts here. Surely some start-ups have originated by processes similar to those you describe. But can the development of a start-up idea be so formulaic? And it’s one thing to have an idea, but another to create a product, take that product to market and sustain that market. And then then some ideas that take off even though they meet no apparent need. Think of the buzz around the latest Internet hit: “I Write Like.” One reviewer wrote: “It’s completely idiotic, useless, fallacious, ridiculous, meaningless” So here’s something that has no conceivable value (maybe my imagination is limited) but has caught on in a big way…

  10. Believe it or not I actually have a journal with real paper on my desk that I use a pencil or pen to write in. I am constantly jotting down ideas about anything that comes to my mind. I still like to feel the actual paper when I write instead of a spreadsheet or and online doc.

  11. I guess you can call them “hotspots” if you like. In more general terms it is often referred to as “pain points”. What is causing you pain or grief? (enough that you and many others are willing to pay to have that pain go away) Pain is a powerful motivator. Humans naturally want to avoid it and will pay for its easing. Start-ups need to know that their solutions have a market. Paint Points identify the opportunity.

  12. When I saw the article title and author I thought you were going to propose how to use Google to find things that people are searching for to figure out new ideas.

    I know that Google keeps track of which sites people find to be useful, but what about when people conduct a search but do not find a useful answer. I wonder if that could be tracked and used to create solutions that are not currently out there.

  13. 100% correct Matt..it comes down to the basics. No need to take a basic need and make it a more complicated one. Technology, as it was presented to us in “The Jetsons”..sorry about the analogy, is here to help make our life easier, not more complicated. The complications come into play, when you need to start choosing which technologies to activate and how to incorporate them into your everyday life.

  14. My personal pain point is all of the stuff in my pockets. It’s as minimal as possible at this point: a cell phone, car/house/mail keys, and wallet. The thing is though that other than my cell phone, the rest of the stuff in my pocket are entirely just data (mostly credentials) poorly represented. My keys are credentials to my locks. My credit cards and customer loyalty cards are just credentials to my accounts at various organizations. Even dollar bills are just credentials to my charge account with the US gov’t. My phone has more than enough memory/computational power to store all of this data and more, but the interfaces with which I interact won’t accept an interaction with my phone.

  15. Rachid

    It is funny because yesterday I checked all kinds of CDs I burned in 1998 and I found multiple applications I coded but never finished them at that time. Majority of them are now my desktop they will be optimized to be included in my website :). It is a great feeling

  16. “A blank wall, with no posters or other decoration?”

    haha, yup, that was how Art.sy got started :).

  17. I find startup ideas by looking at the domain names which are expiring and are in the pendingDelete status. I acquired lots of these and for some I am writing down what can be done for it.
    When you start a startup it’s good to have a good domain name right away – just ask Mint.com how much they had to give up for that good domain name (gave up some good equity)…or ask Facebook, which paid $200,000 for it after it became successful (money which could be used for the actual business)

  18. An idea I had 5 years ago was related to local (social networking, news, events,classifieds)…at that time local wasn’t the hot topic it is today (and Facebook was just for colleges).

    How did I came up with that? I had a need…I was a fresh immigrant to US (coming from Eastern Europe)…didn’t know almost anybody…and I though would be nice to have a local site for each neighborhood (based of the zip code level) where people can interact, post local news, local events, local classifieds.

    I even start coding and did a prototype in the free time I had, and I almost 1 year (which is still online at http://www.mirceagoia.com/local ) hoping that I may present that to an investor…well, I was too new here and I had to look for a job eventually, to survive. So, i abandoned the idea…but, who knows, that idea could be still viable, especially nowadays…

  19. It really isn’t that hard to find an idea to run with, the real challenge is finding people with a similar passion and ability to get the work done. I am 21 and my 2 best friends and I have each started our own businesses, mine is a marketing business, and both of theirs are business consultancies. It may not be the next Google, but we found a niche that isn’t filled and with a little effort we are all doing quite well for ourselves.

