Continued use of the website implies you agree to this. The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself. The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way. Why is it so important to work on a problem you have?
Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has. In 1995 I started a company to put art galleries online. But galleries didn’t want to be online.
It’s not how the art business works. So why did I spend 6 months working on this stupid idea? Because I didn’t pay attention to users. I invented a model of the world that didn’t correspond to reality, and worked from that. I didn’t notice my model was wrong until I tried to convince users to pay for what we’d built. Even then I took embarrassingly long to catch on.
Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. 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. For example, a social network for pet owners. Often they care a lot about their pets and spend a lot of money on them. Surely many of these people would like a site where they could talk to other pet owners. Not all of them perhaps, but if just 2 or 3 percent were regular visitors, you could have millions of users.
You could serve them targeted offers, and maybe charge for premium features. The danger of an idea like this is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this. They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that. Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it.