I am a first time entrepreneur and have been on the lookout for an idea I can execute. I am interested in creating a service on the web for small and mid size businesses. My day job is a Software developer and I come across nothing that I can develop into a full fledged product. I started subscribing to trade journals and hanging out on websites like this with the hope of coming across something that can be useful for businesses.
How did you come across your idea? Any advice for me?
If your day job isn't yielding any interesting problems to solve (although I would perhaps look around there a bit harder), I would suggest you try and find a consulting opportunity that you can undertake in your spare time. Invariably being with other businesses, you get to see real problems they need solving that nobody has the time/inclination to tackle, but they are very real problems nevertheless. Apart from anything else, this will help you generate some capital you can set aside for when you go out on your own.
Talk to the business people where you work and elsewhere (friends, family, random people at StarBucks). The poor users and drones that just do their job. Learn how the business works. Really listen to them and glean as much insight as you can about how they do their job.
Then internalize that and come up with a solution to some small common problem. It can be as simple as making a phone list. I watched an HR lady go through ADP and copy/paste all the people's names, home phone and extension into Excel. A report against the database would have built that report in 700ms. It's the little things that count.
Here's an HR idea that you can have: offsite employee contact list. In case of an emergency, a lot of companies need to have a way to contact employees and employee's families. Right now most companies don't think about this, but if an accident was to happen, and the employer couldn't get into the office, they have no way to get a contact list for their employees (servers might have caught fire, office blew up, etc.). If there was a site to allow them to get that list, it could help them out a lot. Especially if there was a mobile version. The non-trivial task is syncing that with their HR system, but you can start with simple crud screens.
Some good answers, but another angle:
If you're looking to start a small company, find a niche that you enjoy working on, and then find an even smaller niche inside that niche. Find pain and solve it in a clear and simple way.
An example: a coworker of mine is in his church's band. They needed a way to easily share sheet music online. There are a number of sites that support that, but there's actually a site that focuses on sharing sheet music for church bands.
For a B2B idea:
Companies do performance reviews, right? And everyone hates them because they're annoying and they're overly complex. So we have a major pain we can solve. Now, creating a software product for performance reviews for every company under the sun would be an insane task. Oracle does this and it's a horrible product and we clearly can't compete with them. But how about writing software for performance reviews at small software development companies? Or software that helps conduct performance reviews for small development companies with Scrum teams? Maybe write a plugin for JIRA that allows those supervising the teams to set goals and track them?
So, we went from the huge niche of Performance Reviews which has a bunch of unknown requirements, to a very small well defined niche.
A good book on this subject, since you're a developer:
Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615373968/ About 200 pages and a pretty fast read. It also covers what to do once you've found your niche.
Are you sure you aren't facing any problems in your workplace ? There must be something that you think is inefficient / can be done faster / people are wasting time, etc. Look at those and you can definitely see an idea coming up.
For eg: in my previous workplace, developers used to spend a lot of time in telephonic interviews thereby resulting in a loss of productivity. I jumped to start off interviewstreet.com which helps you to screen candidates with programming tests.
I am sure there must be some problem, if not, tell me the name of the workplace, would like to join sometime :)
An idea comes when you face a problem or when you find problems where you are the person who can or have a solution for it. This is what i feel when i see ebay and all the social media :)
So don look for ideas but just concentrate on the things happening near you :)
You need to be a good observer initially in order to get a good business plan
First try to observe things and then evaluate things and then keep it on paper and see if there are any competitors and see the market and also see in how much time you are going to get that investment (both time and money)
Major thing is are you going to solve the problem in a easy way or not :) because by the time you are in to market there may be lot of people who might be watching or who might be implementing this:)
Scratch your own itch. What problems exist in your world that you would just love to see solved? Chances are there will be others with the same problem and the same desire for a solution. So create that solution. You will be passionate about it and you will be invested not just professionally but personally.