    Think of what the world needs, how you can provide, and whether or not you would enjoy doing so.

    -Jim

  20. David

    This is good advice for consumer-facing stuff, but terrible for B2B. I’ve found the best way to get startup ideas is to get out of my own narrow, techie, educated niche, and start talking to “normal” people about their problems.

  21. What an excellent post, Matt. I can’t stop thinking up great new ideas because of your one thought. Now all I need to do is write them all down, and pick just one. Thanks so much!

  22. What about the piles and piles of small kids toys. Gimme a cloud for them.

  23. Your friend isn’t a Virgo is he Matt? ;-)

    Basically necessity is the mother of invention: Cable ties, cable tidies, cordless mouse, wireless keyboard, rechargeable batteries… I know your talking apps here but this does apply to real world practical applications too; it’s crossing over between physical and digital that is the challenge – and the clincher is whether it will it take off?

  24. Hey Matt

    We all know new business ideas are all around us, and people are just making old things into newer upgraded ideas. If your able to use your imagination and see how you can improve on any already made item, then you got a idea that can be made into millions.

    Antonio Coleman “Signing Off”

  25. Michele

    Great post Matt! I’ve done the spreadsheet thing and I have more ideas than I care to mention. I’m with Fredrick, I have a ton’s of ideas and just don’t have the time to realize them. At least not yet ;-)
    However, I think the key ultimately is to find what you are passionate about and somehow incorporate that into a business. If creating a solution to deal with excessive mail because it irritates the heck out of you and you think it can help others, is a viable business, then great! However, if it doesn’t excite you and drive you to continue to create and build the business then I don’t expect you will be as successful with it then if you were juiced about the project.
    Thanks again for sharing your ideas. :-)

  26. Ian

    One idea I had was starting a website to share startup ideas out of Stanford Business School: http://mbaideas.com. It’s now available in 6 languages via machine translation. Note: these aren’t just ideas Stanford students comes up with, it’s what they’re talking about.

    In general, a lot of ideas discussed daily in the Bay Area don’t make it out to the rest of the world. There’s another site, http://venturerate.com, that does something similar, though the ideas there get rated.

  27. Yeah pain points are a starting place – but is what irritates you something that irritates enough people? Meaning is there a market – and if so, how much are they willing to pay and how much can you make? Lets face it a lot of the companies Matt cites are not making money. So, unless you’re in the charity business, the irritation needs to be a viable enough concept for people to pay up.

    I say this because I found a pain point – Nepali and Indian kids growing up in the USA who don’t have an opportunity to learn to read and write the Nepali and Hindi script. I created Sabdamala.com. However, I’m finding that the market is not willing to pay the price needed to keep this idea operational. So, its good as a part time side hobby but not enough to make a living – and I poured a lot of of resources to make a world class product.

    What am I missing?

  28. I like taking the grunt work that people don’t like to do and see if it’s something i could be proficient in doing and then try to excel at it. That way you will have an already established demand(people who need to have work done but would rather not)

    it’s also the emotional sell of annoying, make some thing that’s annoying like the vuvuzela’s and fix it, Then you have a great head start,

    Shawn

  29. Matt you may have just inspired the key to my retirement. My cat is kind of slow now and has a sore paw. I’m working on a prototype for kittyskates which will allow her to move freely around my wood floor housing.

    Thanks!

  30. Michael Komarnitsky, good point. Solving a pain point can be a good business. Solving a pain point with something unique or really scalable can be a great business.

    Maciej Fita, I carry around paper and pen myself, because the paper PDA boots instantly. :)

    Shailesh Ghimire, you make a fair point that you also have to consider the size of the market too.

  31. Another great post. Now I will get distracted from work for the next hour trying to figure out how I can get something (not my girlfriend) to fetch beer for me.

