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Startup Ideas

Super good post about startup ideas from HN: http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

about 4 years ago, by pineapple

17 Replies

pineapple

Surprisingly clear in its ideas... usually I think articles like this are just paragraphs of non-useful bloated idea soup... this one pretty much hits home on multiple levels. Succinct and objective.

pineapple, about 4 years ago

bonzai

Perfect idea: Social network for pets ¬_¬

bonzai, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010

Great article! there are a lot of good things in there that sound obvious, but are really common. Some things I wish I would have taken to heart before burning up six figures...

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. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users. [2]

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they're making—not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently.

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

bonzai
posted by SkinnyGeek1010 on Wed, Nov 21 at 03:27AM

Great article! there are a lot of good things in there that sound obvious, but are really common. Some things I wish I would have taken to heart before burning up six figures...

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. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users. [2]

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they're making—not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently.

Please... do tell. It should be illegal to leave cliffhangers like that.

bonzai, about 4 years ago

blueberry
posted by SkinnyGeek1010 on Wed, Nov 21 at 03:27AM

Great article! there are a lot of good things in there that sound obvious, but are really common. Some things I wish I would have taken to heart before burning up six figures...

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. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users. [2]

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they're making—not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently.

I thought that was one of the more memorable parts as well. I have often heard friends say "I could see myself using that".. Almost word for word. Sure enough no one is quite interested enough to actually use it. I also love the idea of targeting a small amount of extremely enthusiastic people who can't wait -- not a huge number of people who could see themselves using it

blueberry, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010

Please... do tell. It should be illegal to leave cliffhangers like that.

Haha, sure. Some friends and I (3 of us total) had an idea to generate walk in traffic to brick and mortar stores. The gist is, if a merchant wanted to draw in more people they could host a contest on our site ( bit.ly/10vDSg4 ) and they would give away a prize of some sort. People could come in from the site to the store and scan a barcode with their phone to enter the contest (like a free raffle). Once a preset/known amount of people walk in, one is chosen as the winner.

Before building it, we asked a bunch of business owners if they would be interested in something like that and they really responded well. Some of these were friends and others complete strangers.

We asked a bunch of average people if they would use it, and most said they would and a small percentage said they wouldn't use it but could see how others would.

We then built up a MVP (that's a whole story on it's own lol) at home and didn't test it out on our home field, where we could get 50-100 users easily. Our thoughts were that someone could steal the idea and we should keep it under wraps until we move to SV (someone ended up doing just that anyhow, but they had limited success in a niche industry).

We ended up moving out to Mountain View in April of this year (minus one co-founder). That's when the real work began. We knew no one and we were unfamiliar with our surroundings. Then we started going door to door to get merchants signed up. It was really tough to get merchants to sign up at first, the hardest part being getting to talk to a decision maker. It was actually easier to get Applebee's to use it than it was to get a small business lol. We also had a chicken & egg problem, we needed good content before it would be attractive enough for users to start using it, and we needed lots of active users to entice merchants.

Getting users to sign up and walk in was very difficult. We could essentially buy users using ads or host an even to get people to sign up....but having them walk in wasn't happening very quickly. Even though people said they would use it... having them actually do it is a whole different thing.

The final blow was getting rejected by some of the biggest angels and VC's in Silicon Valley. They had been burned too many times before with online to physical ventures. The lack of hope and the lack of money for marketing / sales was something that eventually brought the project to an end (as of a few days ago).

Some other problems we had unrelated to the PG's article, no of us were good at selling, and we also lost 33% of our team right before launch. We couldn't find anyone to work for us that had a work ethic like us and didn't require a six figure salary. The overhead of 2 people getting merchants and users onboard was brutal. We should have been getting users waaaay before we did. We had a mentality of "it's not quite good enough yet to really try an get users". I still think it could work with a larger more experienced team, and a boatload of money for markting.

On a personal side, joining the startup was the best decision i've ever made. It launched me from print designer to web developer very quickly. The contacts I made and the knowledge i've gained out here are priceless. If you're going to be an unemployed developer, being unemployed in SV is not a bad position to be in... well I hope at least lol.

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

bonzai

That was an awesome writeup man, superb.. I'm sorry to hear it turned out like that, but I bet that was a great experience from a learning perspective.

What is MVP / SV ?

bonzai, about 4 years ago

pineapple

Damn sir, that's rough.

Where did the 6 figures come from, was that an early investment or did you guys put that up between the 3 of you?

Funny you mentioned that about "we will get users later, it's not good enough to get users yet". That was the attitude with Pineapple I had, luckily it turned out great in the end, but realistically I should have had a really crappy site up for the entire time I was building it getting users and resources, etc.

So do you have anything more specific about what things to watch out for when trying to test the waters by asking people? From the looks of it only a small percentage said "I could see people using it", and a large percentage seemed excited, no? What happened there? I'd love to see a list of 5 things that you would or wouldn't do again. You have a great case study in your experience at least.

