Stuck with poor ideas, how do I find good ones?


Startup execution is by now a well understood process. The Customer Development model does a good job at delineating the different steps necessary to determine if something is a scalable, repeatable and profitable business model.

Prior to any of that however, you need an idea. You need an idea that you yourself are passionate about, a vision that will resonate with both partners and customers. A mission and vision that you can stick to through the good and the bad.

As an engineer with passion for technology and anything tech-related, I find myself at a disadvantage when it comes to coming up with good ideas. I'm stuck in the Silicon Valley bubble with other tech people. We care about things like GitHub, Rails, Hacker News, Vim and other crap that the average person couldn't care less about. Grandma doesn't care about the latest Lisp dialect.

My "best" ideas are basically rehashings of existing services: " for foo", "facebook for bar" and so on. I don't know what problems real people face out there every day, no idea what big challenges I can undertake that will improve people's lives or make a big difference in someone's business. I also never feel like I'm headed "where the puck is going", instead I'm always chasing after something that's already hot.

What do I do? Has anybody had a similar issue and figured out how to overcome it?

I want to build a sizeable portfolio of potential business venture ideas so that not only I'm not stuck with the first one I come up with (fool me once), but I can hopefully choose the one that I will personally identify the most with.


Edit: Thanks for the great tips, everybody!

Ideas Entrepreneurs

asked Jul 13 '12 at 11:23
156 points
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  • Not only the idea matters, but it's quality. Some find relaxation / meditation to fix this issue. Some say it's because lack of 10Hz and 9Hz brainwave. If you want to do hard-core. – Andrew Smith 11 years ago
  • Just wanted to point out that almost all successful companies were just rehashes of someone else's ideas. They just put some twist on it that made them succeed where the predecessor may or may not have (typically better marketing). There are very, very few truly innovative ideas that were the foundation of successful companies. – Dunk 11 years ago

12 Answers


Pick an occupation: doctors, lawyers, students, real estate agents, stay-home moms, bus drivers, restaurant owners... It doesn't really matter which, all these target customers represents a huge target market anyway. In the next 10-15 years, each of these class of people will see technology transform the way they currently go about their business. They won't know how to solve their pains but all you need to do is talk to them, observe what they're doing, and figure out a way to alleviate their pain with some tech solution you can build. It'll take more than a chat over coffee; spend 2-3 weeks with people from several professions and ideas will come. Just talk to people, there's plenty of pain/problems going around. And don't make the mistake of first building a solution and then going to look for a problem it can solve!!

answered Jul 14 '12 at 00:59
4,166 points


Ideas do not come from nowhere. Ideas are 'solutions' in context to something specific. In other words something must trigger them.

Necessity is the mother of invention.
Another thing which is needed is an 'entrepreneurial' mindset. I believe one can train ones 'mind' into that mindset.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities everywhere they turn. They see them because their attention/mindset is tuned for things which :

  • are not working as they should,
  • are difficult or tedious,
  • we tend to forget about,
  • we have to do but try to avoid,
  • are manual but could be automated,
  • could deliver information or results when needed,
  • could be simpler and more in line with how we behave
So the easiest ways to start having ideas is to:
  • have an itch to scratch
  • listen to others and their needs or problems,
  • observe peoples behaviour (how they do things),
  • talk to people and ask questions.
Also ones mind has to be relaxed. If you are tensed because you are fighting with stuff (projects, problems, people, etc) your mind concentrates on those issues (solving or worrying) and does not see anything else. You can't have 'soft eyes ' if your mind in not relaxed.

Last resort: If nothing works just call me :) I have drawers full of ideas which I have no time to develop.

answered Jul 19 '12 at 12:53


It's important to realize some of the best ideas around never sounded sound so sexy or prone to overnight success. For example...

IDEA: Allow people to write short sentences other people can see by tracking whoever they want to read.

OUTCOME: Twitter...

IDEA: Allow people to post photos add special effects on them online and share them (at a time where photo sharing services are a dime a dozen, mind you!)

OUTCOME: Instagram...

There can be bad execution or good execution for the very same idea. Even if you fulfill everything your idea calls for, bad execution will shoot you down while a good one can take your company to > $1B value -- even for a relatively simple idea that any first year CS student can implement on a small scale.

Therefore, having a "great bonanza idea" is not necessarily the only way to succeed. Sometimes a simple and functional idea with great execution that doesn't require a department of PhD's can skyrocket your company into success.

answered Jul 14 '12 at 00:28
Ron M.
4,224 points


This is a hard one, but speaks to exactly the journey I have been going through the last few years.

You're right, most people don't know, don't care and have trouble trying to comprehend. They however are the market, they are my clients, they are the ones I'm trying to help.

So what have I done is become the bridge for them, consulting with them to understand their business, their skills, their ideas and working with them to translate what they have into a solution which will work online, with technology.

Over the last 15 years we have done a whole bunch of different projects from individuals through to 10,000+ staff companies.

What I have come to realise is that my knowing the tech side is a massive advantage, IF i can make it relevant to my client and remove the tech from them, that's my problem.