  32. It seems as if we are always looking to solve the more complicated problems, yet we come across so many simple things that need to be improved.

    Just yesterday I was looking at reasons that drive innovation and the #1 was “improving quality.”

    On the other hand, many of the ideas (between 50% – 90%) make little if any contribution at all to our quality of life.

  33. Great points Matt. I like to keep a pen and paper handy at all times. The other think I carry with me is an optical scanning pen to keep track of URL’s that I read so I don’t have to keep ripping little strips out of the newspapers to look them up later. I also use the voice record function on my phone if I’m not somewhere I can write down my ideas. My phone is also good for the times my mind is working faster than I can write it out.

    Most of my ideas also come from trying to solve my own problems. Currently I’m working on a device that will extend the hours in a day so I have more time to work on all my projects ;-)

  34. I like to watch for what everybody is panicking about and then try to find a way to profit or think about who already exists that is going to profit. Works pretty well when you relate it to the stock market.

  35. Hello Matt and great post! I love your concept of ‘finding hotspots’ in your home to build into business ideas. I think another ‘highly unnoticed’hotspot in our home is ‘privacy’. In a sense its transparent as opposed to visible; absrtract as opposed to concrete. But, how can we translate this idea into a business plan.

    Some possibilities are: Intellectual Property protection, etc.

    Off topic: Matt, can you please clarify whether or not .CO domains will be indexed as a generic TLD, much like .tv & .me?

    Thanks for your consideration,
    David Taylor

  36. Matt,
    nice that you mentioned ‘So what happens when you look at a pile of … Those “Learning Japanese” CDs?’ – There are lots of other possibilities on the net without CDs – but don’t want to go into this here :)

    I really appreciate your post because it was telling me how to find new ideas to develop into web sites. Using the own environment (home or workspace) and there especially the pain points as an idea generator is more helpful than all the other articles, blog posts, ebooks about doing keyword research I have read in the past years. Here it is not just about creating a niche site, but creating a business. Just by looking around our office, I found 3 pain points whereof I can easily convert 1 into a small webbusiness. Startup cost will be below 2,500 bucks.
    First step in my business plan: convince the better half that I need to spend more time programming.

    Thanks again for this ey opening post.

  37. Great ideas. As someone who can’t stop collecting cookery books, who loves cooking and can never find the time to actually do any cooking, I think I’ve hit upon a great idea thanks to Matt’s post.

    I’d better do something about it soon – I’m struggling to find anywhere to sit these days – books everywhere! :(

  38. Morris Rosenthal

    Matt,

    If you define “start-up” as “internet site” then Chris’s ideas don’t look bad.

    Morris

  39. idea は、朝考える。
    idea は、トイレの後に浮かぶ気がする。
    idea は、朝食を食べながら思いつく。

    thank you マット

    ぼくは、このコメントをenglishで書こうと思ったが、
    日本語でもいいはずだよね。googleの技術があれば

  40. Matt,
    This got me thinking. Not only, the idea has to be executed and implemented but it has to be making money as well, otherwise we all put money into a project (as Shailesh has pointed out above) and it will not be a success.
    An idea like hotmail, twiter, facebook & tripadvisor is truly awsome & will fetch loads of fame & money.
    In every case the early bird gets the worm & there are not many worms left out there at the moment, IMHO!

  41. ron

    I like Guy Kawasaki’s advice I heard a while back. Most of today’s new businesses should cost less than $5,000 to start.

    Of course, a new Kindle would need a bit more.

  42. Thanks for the useful post. Opportunities and good ideas are all around us and even if is a long way from an idea to a successful business, this post shows that you do not need to search too far.

  43. I like how you use what annoyes you to generate new ideas. Personally, I like to watch the Dragon’s Den to give me ideas or clues of what I can do and see what people have done or go throught to get their product to the market.

  44. love cloud contacts!

