Below I present five strategies for how you can become a product and business idea generation machine. The fundamental idea is to make a giant list of problems or inefficiencies that you see out there in the world. Then brainstorm ways that you could use modern technology to create a product or service that can solve that problem in a way that is faster, cheaper and/or more efficient than the current solution.
By having a problem-first mentality when it comes to product development, the odds of success are much higher than starting with a solution-first mindset and then trying to force feed that solution to solve the customer’s problem. Always start with the PROBLEM.
Many products, startups, and businesses fail because they develop a fancy tool or solution first and then they go out to look for customers to sell to. This is backwards. Find the customers first. The customer could be yourself. Then find out their problems. Then get your creative juices flowing to develop a solution.
In the words of the late Steve Jobs, “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology” (Wikipedia, Steve Jobs).
I’ve received pitches from >1,000 startups over my career and will tell you that it is rare to find a startup that first identifies a real-world problem, then performs a rigorous analysis to fully understand how big the problem is and who the problem impacts, and then develops the technology and the solution to solve the problem.
Remember that human beings are creatures of HABIT. They do the same things everyday, read the same things everyday, eat the same things everyday, and go to most of the same places every day. In general, people resist changing their habits. So when you are creating a product, make sure people could easily see how that product fits in with their current day-to-day life and habits. If you try to create a product that requires people to make a change in their habits, you will fail more often than not. When the going gets tough, humans will always follow the path of least resistance.
Winning products are winners because they offer people CONVENIENCE. People love speed and cognitive ease. As the old saying goes, “don’t make them think”, and “don’t make them wait.” You must observe the things people already do on a regular basis and what they already pay for (i.e. their current behavior). Make that thing they already do or already pay for faster, more efficient, cheaper, and/or easier to understand….and you’ve got a potential winner.
When you help people solve their problems in a way that is faster, more efficient, cheaper, and/or easier to understand, the odds of failure are much much lower.
Now let’s discuss the strategies. By using the strategies below and recording your ideas in an Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc for one year, you will be amazed at the different ideas that you come up with…ideas that could improve the lives of others.
Not all of the ideas will make great business ideas…i.e. people would be willing to pull out their credit card to have that problem solved (I’ll discuss how to decide if an idea is a good business idea or not in a future post), but they provide good starting points.
These strategies are listed in the order of effectiveness. Those listed first are the most effective source of product ideas in my experience.
1. Think About Something You Do Frequently and Find a Way to Remove as Many Steps as Possible from That Process
Think about one or two things that you do on a weekly or daily basis. Have you done that thing for a long time…like for many years? Even better.
Next, make a list of all the steps involved in that process. After you have done that, think about ways you could use modern technology to OMIT STEPS from that process. This, in my experience, is the best way to find potential business ideas.
Here are some examples:
Before my website VisaHunter.com existed, searching for a job overseas involved combing through 100+ different websites. Finding out the step-by-step process for getting a travel or work visa in a foreign country involved wading through dozens of online expat forms and deciphering poorly designed government websites. My website removed steps from the process of getting a visa or finding a job overseas (speed and cognitive ease).
Before sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com existed, searching for a job involved multiple steps. I had to go to multiple job sites and company sites to search for jobs. These two sites created a business out of aggregating multiple job listings into one site, saving you a lot of time in the process (speed and cognitive ease).
Before Uber existed, if I wanted a taxi, I had to call ahead and hope that the taxi driver showed up. In other cases, I had to walk several blocks on a busy street in order to find a taxi. With Uber, I can order the taxi with a few swipes on my smartphone (speed and cognitive ease).
Before TurboTax existed, I had to call around to get a bunch of quotes from accountants and then send mountains of documents back and forth for months. TurboTax removed innumerable steps from the human habit of filing taxes every year. It also helped you file taxes more cheaply than the alternative of hiring an accountant.
Before UpWork.com existed, I had to do a Google search and send 10-15 e-mails to find a freelancer to do some work on my website. It would then take 2-3 days in order to receive all the price quotes and proposals. Now, I can post a job, and within one hour receive 20-30 job proposals from freelancers around the world.
Before dishwashers existed, you had to wash each dish by hand and dry each dish by hand. Dishwashers removed steps from the dishwashing process, a habit that almost every one has and has had for a very long time.
2. Your Personal Frustrations and Pain Points
Every time you get frustrated with something or complain about something, write it down. Some of the best product ideas come about organically as a result of problems and frustrations that you experience in your day-to-day life. If you find yourself frustrated with something, write it down. If you don’t have a notepad, write it somewhere in your smartphone so that you don’t forget it. Later, once you have a list of problems, think of solutions. Once you have solutions to a big list of problems, you can then sit down again in front of your spreadsheet and identify which opportunities you would like to pursue.
As an example, I was sitting in a restaurant the other day trying to get the attention of my waiter. I must have waited 10 minutes to get his attention. Then, after I finished the meal, I had to wait another 10 minutes for the bill. In total, this adds up to 20 minutes wasted of my time. This whole restaurant ordering and paying process is inefficient and hasn’t changed much over the last several centuries.
I would love to have an app that can allow me to order food, ask for another drink, and pay my bill right at the table without me having to waste time searching for my waiter every time I need something.
3. Write down the Problems That Your Friends or Family Are Having
Have you heard your father, mother or best friend complain about something? Write it down. What do they wish they could have? What problems are they having in their social life or life at work?
4. Two and Three Star Amazon Product Reviews
Amazon product reviews can be a gold mine for finding good product ideas:
Step 1: Go to Amazon.com
Step 2: Find products that have a lot of reviews. This indicates that there are people willing to pay for that product. You want to make 100% sure there is a market for that product.
Step 3: Go to the 2 and 3 star reviews (1 star reviews often are full of nonconstructive criticism) and see what people are complaining about. Also take notes what people like about the product.
Step 4: Find a way to build a product that solves the pain points customers mentioned in the 2 and 3 star reviews.
5. Special Searches on Twitter and on Google
Both Twitter and Google can be a great for finding problems that people want solutions for. Go to either site, and enter in the search box the following phrases:
- “I would pay for”
- “I wish I had”
- “I just paid someone to”
- “Does anybody know how to”
- “is the worst service”
- “is the worst product”
- “is a horrible company”
- “has a terrible website”
After doing the searches, go to your Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc and record the problems that people are complaining about. Later, you can go back to this list and brainstorm solutions for these problems.
Maybe the problem could be solved by creating a software that charges users a subscription fee. Maybe the solution is something as simple as an e-book. No matter what the solution is, the fact that someone is expressing their dissatisfaction in a public forum such as Google or Twitter is a good signal that somebody out there will care if you develop a solution. At the end of the day, companies need to build things that people want.
After you have your list of ideas, take some time to select one. Don’t hurry. Starting a new product or business is a huge investment of time and money.
That’s it for now. Until next time!