Do you have any input about how one might hypothetically solve that chicken and egg problem? Obviously sites like groupon did it, I wonder how they did, and many others. The idea seems good, but I have always wondered how bigger successful companies handle the initial hurdle like that, aside from millions of dollars (or maybe that's the only answer, I'm not sure)

pineapple, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010
posted by bonzai on Wed, Nov 21 at 07:21PM

That was an awesome writeup man, superb.. I'm sorry to hear it turned out like that, but I bet that was a great experience from a learning perspective.

What is MVP / SV ?

Oh right, sorry... silly buzz words. MVP is Minimum Viable Product. It's a methodology where you build and launch your product with the minimum number of features, and then itterate fowards, adding in new features when needed/wanted. Ideally it gets you out to market fast so you can see if your idea is even worth doing, and also keep you from making a lot of assumptions on what your users want. Then once you're launched you can ask and listen to what features your users really do want, like Mr. Pineapple (Travis right?) asks what features people want and they say X, Y,Z would be really nice, and if a lot of people want X or Y, then it gets implemented. We really botched this up in the beginning and put way too many features that no one ended up using.

I'm sorry to hear it turned out like that, but I bet that was a great experience from a learning perspective.

Absolutely. I'm a glass half-full guy anyhow, but I've learned sooo much in the past 10 months. I was actually googling on how to change a link hover color when I started! It does suck for the investor though, but angel investing is really really risky, especially a first startup.

What is MVP / SV ?

SV is just short for Silicon Valley. It's an area of N. California that ranges from San Jose to San Francisco, and is where a lot of tech companies are. For me it's like the hollywood version of tech! lol.

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

bonzai

Thanks for the clarification, SkinnyGeek! I loved reading that story (I find these things fascinating). So, any new projects in the works?

bonzai, about 4 years ago

pineapple

Mr. Pineapple (Travis right?)

You are correct!

pineapple, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010
posted by pineapple on Wed, Nov 21 at 07:28PM

Damn sir, that's rough.

Where did the 6 figures come from, was that an early investment or did you guys put that up between the 3 of you?

It was mainly from an angel investor, along with a smaller portion (< 20k) from one of the co-founders families, which he even joked earlier, "well it's likely going to fail but you should get as far as you can!", so I don't think he even blinked when it was over.

Funny you mentioned that about "we will get users later, it's not good enough to get users yet". That was the attitude with Pineapple I had, luckily it turned out great in the end, but realistically I should have had a really crappy site up for the entire time I was building it getting users and resources, etc.

Yea it's very easy to do. I'm working on a side project to show at job interviews (backbone powered mobile web app) and I even find myself doing it again. Being somewhat of a perfectionist it's easy to want to stay in and tweak away. I'm definitely going to release a 'beta' when it just barely works though!

So do you have anything more specific about what things to watch out for when trying to test the waters by asking people? From the looks of it only a small percentage said "I could see people using it", and a large percentage seemed excited, no? What happened there? I'd love to see a list of 5 things that you would or wouldn't do again. You have a great case study in your experience at least.

Hmm that's a great question. Human phycology makes it really difficult to read what some will actually do.... especially if it costs money (ours didn't though). I suppose you can count on the ones who are begging you to release it and they give you their email so they can keep updated will use it. The hard thing is how do you actually talk to those people... online, in person? Another reason why the MVP model works so good (or the "lean startup methodology" everyone is babbling about) is that you can quickly find out how many of those people will truly use it, and if necessary make changes try again and measure your results.

Another observation is that not everyone will try it out right away, even if they do see themselves able to use it. Early adopters are a special breed in their own right, they usually seek out new things and pride themselves on being the 100th person to use Yelp, and they are usually big proponent or even an evangelist. Most people won't using it until all their friends are using it.

It took over 6 months to open it up to real users to try Tagit, even though the core technology was there after 3 months, and it would have been possible to do it in less time if we had aimed for it. We also definitely wasted time solving things that weren't yet a problem (possible edge cases).

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010

Do you have any input about how one might hypothetically solve that chicken and egg problem? Obviously sites like groupon did it, I wonder how they did, and many others. The idea seems good, but I have always wondered how bigger successful companies handle the initial hurdle like that, aside from millions of dollars (or maybe that's the only answer, I'm not sure)

Groupon started out as "the point" and did something group based... and they noted that most of their users where making group buying deals. The used their existing user base and pivoted to just group buying. They also have the sample problem we ran into... needing sales people to signup merchants in person. I'm not sure how they're doing financially but I know it's not very good.