  45. Good stuff Matt. I like to consider 2 things after coming up with an idea: 1) Potential size of the market (Ie. demand), and current state of the competition. That said, market size is a little different on the internet in that even a niche market on the internet can be big enough for a small company to make a go of it.

  46. It’s often the most simple business ideas that make the most money. I was talking to a guy the other day who was telling me about a friend who was making thousands per month in the catering business by supplying place mats. Amazing.

  47. Great post, Matt. I especially love the point about finding stuff that irritates you or stuff that can be improved. But, what about looking for stuff that you love and then working to make it even better? If you like it, then others will: and then what will happen if you make it even better?

  48. Very good post. As a person who has set up over 2000 people in business i can say with confidence you are correct! I have started 10 different business, most succesful some failuars. The key is to always be on the look out for great ideas. Have you ever taken the strength finders test? Great book and amazing test. I am a futurist and I use ideas from many different areas to develop new ideas. Try it, you’ll love it.

  49. Technology, as it was presented to us in “The Jetsons”..sorry about the analogy, is here to help make our life easier, not more complicated. The complications come into play, when you need to start choosing which technologies to activate and how to incorporate them into your everyday life.

  50. Matt, sorry for being off topic but… I have a suggestion for reducing redundancy of the meta tags in a webpage.

    You know the and similar tags right...
    Now imagine if it instead was
    and then you could just markup the two first paragraph of this blogpost (How to find start-up ideas) with that as an id and a search engine like Google would then know that the paragraph is also the meta description.

    Similarly author,date,copyright, etc. could be referenced this way.

    The meta content is now not just meta content but it's also user visible this way,
    and everyone benefits from not needing to duplicate say the first paragraph into the meta description, this means even less loading times overall.

    Meta href proposal

  51. Bah, the code tags didn’t work right here…. lemme try again:

    You know the [meta name="description" content="bla bla bla"] and similar tags right...
    Now imagine if it instead was [meta name="description" href="#intro"]
    and then you could just markup the two first paragraph of this blogpost (How to find start-up ideas) with that as an id and a search engine like Google would then know that the paragraph is also the meta description.

    Similarly author,date,copyright, etc. could be referenced this way.

    The meta content is now not just meta content but it's also user visible this way,
    and everyone benefits from not needing to duplicate say the first paragraph into the meta description, this means even less loading times overall.

    And here’s the Meta href proposal at the WHATWG wiki.

  52. Reminds me of the great inventor, Yoshiro NakaMats, who invented many digital items we all use. Plus, the golf putter with a tuning fork that pings with the right hit, bouncing shoes and nutritional items. The inspiration to innovate is just everywhere. His profile is on YouTube.

  53. Nigel

    My plants die when I go on holiday. I want them to be auto watered. Something electric? Something mechanical? too complex.

    No, what I want is a thin layer of water (e.g. 5mm) kept at that height in a large flat tray, so I can put plants on the tray when I go on holiday and know they will sit in that thin layer of water layer while I am away.

    BINGO, an upturned large glass container suspended 5mm above a large flat tray, as long as the water is higher than 5mm, the upturned bottle sits in water, and air pressure will keep the water inside the upturned bottle and when it falls below 5mm, air gets in, water comes out and the water level is topped up to 5mm.

    I want this, so will please somebody make it?

    BTW like the new Google images :)

  54. Ok, i walked around my house and got a little iritated. My girlfriends shoes were laying all over the house. I couldn’t think of any cloud to handle that one….

    But, It would be kinda cool to have a web based program that automatically dispense dog food to my pet while I’m away at work and can’t make it home. I’d so love to see google petcare app for business people. I’d even buy the $300.00 digital dispenser available trademarked google at the local best buy! Hint hint for anyone who cares to steal that idea!

  55. Very helpful indeed. I’ve found tv news, commercials and internet news releases are a helpful way of finding start-ups as well. It’s also good for finding a niche on the internet you can potentially market to and profit from.

