Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other
things, it ensures the problem really exists.
Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they
begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly
dangerous: it doesn't merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad
ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.
When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this
right now? Who wants this so much that they'll use it even when
it's a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they've never
heard of? If you can't answer that, the idea is probably bad.
But while demand shaped like a well is almost a necessary condition
for a good startup idea, it's not a sufficient one.
Your idea also needs to be able to expand beyond the well of people who desperately need it right now.
How do you tell whether there's a path out of an idea? How do you
tell whether something is the germ of a giant company, or just a
niche product? Often you can't.
So if you can't predict whether there's a path out of an idea, how
do you choose between ideas? The truth is disappointing but
interesting: if you're the right sort of person, you have the right
sort of hunches.
And when these problems get solved, they will probably seem flamingly
obvious in retrospect. What you need to do is turn off the filters
that usually prevent you from seeing them. The most powerful is
simply taking the current state of the world for granted.
A good way to trick yourself into noticing ideas is to work on
projects that seem like they'd be cool.
Just as trying to think up startup ideas tends to produce bad ones,
working on things that could be dismissed as "toys" often produces
good ones. When something is described as a toy, that means it has
everything an idea needs except being important
The clash of domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas.
If you know a lot about programming and you start learning about
some other field, you'll probably see problems that software could
But don't feel like you have to build things that will become startups. That's
premature optimization. Just build things.
Err on the side of doing things where you'll face competitors.
Inexperienced founders usually give competitors more credit than
A crowded market is actually a good sign, because it means both
that there's demand and that none of the existing solutions are
There are two more filters you'll need to turn off if you want to
notice startup ideas: the unsexy filter and the schlep filter.
The unsexy filter is similar to the schlep filter, except it keeps
you from working on problems you despise rather than ones you fear.
One good trick is to ask yourself whether in your previous job you
ever found yourself saying "Why doesn't someone make x? If someone
made x we'd buy it in a second."
One way to ensure you do a good job solving other people's problems
is to make them your own. When Rajat Suri of E la Carte decided
to write software for restaurants, he got a job as a waiter to learn
how restaurants worked.
one strategy I recommend to people who need a new idea is
not merely to turn off their schlep and unsexy filters, but to seek
out ideas that are unsexy or involve schleps.
the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people.
They don't want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but
they could imagine other people wanting it.
At YC we call ideas that grow naturally
out of the founders' own experiences "organic" startup ideas. The
most successful startups almost all begin this way.
It doesn't work well simply to
try to think of startup ideas. If you do that, you get bad ones
that sound dangerously plausible.
of programmers were in a position to see this idea; thousands of
programmers knew how painful it was to process payments before
Stripe. But when they looked for startup ideas they didn't see
this one, because unconsciously they shrank from having to deal
Why is your inbox overflowing? Because you get
a lot of email, or because it's hard to get email out of your inbox?
Why do you get so much email? What problems are people trying to
solve by sending you email? Are there better ways to solve them?
And why is it hard to get emails out of your inbox? Why do you
keep emails around after you've read them? Is an inbox the optimal
tool for that?
Even if you
find someone else working on the same thing, you're probably not
too late. It's exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by
competitors—so rare that you can almost discount the possibility.
you can either build
something a large number of people want a small amount, or something
a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter.
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Live in the future, then build what's missing.