So the one thing I haven't answered so far is product, an idea to suit the "rest of humanity" not just the geek.

This comes from either

  • Your experience, which for me is developing software for others over time and coming to a realisation as I gain a wider perspective, finding the common threads and weaving a solution out of them.
  • Using the skills and knowledge of others as the focus and applying your skills in "supporting" theirs.

Really the second one is where I think you're heading, software isn't the be all and end all, it is simply a tool to achieve a better result. Find someone who is good at what they do, work with them to build a system that transforms them to scale it 100 times larger.

I have several good examples of that; the one I'm working on at the moment is in the health space where I'm working with an expert of 20 years on the design of a business and supporting technology that allows consultation to scale from ~600 per year to 100,000 per year with very little staff increase and a proven 99.9% success rate.

Now I knew very little about the space before I started but I could instantly see how it could grow from what they had, and I can learn what I need to from them.

answered Jul 13 '12 at 13:13
Robin Vessey
8,394 points
  • Robin, thanks for the response. What's your overall strategy? Do you consult for various companies / individuals and hope to stumble upon something that you can turn into business of your own? I do hear that consulting is a valid option for finding commonly shared problems. – Glitch 11 years ago
  • Ha, I didn't explain that bit. My strategy is to either learn something by working with clients OR to partner with clients and own a key part of the puzzle with them ... I have several of these in several industries, each with them driving and my company developing/advising. If you don't have any ideas yourself these are the ways I see of getting to the ideas that work. – Robin Vessey 11 years ago


Many times, the best ideas are the ones that seem impossible to accomplish. Or you trip over them when attempting to do something else.

Here's a good post from Paul Graham about ideas and ambition.

answered Jul 14 '12 at 00:00
Jim Galley
9,952 points


I do not have any relation with but you can see some ideas here and work with someone there that trying to find a dev co-founder.

As you said :

-. My "best" ideas are basically rehashings of existing services: " for foo", "facebook for bar" and so on

Try to find a problem instead of an idea. There are a lot of problem out there to explore and need someone like you to be fixed. I don't think it is bad if you can create something like mint or Facebook but for a certain niche market.

Usually when it come to find a problem, I do not hurry myself. I will just try to stay calm and do the things I do everyday but paying more attention to my surrounding. example like if I can see any problem that happened around me, my friend, stranger(Beggar, street artist that perform on the street, a tourist that lose in a translation and so on)

I am sure there are a lot of problem which still can be solved and it is up to you if you can see the problem and help them fix it...

I have an Idea (fashion social eCommerce) and looking for a back-end developer. if you like, you can write to me...

good luck with your venture and enjoy the ride :)

answered Jul 13 '12 at 13:09
186 points


Like stated above, you need to solve a problem. This is how I start things:

"Don't you hate it when _ _."

Take it from there.

answered Jul 19 '12 at 23:04
217 points


The first chapter of Jason Baptiste's new book - The Ultralight Startup - is called "It all starts with an idea." It's a good roadmap for how to find an idea and determine if it's worth pursuing further.

answered Jul 23 '12 at 05:02
Steve D
318 points


I unfortunately have the opposite problem. I have an idea but I don't know squat about what I need to know in order to even hire someone to do it. I wouldn't even know what I needed to ask for it. Want to get together and make beautiful music? J/K.

I agree that you should give people what they need or want. I saw a special tonight on why certain billionaires are so successful over others. The first answer was that they give people (employees and customers) what they want, they listen to them and they treat them all like the special and unique individuals that they are by understanding that their needs are different than 6.9 other people's needs. He said he never painted everyone with the same brush and that was what made him billions.

answered Aug 4 '12 at 14:39
72 points


As entrepreneurs we have to adapt our approach to our goal (i.e. be own boss in a tech field). So if the ideas for a viable startup do not materialize, then pivot. One option would be to take an existing and proven business and focus on growing that business, such as a franchise opportunity. You have to ask yourself if you want to be in the same exact position 3 years from now, or further towards your goals, having expended the same amount of energy.


answered Jul 16 '12 at 05:13
1 point


My philosophy is, the greatest ideas don't come from a bunch of PHDs having a weekely brainstorm oN how to make a billion dollars. Best and most successful ideas come out of a need. You need to find X online, and Google Turns up 10m results, most from SEO crap companies. So what to do? Well only what every "normal person" would, modify a machine learning library to filter out bad results. Then you realize, hey if this happened to me, I can't be the only one, you give it to people to test, and boom.. suddenly you're a hot new product.

The most successful ideas are a solution to an existing problem. If you can find something now, that doesn't have an effective solution, you can be the next overnight millionaire. Additionally, notice I say effective, just because something works doesn't mean it works well.

For inspiration just look at your own life, what would make it easier? More Comfortable? Enjoyable? You'd be amazed at what you find lol

Good Luck!!

P.S. if you get inspired and come up with a good idea, you should post it here for review LOL

answered Aug 9 '12 at 09:09
820 points


The answer you are seeking can be found in this image. For context, watch:

answered Jul 20 '12 at 10:34
Henry The Hengineer
4,316 points

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