  56. Hi Matt!

    This is my very first comment here! I just want to say that this post was very helpful for me because right now i’m doing some internet business but in the last couple of weeks I’ve lost my focus. But some friends and readings or posts like this one helped me to re-think about what I want to achieve and what I want to do.

    Thanks!!!

    Saludos,
    Marco

  57. Uzi

    What if Google creates a website based on user searches and it will let us know what really they are looking for. so that we won’t need to look into backyard for new ideas :P

  58. JC

    The best salesmen know that when you give people solutions to their problems, it is easy to sell. It’s the same concept that Matt is touching on. Find ideas by looking for solutions to problems. The bigger and more immediate the problem is, the more likely people will pay for a solution.

  59. I find it interesting how many copycats there are in the digital space. I was looking at peer-to-peer lending last week and there were upwards of 8 to 10 companies with similar offerings. Almost all of them had an 07/08 start dates.

    Technology advancements allow market movers slim headstarts — if you have problems coming up with a new idea, the second mover position may be the way to go. I think it is unreasonable to think everyone can come up with a fresh idea therefore there is always an opportunity for someone who thinks they can do it better.

  60. Its interesting………I just walked through the house of a relative that unfortunately, died recently. Its true, you could see where the clutter was, how many different online apps would have solved a lot of the mess(disorganization). The fact that the place had been occupied by someone elderly amplified the effect…….stacks of mail….email……..boxes full of old pictures…….Picasa, Flickr.

    Very insightful Matt.

  61. Great post as usual Matt.. I currently have a *very* good idea.. however I do not have the means to execute it (technical knowledge) as I would need to develop an electronic gadget.. does anyone know of a service/site that can either help me direct with the design, OR recommend me someone local who can?

    Thanks :)

  62. Great article Matt. I will have to keep a eye out for ideas and hotspots.

  63. This is a great point of view and it seems to me a natural practical progression of the old “take a UNIX cmd and make it public and accessible on the web” approach.

  64. Matt really like the idea, it sparked some creativity in me. I thought about my established business and what annoys my clients. How can we make their lives easier? A whole range of new ideas came to the surface.

    Then it struck me, you can’t just do it once for your business. You have to contemplate this least once a year. Clients motivates and annoyances are dynamic and constantly changing. We should all look at our clients and write down what has changed in their lives and re-just our ability to serve them better, as often as possible.

    Thanks Matt. Your thoughts really help a lot of people, more than you know. Thanks for sharing them.

  65. Tia

    Sometimes having all those things around me actually hinders me from coming up with good ideas. It’s so true, though, that the best ideas come from solving problems.

    Often, my best ideas come from not being able to find something. So maybe I could win the lottery and put a bunch of money toward a better memory drug. lol

    Cheers,
    Tia

  66. The story of the Google person reminds me of a story my brother told me. He was tired of being angry, and thought as a test he would drive to work in the morning without getting angry. It was only 3 minutes into the drive that he realized that someone in another car had pissed him off. It was not an easy task. We don’t need a new gadget. We need patience, calm, a little more spirituality, perhaps some zen, but definitely not a new gadget or software to get rid of our angst, anger and annoyance.

  67. Darko

    There’s one key thing I’ve learned for this area.

    People don’t buy products, they ‘HIRE’ them to accomplish a particular task. People don’t buy a drill for the sake of buying a drill, people ‘hire’ the drill and actually buy a hole.

    Learned this concept from one harvard business professor who seems to died a while ago but his article ‘marketing myopia’ is a harvard classic.

    So look around you and see the things people are trying to get done. If there isn’t any product for that, make it. If there are, make it at a cheaper price/make it more efficient for the same price…

  68. However, I think the key ultimately is to find what you are passionate about and somehow incorporate that into a business. If creating a solution to deal with excessive mail because it irritates the heck out of you and you think it can help others, is a viable business, then great! However, if it doesn’t excite you and drive you to continue to create and build the business then I don’t expect you will be as successful with it then if you were juiced about the project.

