Tag Archives: Paul Graham

7 ways to find your startup idea


A few days ago, Paul Graham posted one of his famous essays, How to Get Startup Ideas. You won’t find a better piece of advice on generating your idea for your startup. It is a long essay but worth reading.

Here you have a summary of key seven take-aways:

1. Look for problems that people care
Fixing a problem YOU have, is the best way to ensure that the problem really exists.
Made-Up Startup ideas usually focus on problems nobody actually cares.

At YC we call these “made-up” or “sitcom” startup ideas. Imagine one of the characters on a TV show was starting a startup. The writers would have to invent something for it to do. But coming up with good startup ideas is hard. It’s not something you can do for the asking. So (unless they got amazingly lucky) the writers would come up with an idea that sounded plausible, but was actually bad.

2. Who are the people that really need what you are making?
You have better chances if you focus on something a small number of people want a large amount. In made-up startup ideas usually lots of people are middy interested.

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.

3. Be at the leading edge of a field — “Live in the future”
A good idea will come as the result of some external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. To have good startup ideas you have to become the sort of person who has them.  “If you’re at the leading edge of a field that’s changing fast, when you have a hunch that something is worth doing, you’re more likely to be right.”

The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.” 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.

Paul Buchheit says that people at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field “live in the future.”

4. Build what seems interesting
To ‘notice’ a good idea you need to give yourself some time. You have control over the rate at which you become a prepared mind, but you have less control over the stimuli that will spark your idea.

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. […] if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think. Microcomputers seemed like toys when Apple and Microsoft started working on them.

5. Clash of domains is a fruitful source of ideas.
If you are a software expert and start learning about some other field, you’ll probably see problems you can fix programming.

…if you’re a CS major and you want to start a startup, instead of taking a class on entrepreneurship you’re better off taking a class on, say, genetics. Or better still, go work for a biotech company.

6. Better a good idea with competitors than a bad one without.

You don’t need to worry about entering a “crowded market” so long as you have a thesis about what everyone else in it is overlooking.

Because a good idea should seem obvious, when you have one you’ll tend to feel that you’re late […] Worrying that you’re late is one of the signs of a good idea.

7. Don’t discard the unsexy and difficult
There are two filters you ned to turn off when noticing 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.

The seven points can be summed up in one recipe:

Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

What do you think of Paul Graham’s advice?