There are two categories of people looking to start a business: those who have an idea and want to build it, and those who want to build something but haven’t found the right idea yet.
Each category has different challenges, but in this post I will focus on the latter. Where can you find a good idea? From my personal experience, good ideas are the result of good observation. We are often too busy working or doing something else to take a step back and look at how we execute the things that we do. If you take the time to try to observe yourself from the outside, you will probably find many inefficiencies in your execution. You will also notice that most of those inefficiencies come from the tools that you use.
Offline shopping, for instance, is very inefficient. You have to drive to a store, walk through the isles, choose from a limited-by-space amount of products, stand in line at the cashier and then drive back home. Looking at shopping from an efficiency point of view, it’s easy to see how Amazon (like other e-commerce sites) are a great idea.
SyncPad itself was born this way. Since expressing design changes over the phone or Skype was challenging, and emailing drafts and changes back and forth was a waste of time, I came up with a tool that could solve these inefficiencies. With SyncPad, I can now quickly share a sketch or an image while I’m on the phone, and the other person can work on it in real-time.
Of course isolating an inefficiency is only the beginning. Once you focus on a problem, the second factor you need to analyze is its potential market and value. Is this a problem that only you and a few others have, or is it common to billions of people? Dropbox is a great example of a product that solves a very common inefficiency: the need to easily access your data and documents from different places. Your need for a better tool to catalog your collection of Coke cans may not be as common. The size of the market itself is meaningless if it’s not associated with the value of your solution. If you can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for your product, it’s ok if your market size is in the four digit range.
So start looking around for inefficiencies. Once you find one, try to understand how big the possible market would be for a solution to that inefficiency. Lastly, start talking to your potential customers to get an idea of the value of that solution.