  69. Brainstorming with likeminded people is perhaps the single best way to become creative with finding the next “Ebay” or “youtube”. But taking action and having the tenacity to see something through is right up there with finding the right idea in the first place.

    Btw, thanks for the link to Chris Dixon’s post – it was pretty cool.

  70. How’s this for a start up idea from a hot spot:

    A few years ago I was watching Oprah (don’t judge me) and there was an 8 year old girl that invented a product called “makin bacon”. Basically she loved microwaving her bacon, but hated how it swam in its own grease when she did.

    Anyway so this entrepreneurial youngster and her dad had this plastic moulded tray created that allowed the bacon to hang, letting the grease drip off. Simple yes, but they made $2 million dollars that year in sales if I remember correctly…. off a piece of moulded plastic.

    Incredible!

    In any event, great tips Matt, business ideas lurk everywhere, even in the reflective juices of pork :)

  71. You can apply the same advice to any number of different types of businesses. It doesn’t need to be limited to cloud apps or a Web-based business model. The hot spot in your life could be as simple as the irritation of not being able to find a good cup of coffee in your small town in the mornings or a place to meet over a cup of coffee for informal meetings … leading you to solve it by starting a hand-roasted coffee shop.

  72. At the end of the day whatever you choose make sure it is something you are a passionate about as that is pretty much the only thing that will keep you going and pursuing your goals long after the initial excitement has died down.

  73. Sebastian

    YES. YES, yes. A thousand times. I’m like that guy you mentioned…I get irritated. I’m constantly deluged by perceptions about items, systems, ideas, things, that should be improved, made better. And it frustrates me soo much some days that everything is in what I perceive to be so much of a state of disarray. I read on a blog that I should read your website, and I totally agree, just based on this one article…I like the way you think. Very helpful for me.

  74. Good one. This is definitely a great tactical approach. The story of your Google friend reminds me about one of my friends too. But definitely we learn a lot that way. :)

  75. When there is much competition it is the market telling you that there is money to be made. Where there is no competition, you are either on the bleeding edge with early to market products/services or you are alone on an island.

    The market is a good indicator of what is making money and what is not.

  76. It’s amazing how often you think you have come up with a great idea, only to find someone has beaten you too it. But then again often the idea has received the mainstream, so possibly there is still room to get in there and further develop it yourself.

  77. Great post!

    Making an idea is not something that can be done simply by trying harder. It sort of plays off of the idea from the movie Inception that there is no such thing as an original idea because they all come from previous ideas.

    I didn’t really stop by to plug my own stuff but I just wrote an article on this exact topic; making ideas. It comes down to the fact that the best measure of human progress is not aggregate intelligence, it is the ability to communicate ideas.

    Check it out if you have a minute.

    http://www.4growth.ca/v2/assets/u/HowtoMakeanIdea.pdf

  78. Necessity is the mother of invention and as antiquated methods become more apparent the more ripe they become for replacement or enhancement. I wish that we could apply this same initiative to stoplights. Making them smarter would conserve so much fuel, brake pads and time. I’m embarrassed for our city every time a left turn arrow automatically runs it’s cycle at 2 am.

  79. Hi Matt,

    I attempted to locate your contact email but failed. Could you grant me the permission to use this article in the upcoming issue of Hacker Monthly?

    Please let me know. Thanks.

  80. Matt,

    I’d like to reply with another question: why do people think it’s hard to come up with ideas for start-ups?

    That might seem a stupid thing to ask. Why do they think it’s hard? If people can’t do it, then it is hard, at least for them. Right?

    Well, maybe not. What people usually say is not that they can’t think of ideas, but that they don’t have any. That’s not quite the same thing. It could be the reason they don’t have any is that they haven’t tried to generate them.

