Finding a Problem to Solve: What If You Don’t Yet Have an Idea?

Struggling for Ideas? Let’s Tackle That!

I hear you. Wanting to create a digital product and not knowing where to begin can be very painful. My recommendations are:

Scratch Your Own Itch

Carry a small notepad and pen with you where ever you go. FieldNotes are great and tiny and pocketable. I personally use what’s known as a ‘Hipster PDA’— a small binder clip and a stack of index cards. That and a pen (obviously). If you ever run into an annoyance or irritation you wish someone would fix for you – write it down. Even the bad ideas! Writing your bad ideas down is helpful for a few reasons:

  1. It stops you from self-editing. The part of your brain that comes up with the ideas is different from the part of your brain that critiques the ideas. If you’re always trying to figure out if an idea is worth writing down, you’ll have less ideas.
  2. Sometimes, an idea might not impress at first, but with a few adjustments, it can turn into a winner!
  3. Or simply the passage of time. Consider how meal kit deliveries might have seemed unnecessary in the 90s when most people preferred direct delivery. Now, with a greater focus on health and convenience, plus improved logistics, it’s a booming industry. Time can turn a simple idea into a great business.

Capturing every idea, good or bad, can lead to unexpected breakthroughs as you connect different concepts or improve upon them over time. So whenever you wish someone would fix something, write it down.

  • Wish you had an app to tell you if mangoes are fresh? Write it down!
  • Wish you had a cheap set of videos and worksheets to help your kid with French conjugation of passé composé? – Write it down!

By documenting what frustrates you, you’re not just venting; you’re compiling a list of market needs that others likely feel, presenting potential business opportunities. 44% of U.S. customers have abandoned a brand due to frustrations with their product, and 39% have done so more than twice in a year – these frustrated customers represent a huge potential market. For example, Airbnb revolutionized lodging by addressing the high cost and limited availability of hotels during conferences, and Spanx was born from the need for comfortable, supportive undergarments that didn’t exist in the market.

Go with what you know

Reflect deeply on the different aspects of your life that spark passion and purpose. Consider all the facets of your life such as:

  • Demographics: Are you a parent, a 90s kid, or a commuter?
  • Professional Life: What industry do you work in? What tools do you frequently use?
  • Hobbies and Personal Interests: Do you play guitar, enjoy cooking, or go for evening walks?

In each of these areas of your life, are there things you wish were better? Write them down in your notepad. Then, identify 2 – 5 groups that you belong to that you really want to help. Join online communities for those groups, and see what people are talking about. People love to complain! Especially online! If you look at what any of those groups online, you are sure to find a whole list of things they wish were better. Write them down! Jason Forrest, founder of Rigbooks, credits online forums for the ideas that catapulted his successful startup, highlighting how valuable these communities can be for entrepreneurs. Engaging in these communities not only gives you insight into common complaints but also places you in a position to offer solutions, shifting you from a bystander to a change-maker in these spaces.

Fixes for work-related products are a no-brainer. People have certain things they need to get done, but part of it is painful – they will pay to make the pain go away! And their employer will pay to make them more efficient. “There’s this thing that I hate that takes up 25% of my time and there’s a product that fixes it” A business owner sees an opportunity to increase output or decrease cost. For instance, Zenefits was founded in 2013 by Parker Conrad, who was frustrated with the complexity of HR software.

When joining online communities, start by actively participating in discussions related to your areas of interest. Share your experiences, ask questions, and gather feedback on your ideas to refine them further.

In Summary

It can be a challenge to be bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, but not know what business to build. The reality is that everybody is creative, and we are always seeing problems that need solving. We just haven’t trained ourselves to see these things as opportunities.

Keep your notepad handy at all times, and make it a habit to jot down at least one annoyance or idea daily. This routine will help you develop a keen eye for potential improvements and business opportunities. Start by jotting down your daily annoyances for the next two weeks. You’ll quickly build a robust list of potential business ideas based on real-life needs.