I think that the best way to find solution ideas is to first go look for real problems to solve – problems that are familiar and important to you. Paul Graham seems to agree ;).
So you can just start thinking about your problems and write them down, and then think about who or what could solve them. I’ve found that you can very quickly run out of those, so below are potential plans to help scale that “working alone” part of the process a bit.
Plan A. Problem-Solution framework.
That’s the first way of doing it that I thought of – I’ll look for problems in a systematic way by drawing a decision tree for an area of my life or work (much like when solving a business case). You can use a mind map tool for that, or just pen and paper. I use Miro for everything visual.
I’d start with any topic I know and care about, and then break it down into smaller segments, and then those into even smaller ones. When I feel I’ve drilled deep enough, I write out the problems that I know of at this final level. Here’s a simplified quick example that illustrates the process:
I hope you get the idea :). This way I can quickly go through different areas of my job, education, hobbies, sports, etc, and produce dozens of potential problems / hard / irritating things in them.
Then it’s just a matter of coming up with some solutions for those problems identified (step 4).
Plan B. Envision a big change
“Vision” type ideas are a bit different than the problem-solution kind. They are about envisioning a big change in the world (or a chosen market) and then drilling down the decision tree to ideate a way of achieving this change in a small part first, or with multiple solutions. You can use the same type of tree breakdown framework as in Plan A to work on that. Again, the closer this big change is to your heart, the better.
Here’s a simple 2-step example, with the third step hinting at possible solutions already:
and so on… The bigger the challenge, the more sub-steps it typically needs to be broken down into before you arrive at manageable solution ideas.
Plan C. What “people” need
Go to gumtree.com (or even Fiverr or Upwork) to see what people are offering and needing (eg. garage space for rent) – how can you turn any of those niches into an automated service or a separate niche marketplace?
Plan D. Niche down a big service (last resort, typically not the best ideas, even for fun)
Chose a popular market-dominating service or platform you’re using, like Spotify, ebay, Netflix, uber, Apple, Facebook or Amazon.
Now think about a very specific niche or a vertical that you belong to or know well, who also use this popular service (eg. dog owners, musicians, seniors, diabetics, etc).
How could you change or trim down that big service so that it much better addresses the specific needs and challenges of your niche/vertical?
Plans E-Z? What are your ways?
Let me know on Slack or in the comments! 🙂
Oh and by the way, here’s a really good and concise way to phrase a startup idea: https://fi.co/madlibs (explained more also here: https://techcrunch.com/2010/11/03/madlibs-pitch-adeo-ressi-founder-institute/)
* Disclaimer: the abovementioned ways of “ideating” startup ideas are by no means solid ways to just use and go and start a company tomorrow. It’s just a structured way to rather quickly produce a multitude of various crazy ideas.
If you want to really spend the time to seriously ideate a startup idea, then the process is usually more time consuming and should involve a lot of Customer Discovery and Validation, market exploration, iterating on your Value Proposition Canvas and Business Model Canvas, thinking how to locate, extract and protect value, and things of similar nature.