    I think this is often the case. I think people believe that coming up with ideas for start ups is very hard– that it must be very hard– and so they don’t try do to it. They assume ideas are like miracles: they either pop into your head or they don’t.

    I also have a theory about why people think this. They overvalue ideas. They think creating a start up is just a matter of implementing some fabulous initial idea. And since a successful start up is worth millions of dollars, a good idea is therefore a million dollar idea.

    If coming up with an idea for a start up equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.

    Actually, start up ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there’s no market for start up ideas suggests there’s no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that start up ideas are worthless.

    Most of us don’t truly enjoy what we do for living hence one of the reason why it is extremely hard for people to think outside of the box and look for new creative ideas.

    I love what I do and do it with full passion. As a Web marketing, Web Designer and SEO guy, I get to hear some of the most creative and unique start-up ideas. As a web designer, I’m usually the first person to hear about most start-up ideas which don’t even make it through the implementation phase but I still enjoy hearing about it.

  81. Nice, very nice! Thank you for the ideas!

  82. Love your post! Too often we overlook things that bug us as annoyance rather than opportunity. Similar to finding hot zones, my mantra is count something you are passionate about… (case in point)

    I’d like to think I’m an environmentally friendly individual. I recycle, I favor green products & brands and I carry a reusable SIGG water bottle with me. Irrespective of this, I decided to count the number of water bottles I used in a week. I could blame the hot weather but on 4 occasions in the last week I ran out of water and had to purchase a bottle to keep hydrated.

    The simple math:
    On average if you consume one bottle of water a week, that one bottle will equate to 52 bottles a year and approximately 3500 in your lifetime (give or take).

    The estimated global annual bottled water consumption is around 200 billion gallons and according to the International Bottled Water Association the US are the largest consumers of bottled water – consuming 8.665 billion gallons annually (2008). The average person in the US consumes around two .5L bottles of water each week. This is up 32% over five years despite the mainstream acceptance of reusable water bottles.

    We have an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint. Read on for my solution… http://tiny.cc/xqb5j

  83. Most of the greatest inventions in history were created by people just trying to solve a problem they were having. You wonder, however, how many great inventions reside only in somebody’s head – never to see the light of day.

    The moral of this post should be “Do Something.”

    Great post, Matt. I hope you’re having fun in Africa!

  84. Frankly there are a lot of ideas out there but how to stand out when one idea can be used by many others. I think, going into deeper will help us to find the unique ones. Thanks

  85. Great creative idea builder. Finding ideas to fuel your motivation to build a business is definitely fundamental. No better place to start than in your own house! Cant find ideas there? Then broaden your perimiter :)

  86. Matt, What an awesome idea of piling together good startup ideas.

    Myself, I have some on the clock which I would like to share (most of them occurred during my time with BMW in Leipzig, really an inspiring place):

    1. Lean Library – special interest café focusing on lean
    2. PlasticLogic, the new generation of ePaper for production lines
    3. Post Airport Service – due to security there is always the risk you lose your knife, why not sending it savely?
    4. Enterprise CoWorking – How cool would that be? Freelancers and hourly-workers, employees together
    5. Rural railway stations put into innovation collaborative think tanks
    6. Taxi on demand – in rural areas, one number shortest and cheapest taxi drive at an instant
    7. …. many more on mind;-)

    Cheers, Ralf

  87. Talk to your friends and family about what could make their lives easier. Out of these conversations, an idea will be born. Work on this idea and present a solution to them. Let them be your test cases.

    If it works, move on and prosper.

  88. I love this article. You’re also on top of your start-ups. I didn’t think anyone knew of Grooveshark outside of Gainesville.

  89. If you start looking at getting great new ideas as a task, I doubt your efforts will harvest much. A great idea comes like a lightning from the sky – unexpected and spontanious.

  90. My own startup deals with coming up with ideas.

    As Chris Dixon stated in his post, don’t keep your ideas a secret. There are plenty of people out there with great ideas, yet they lack the desire, means or aptitude to risk it all to make a startup out of their idea.