But yea I wish I knew how to solve the chicken and egg. If I could start over, I would have seeked out help with someone who's really familiar with the area, like a member of the city's chamber of commerce and build up a stronger network. Also I would have paid for the item to be given away, that way there's no risk on the merchant end and you can fill it with better content. More iPads less boring stuff. Fill it up with at least 20 merchants and then release right away. Then I would have made more incentives for the users to go and scan... somehow make it so everyone wins something... tough with little money though. Then hold some kind of big local event so all the papers / bloggers in the area know about it... not sure how to pull this off, especially without the millions of dollars to throw at marketing. I think you also need an Ari Gold character to help hustle with marketing as well!

I'd love to see a list of 5 things that you would or wouldn't do again.

Regarding asking for user input or in general? In general here are my 5 would/wouldn't do again.

Would Do

1 Strip it down and ship early. If you're not embarrassed by it, you waited too long
2 Move to Silicon Valley if financially possible, the energy around here is nice
3. Build it fast, then optimize for speed / efficiency where bottlenecks are seen (software).
4. Startup with multiple founders, having other positive people to pick you up and vise versa really helps. Having different viewpoints & skillsets can help troubleshoot problems and can complement each others skill set. All programmers or all business people would prob. be bad, or at least not ideal.

Wouldn't Do

  1. Get investment in the early stage, bootstrap bootstrap bootstrap (no, not the framework!).
  2. Work on a project that you're not fanatical about, it helps carry you through the lows 3 Wait too long to get users onboard 4 Move away to somewhere new when you depend on local business and local people 5 Assign roles to people. In the early stage everyone one does what they can when needed. 6 Startup with multiple founders, it's like marriage, only you don't get laid. You need to all get along really really well or the 14 hour days will be very long.

I think I covered all the questions... let me know if I missed some!

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010
posted by bonzai on Wed, Nov 21 at 10:03PM

Thanks for the clarification, SkinnyGeek! I loved reading that story (I find these things fascinating).

Thanks! I enjoy helping out others when I can, especially when so many people have helped me.

So, any new projects in the works?

A few, all small software related to build up my GitHub so I can show it when going to job interviews (maybe even to Github that would be epic lol).

My 1st one:
Retina Sprites mixin for Compass, this extends the spriting ability of Compass
http://bit.ly/WA5di4

2nd one:
MistakesDB.com, a site that people can write in mistakes that are common or mistakes they've made. I just wanted to design something from ux to design to front end all by myself. A friend of a friend built the backend in Sinatra.

3nd one: (current)
A backbone powered mobile web app. This one should be working by this weekend, i'll keep you guys posted!

Backburner projects:
A test framework like rspec, but tests visually, really nice for CSS refactoring. I have a super basic manual implementation working but it needs a lot of work yet.

Karel.js , an online canvas based version of Karel using javascript as the learning language, to help people ease into javascript and more importantly, learn how to decompose their programs. (from Stanfords CS106a course... they use Java.. yuck!)

Also, I forgot to post this link on a talk from Patrik at Stripe... really good if your interested in startups:
http://startupschool.org/2012/collison/

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago

pineapple

Great insightful stuff my friend, Really great you are sharing all this with us :)

I'll also check out the YC vid, looks good.

PS... that's pretty impressive if you have done all this and not long ago you were looking up how to change link hover colors.

pineapple, about 4 years ago

pineapple

My main project is Pineapple, but for my side projects I have my spotify playlist app (which got shut down, heh -- I need to find a new domain that isn't C&D worthy, and redeploy). The good news is, some sweet things came out of that but I don't want to discuss those until they happen.

Lately I was thinking what a huge pain it is to find styled forms and how I could probably build something over the weekend (a Pineapple user tweeted asking about styled forms which gave me the idea). I've googled this probably 100 times before and have yet to find a GOOD site which provides a lot of nice form stylings. So yeah, I was thinking of that.

Also, I WAS planning a rather ambitious tracking project but since I found mixpanel that someone posted on here... that basically has done exactly what I was wanting to do.

pineapple, about 4 years ago

SkinnyGeek1010

Great insightful stuff my friend, Really great you are sharing all this with us :)

No prob, hopefully I wasn't yammering on too much =)

...but for my side projects I have my spotify playlist app (which got shut down, heh -- I need to find a new domain that isn't C&D worthy, and redeploy). The good news is, some sweet things came out of that but I don't want to discuss those until they happen.

Wow, good luck! I find it incredibly hard to find good playlists on spotify... very hit or miss.

Lately I was thinking what a huge pain it is to find styled forms and how I could probably build something over the weekend (a Pineapple user tweeted asking about styled forms which gave me the idea). I've googled this probably 100 times before and have yet to find a GOOD site which provides a lot of nice form stylings. So yeah, I was thinking of that.

Interesting! Come to think of it, I also have a really hard time finding good forms too. I just searched 'freebie' on Dribbble and after 28 pages gave up with 0 forms, (2 login boxes) lol. Twitter bootstrap is pretty nice, but then it is immediately recognizable as a bootstrap site.

SkinnyGeek1010, about 4 years ago


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