So what do you do if you don’t have an idea? Many people want to have an idea, to become an entrepreneur, with visions of being their own boss, and making lots of money (for them or others). But how do you find a good idea?
The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It's to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself. – Paul Graham, Y Combinator
The best way to find a good idea is to try and solve a specific problem or pain you have. Look at what is out there, see if there are others with the same problem, and see if you can actually develop and build a solution. If you have a problem, and that problem is shared by others, you may be on to something. If no one else shares your problem, or it is not a big enough problem, you may find that there will not be the market for your solution. You need to make sure to ask lots of different people, not just your friends and family (who invariable say, “That’s a good idea”, in order to not hurt your feelings). It is better to have a small group of users who really want your solution, than a large group of users who are only mildly interested.
Paul Graham, of Y Combinator, summarises this point beautifully:
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.
Other points to consider when finding startup ideas:
What do you need? Ideas come from where there is need, whether in a current job or in your daily life. Understand your peers and see if they have the same need.
Think Big. Is your idea scalable? Have a target, which may be quite narrow to start, but be able to broaden your scope as your idea develops.
Be the kind of person who has great ideas. Be good in your field, so you can find and exploit the gaps. Live and breathe in the field you want to create a startup, and you’ll begin to notice the opportunities. Live in the future, and then build what's missing.
Be a techie. Now this doesn’t apply to everyone, but you’ll stand a much better chance of getting a tech startup off the ground if you know what you’re talking about. Also being about to create revisions on your own means you will get to a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) much quicker. Hack as often as you can.
Open your eyes. Notice what’s there, and find what’s missing. It may be obvious, or you may need to look hard, but it will be there. Be curious, ask questions, observe. If it bothers you, look into it. You might be on to something.
Give yourself time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and good ideas need time to bake. Just be ready.
Learn by doing. If you want to be an entrepreneur, get out there and do something. Get involved in cool projects, programming, interdisciplinary events. Broaden your mind and meet people from all backgrounds. Go to work in a seemingly unrelated field.
Don’t be afraid of competition. It means you’re on to something. Unless your competition has the market cornered completely with a very satisfied customer base, there is always room for one more. Look at what they are doing, and make it better.
Follow these points, and you stand a good chance of noticing the obvious.