Curated startup advice from successful founders and investors

Startup Idea Generation Guide ✏️📚💭

We made this page because we know there’s a lack of consolidated advice across the internet from good founders – even though there’s already a ton of useful advice online. Below, we put together this idea generation guide. Enjoy!

1 How do I come up with good startup ideas? Ryan Hoover, Sam Altman, Tyler Tringas…
2 Which idea should I work on? Mark Pincus, Elon Musk, David Heineme…
3 How do I validate that this is a good idea? Rob Walling, Mike Taber, Paul Graham
4 Should I worry about competition? Paul Graham

How do I come up with good startup ideas?

ryan hoover

Ryan Hoover - How to come up with side project ideas 💡
Founder, ProductHunt

  1. - Reflect on your day-to-day.
  2. - Ask your friends.
  3. - Explore emerging platforms.
  4. - Browse Product Hunt.
  5. - Explore GitHub.
  6. - Turn a feature into a standalone product.
  7. - Go to a hackathon.
  8. - Read the internet.
sam altman

Sam Altman - How to Succeed with a Startup
CEO, OpenAI / Former President, Y Combinator

  1. - If you can build a product that is so good, people spontaneously tell their friends about it, you have done 80% of the work that you need to be a really successful startup.
  2. - Another thing that startups need to look for is, a market that is either started to undergo, or is soon gonna undergo exponential growth. What you really want to do is identify a market that's gonna grow every year, and be able to ride that up elevator.
  3. - Real trends are ones where a new technology platform comes along, and the early adopters use it obsessively, and tell their friends how much they love it. A fake trend is one where, people may buy the product but don't use it, or at least not enough.
tyler tringas

Tyler Tringas - Finding Micro-SaaS Business Ideas
Founder, Earnest Capital / Founder, StoreMapper

  1. - Scratch your own itch
  2. - Niche versions of existing SaaS
  3. - Repeatable freelance and consulting work
  4. - Automate manual tasks
  5. - Build upon growing platforms
mike taber

Mike Taber - Episode 264 | How to Identify New Product Ideas
Founder, Bluetick / Founder, MicroConf

You can also start taking a look at products that are out there that you like or admire. Or dislike, or don’t like for whatever reason, and you want to create a new version of it that performs in a different way. So you start taking those ideas and as you’re putting them down, typically you can think of variations of those ideas. So for example, if you start thinking about, let’s say, accounting software for example. Accounting software is a very broad idea, but how can you slice up that idea into smaller pieces of it. You can think about it in terms of sending invoices, sending receipts for things that people are purchasing. You can also think of it in terms of just capturing payment information, for example. There’s a lot of different ways to slice up that invoicing thing.

paul graham

Paul Graham - How to get startup ideas
Founder, Y Combinator

  1. - Live in the future, then build what's missing. That describes the way many if not most of the biggest startups got started. Neither Apple nor Yahoo nor Google nor Facebook were even supposed to be companies at first. They grew out of things their founders built because there seemed a gap in the world.
  2. - The place to start looking for ideas is things you need. There must be things you need.
  3. - One good trick is to ask yourself whether in your previous job you ever found yourself saying "Why doesn't someone make x? If someone made x we'd buy it in a second." If you can think of any x people said that about, you probably have an idea. You know there's demand, and people don't say that about things that are impossible to build.
pieter levels

Pieter Levels - MAKE: Bootstrapper's Handbook
Founder, NomadList

To get ideas, try to find problems in your daily life. You're the foremost expert at problems you have, more than anyone else who doesn't have them. If you keep coming up with the same ideas as everyone else: try to make yourself a more original person by actively experiencing different things. Don't shy away from taboos and fringe ideas, that just mean you're ahead of the curve, they might become the next big thing. Don't think big, start thinking small first, then take it one step at a time, you'll become big by starting small. To avoid groupthink and drama: work alone, especially early on. Share your ideas freely to get other people's input on them. Log every idea you have, filter them, and see which ones you can execute upon.

amy hoy

Amy Hoy - How do you create a product people want to buy?
Founder, 30x500

  1. - You don’t ask, “Who would buy this?”. You ask, “Who wants to buy something, and what is it?”. You start with the customer first.
  2. - Who are you serving? You can’t ask “What do they want?” without having a “they” in mind. But, while there’s all kinds of startup chatter about “niche selection” and how critical it is, this step is not a big deal.
  3. - What do they need/want, and are ready to buy? And here is where the real value starts to happen. Let’s say you’re a Ruby developer so (*shakes finger*) you’re going to serve Ruby developers. Now you need to research them, to find out what Ruby developers need, want, and are ready to buy.
  4. - How can I reach my potential customers and persuade them to buy? Fact: If you can market effectively, you can make sales before you build the product (pre-sales). But if you ship a product and have no way to market it, you can’t make any sales at all.
dane maxwell

Dane Maxwell - Intro to Idea Extraction
Founder, The Foundation

  1. Seven criteria you should be looking for when searching for a lucrative market:
  2. 1 - The business currently pays for software of some kind
  3. 2 - Lucrative (highly profitably) industries are preferred
  4. 3 - Has a profit driven business mindset
  5. 4 - Roughly 5,000 to 10,000 businesses (or more) in the market
  6. 5 - Reachable by phone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or message boards
  7. 6 - Can get person with pain point on the phone
  8. 7 - The average successful business earns at least $100k per year in revenue, and ideally profit (guesstimate this)
michael seibel

