“I’m a telecom expert looking to try and come up with an innovative idea as a service. I’m tired of selling my hours for dollars, but I’m not sure how to convert my expertise into a service I can sell online.
Do you have any tips for helping me discover potential ideas someone with my skill-set can build off of?”
I’ve spoken with many entrepreneurs who are in the same boat as this telecom expert. They’ve got a lot of professional experience, have been learning to code, and want to build a service that is at the intersection of both their passion, skill, and experience. They just need help finding the right idea to test. Here are a few strategies you can use to come up with an idea.
Ask yourself, Who do I want to work with?
It’s critical that you first think about the people you enjoy working with. Your customers are the most important part of your business, if you hate interacting with them on a daily basis then you are destined to burn out and/or be very unhappy. What are you passionate about? Where does your passion meet your skill and experience? Take a few minutes and create a list of potential markets where you feel there are customers who might need your help.
Search for pain
Now that you have some ideas for who you want to work with, it’s time to discover problems that are a high priority for those customers and that you think you can solve. Write a short paragraph about the day in the life of this customer. This will help you think about where you can find these types of people. Here are some questions you should be looking to answer:
- What are the challenges they face in their business or life?
- What are their top 3 pain points? What keeps them up at night?
- You want to avoid solving problems that aren’t critical.
- If it’s a business, How are they running the business today?
- What types of software do they use to run their business?
- What do they like about their current software? What do they not like?
Leverage existing networks
How can I reach out to my first customers? Leverage existing networks that have a built in audience. Look for a forum, a facebook group, or meetup.com group where these tyes of customers go regularly. If the group is online, here’s an example post I did on Reddit when searching for small business to build software for:
Hey everyone, I’m a developer/entrepreneur and am looking to build my next SaaS product. I’m searching for pain points that businesses face that I can solve.
- What business are you in?
- What’s process/challenge causing you to lose money or time?
- What pain points do you have?
- What thoughts do you have for where I can search for pain?
Thanks for your help!
Believe it or not I got a bunch of ideas from this. I ended up testing one and invalidating it and am now searching for my next one. The responses to my post for this particular market all suggested that the current software was really poor quality. After narrowing down my idea, I found local business that matched my target and I spent a week going to each one and introducing myself to the owner.
Here’s my pitch:
“Hey, I’m Alex, I’m a local entrepreneur and I’m looking to build a new software product for (name type of business that customer is in or describe type of customer). I’m not selling anything yet and am just hoping to learn more, What are your thoughts on taking a few minutes to talk?”
Note: These interviews are best done in person but if you have to you can try cold calling. Also, try and record everything. The information you get will be very useful later on when you’re trying to define the problem you’re solving.
Most people were very open to talk because they truly hated their existing solution. I ended up invalidating this idea because the market was too fragmented and the MVP needed to be too complex for too small a niche of that market to sell. (More on that in a separate post)
Map out your idea
Now that you’ve got an idea, it’s time to get organized. Get out a business model canvas and begin the process of customer development. I’ve linked to more resources on that. Once you’ve mapped out your idea, you understand your customer, how that market is divided up, and the problem you are trying to solve it’s time to build your first Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is where the ability to code may or may not come into play. I love Paul Graham’s essay Build Things that Don’t Scale because it’s a good example of how you can build an MVP that tests your model without writing any code. I also recommend checking out Ryan Hoover’s post The Wisdom of The 20 Minute Startup. This should give you some ideas.
What other ways do you think you could find an idea for your next business?