    My startup, IdeaShanty is all about sharing your ideas with others and having the community vote on ‘em.

    More specifically if you’re looking for ideas on startups or have an idea for a startup, the Startup Group at IdeaShanty is all about ideas for startups. Take a took, and have fun!

    Yes, this is a bit of a shameless plug. But if you can’t plug yourself, who do you plug?

  91. Thank you for the inspiration, I now have hours and hours of things to create before I leave my office and walk out the door :)

  92. Yeah I guess this is very similar to the old saying that ideas are all around us and they literally are. I think when you can make something more simple or change the way something is done i.e. put something into a digital format then yes there are answers all around.

    I think the best ideas come when you dont try to find them, like a bolt of lightening to the brain. If you are looking for a startup idea – find a business that is doing something well and then take that, make it your own and go for it. Waiting for a truly original idea is not always a good idea – as sometimes it never comes.

  93. I have STOPPED thinking of IDEAS and started looking methodically for OPPORTUNITIES. The one allows you to spin your wheels forever, the latter forces you to put on your entrepreneurial thinking cap and identify a business. Aligning a profit model to the business opportunity will be easy, while often a business IDEA has the cart before the horse where the profit model is the last bullet point (great idea – how will it be profitable?).

    Chris Erichsen

  94. Mecky

    What about looking for what people miss on the market? There is actually a whole website about startup ideas from people: http://www.ideaswatch.com

  95. Talking to smart people is a really good idea. Spending $20 and taking 5 people out to coffee that you find interesting will make you great contacts that you’re able to run ideas by.

  96. hi Matt, jyi on this post the image is missing when I click on the link I get a 404 on the business card image… http://www.mattcutts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/wpid-2010-03-14-13.16.06.jpg

  97. Thanks for the great advice. New years is a great time to refocus and come up with some new goals for any small business. Look over last years profits and this year, reach a little higher. Thanks.

  98. Project “Nebohod” (Skywalker) – start-up which propose a new construction the aerostat-energy system.

  99. Too good!!…. I try to think new innovative ideas, but this way to think and come up with startup ideas is really awesome.

  100. Well said Matt! Great ideas really flourishes from the miniatures around us(Newtons brain cells peeped eminent theory by observing just an Apple). Some Fascinating business can be evolved from noticing small things around us.

  101. Wow, those are great ideas! Never really thought of clutter that way. Creativity is a channel to grab opportunities. Thanks for this article!

  102. That was easy, I have never thought about all these ideas this way. Instead I went through piles of keyword research and blah blah blah……..when ideas are lying around ourselves. Now I understand why the big G has hired you instead of me………..Just kidding.
    Thanks for sharing the easiest process on earth of finding great niche ideas and the best part is I don’t have to go any where for these simple but effective ideas.
    Though I should add one more thing like we can also look in to the Yellow pages directory for more ideas if we could not find any thing suitable or any thing we love.
    Matt you are great man. You rock.

  103. Start-up ideas are not found. They are created. Finding ideas can be contrasted with stealing ideas. Brainstorming is a different story…

  104. I too have problem with too many business ideas. I know a lot of you are thinking “Yeah right showoff!” but I think everyone has the ability to become an ideas factory if you open your eyes, clear your mind of doubt, limits and boundaries and just imagine everything in a perfect world. Soon opportunities start to pop into your head. Most don’t stand up to vigarous cross examination but a few Gems will emerge. It’s a bit like mining for gold, you have to pull a load of rocks out the ground and separate the valuable stuff out.

  105. Every person may notices annoying things. The problem is that a few of us have the suitable condition to change them. This condition means having enough money to investigate on that idea most of the times. Sometimes you need to give up your daily life and put a lot of time on it. Also many of us are afraid of failure that seems to be the most important one to most of us.

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