Michael Seibel - How to Get and Test Startup Ideas
CEO, Y Combinator / Founder,

  1. When you think about a problem, you should be asking yourself do I have any relationship with this problem personally. Is this a problem that I have, is this a problem my friends have, is this a problem my family has, is this a problem that exists with work, is it a problem that’s in my community. Oftentimes having a personal connection to the problem is helpful for 2 reasons.
  2. 1 - You can tell whether the solution is even within the ballpark of solving the problem
  3. 2 - When you’re feeling discouraged and the solutions you’re building aren’t working, you still have some personal connection to the problem that sees you through until you find a solution that does work.
peter thiel

Peter Thiel - Zero to One, Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup Notes
Founder, Paypal/ Founder, Palantir

  1. - The business version of our contrarian question is: what valuable company is nobody building? This question is harder than it looks, because your company could create a lot of value without becoming very valuable itself. Creating value is not enough—you also need to capture some of the value you create.
  2. - There are secrets of nature and then there are secrets about people. Natural secrets involve science and the world around us. The process of finding them involves going out and getting the universe to yield its secrets to us. Secrets about people are different. These are things that people hide because they don’t want other people to know about them. So two distinct questions to ask are: What secrets is nature not telling you? What secrets are people not telling you?
  3. - We know that important secrets are neither small nor silly nor esoteric. The important ones are the big ones that are true. So those are the first two criteria to build into your model. You can safely discard anything that is small or false.

Which idea should I work on?

sam altman

Sam Altman - How to Succeed with a Startup
CEO, OpenAI / Former President, Y Combinator

If you can't explain in a few words what you do, and if at least some people don't say, "Oh, that's pretty interesting.", that's usually a mistake. It's usually a sign of unclear thinking, or a need that is not big enough.

mark pincus

Mark Pincus - How To Kill Your Bad Ideas
Founder, Zynga

But experience will teach you that the true value of any individual idea lies in how close it gets you to your ultimate goal. If it doesn't move the needle, you have to axe it quickly, and find a better idea that propels you forward.

mike taber

Mike Taber - Episode 264 | How to Identify New Product Ideas
Founder, Bluetick / Founder, MicroConf

  1. - The basis for idea filtering is to walk through each of those ideas and develop a list of pros, cons, and disqualifiers for each of those ideas.
  2. - Something constitutes a pro for an idea if you have domain expertise or you have personal contacts or the engineering effort for something like that is going to be low or if you have passion for the idea or the problem space. Or if there is existing products out there, the product or the problem that it’s trying to solve are easy to explain. These are all considered pros for an idea.
  3. - So in terms of cons, some of the things that I’ve used in the past are looking at the number of competitors for different products. Or if the concept or the difference from existing solutions is very difficult to explain, it’s a huge amount of engineering effort or it’s going to take a long time to bring the product to market.
david heinemeier hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson - Work on your best idea
Founder, Basecamp / Creator, Ruby on Rails

(Work on your best idea) Are you working on your best idea right now? Why would you want to pour so much of yourself into anything less than your best idea? Other ideas might seem more achievable or convenient, but if your heart and mind is elsewhere it’s all for naught.

paul graham

Paul Graham - How to get startup ideas
Founder, Y Combinator

So if you want to find startup ideas, don't merely turn on the filter "What's missing?" Also turn off every other filter, particularly "Could this be a big company?" There's plenty of time to apply that test later. But if you're thinking about that initially, it may not only filter out lots of good ideas, but also cause you to focus on bad ones.

elon musk

Elon Musk - How to Build the Future
Founder, SpaceX / Tesla

  1. - "What can I do that would actually be useful?"
  2. - Well, I think you make some estimates of, whatever this thing is that you're trying to create, what would be the utility delta compared to the current state of the art times how many people it would affect. So that's why I think having something that makes a big difference but affects sort of small to moderate number of people is great, as is something that makes even a small difference but affects a vast number of people. The area under the curve would actually be roughly similar for those two things, so it's actually really about just trying to be useful and matter.

How do I validate that this is a good idea?

mike taber

Mike Taber - Episode 264 | How to Identify New Product Ideas
Founder, Bluetick / Founder, MicroConf

Another thing that you can start asking people about is whether or not they use existing solutions, are they paying for those solutions. If they are how much are they paying for them, does it work for them, what do they like about it, what do they dislike. And once you start getting further into those conversations, you start asking questions about who makes the decisions about paying for those types of solutions, what schedule do they make those payments on? Do they pay a one time fee for them, do they pay monthly, do they pay an annual fee for it?

paul graham

Paul Graham - How to get startup ideas
Founder, Y Combinator

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: Who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they'll use it even when it's a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they've never heard of? If you can't answer that, the idea is probably bad.

Should I worry about competition?

paul graham

Paul Graham - How to get startup ideas
Founder, Y Combinator

When startups consume incumbents, they usually start by serving some small but important market that the big players ignore. It's particularly good if there's an admixture of disdain in the big players' attitude, because that often misleads them. For example, after Steve Wozniak built the computer that became the Apple I, he felt obliged to give his then-employer Hewlett-Packard the option to produce it. Fortunately for him, they turned it down, and one of the reasons they did was that it used a TV for a monitor, which seemed intolerably déclassé to a high-end hardware company like HP was at the time.


david heinemeier hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson - There's no room for The Idea Guy
Founder, Basecamp / Creator, Ruby on Rails

The truth is that most everyone has plenty of ideas that could work out to be great businesses. The kicker is most often the right execution, that they’d be responsible for anyway, at the right time, which is almost impossible to predict. The value of The Perfect Idea is very small indeed. That doesn’t mean it’s useless to have big ideas and plenty of enthusiasm. If you’re that guy, you’ve got a great start. Now pick up a functional skill and help build it your damn self.