Startup Idea Generation 101

How to go from 0 to idea in a few different ways.

Anuraag Yachamaneni
Draft · 5 min read

Thinking of a good startup idea is hard.

Finding a problem to solve, is not. If you want to start a startup, you first need to find a problem that you want to solve. Once you find a problem to solve, figure out who you are solving that problem for. If people are interested in paying for a solution to this problem, congratulations, you have a startup idea!

However, keep two things in mind.

  1. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Just having a good startup idea isn’t enough. Everyone has a great idea, but not everyone can deliver. If you saw the movie The Social Network, countless people had thought of the idea of a college based social media website, yet only Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook succeeded. Why? Execution is everything.
  2. Ideas are malleable. Facebook started of as a social media for college students before branching out to the entire world. Instagram used to be a location based app called Burbn before the founders pivoted to the photo-sharing app that Instagram is today. The key takeaway here is that ideas can change; don’t get too stuck on them. It is more important that you are solving a problem and your solution will evolve as you iterate.

Awesome! So how exactly do you find a problem to solve?

📖 Keep Track of Problems You Face Daily

This is one of the simplest techniques for finding a great startup idea. As you go about your business, keep a journal of any problems that you face in your day to day. For example, maybe you were planning on driving to Bloomington to watch Purdue destroy IU in football, but when you get in the car, it won’t start. You think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could order a mechanic to come fix my car directly at my house?.” Write that down. Maybe you’re in the shower, an hour before your Calc 3 exam, wishing you could study your notes at the same time. Write that down. If you really get down to it, you will find that there are an immeasurable amount of things that you wish you had in order to make your life easier.

At the end of each week, revisit the ideas problem you’ve written down in your journal. Flesh them out a bit more, do some research on them, and start writing down some preliminary solutions. Start trying to figure out which problems you are truly interested in solving and how you would solve them. After a few of weeks of this exercise, take a final step back and hone in on the singular problem/solution that you care about the most. You know have a startup idea. Keep in mind that even if you don’t find an important enough problem you want to solve or solution you want to implement, do not give up hope, you are still developing an entrepreneurial mindset and critical thinking skills that will be useful in life.

💬 Talk to the 3 Ps (Peers, Parents, and Professionals)

Just because a problem is important to you, does not necessarily mean it is important to other people. Another way to find problems to solve is by talking to people. First, talk to your peers and parents. See what problems they seem to face in their daily lives and write them down. Keep track of these problems in your journal just as I suggested above and treat them the same way you treat your own ideas. It’s important to talk to a diverse group of people so that you can get a diverse group of ideas. You need to figure out what your unfair advantage is when it comes to people. Maybe you have a lot of family friends who are doctors and complain about the healthcare system. Maybe a lot of your peers have parents who are small business owners who complain about taxes. Leverage your unfair advantage to get access to big problems that others might not know about.

Let’s say you don’t think you have any unfair advantage (even though you already do just by being a student) and your peers/parents aren’t giving you any great problems to solve. There is another avenue for figuring out problems to target, professionals in industry. This idea is simple. Find any industry you’re really passionate about, read about it, talk to people in that industry, and figure out what problems are dogging that industry. For example, let’s say you are super passionate about sports analytics and what to start a startup in that industry. You should read anything and everything related to science of sports analytics. Consume as much information about the field as possible and figure what the pain points in the industry might be. In addition, talk to as many people as you can in the industry and figure out the problems that they face. People in industry love when students show interest in the work that they are doing, and more often than not, are more than happy to talk about their work. In this way, you get direct access to information and problems that very few people have access to. In the end, if you can’t find an exact problem that you want to solve, you will still build up a great knowledge base and an amazing network in an industry that you love.

🙋 Requests for Startups

One more great resource for generating startup ideas are “Requests for Startups” lists. These are lists of startup verticals that have been curated by venture capitalists who want to invest in companies that are located in one of the verticals they’ve specified. At the minimum, these lists should point you in the right direction when you’re searching for industries to research or people you want to talk to.

Here are a few of these lists:

  1. YC Requests for Startups: https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs/
  2. RequestsForStartups.com: http://requestsforstartups.com
  3. Homebrew Requests for Startups: https://quip.com/rcLXASq4IbIj

Conclusion

Overall, those are three great paths you can take when trying to figure what your startup idea is. However, there is something you should keep in mind. You shouldn’t start a startup unless you TRULY care about the problem you want to solve. That means you must be so focused on fixing this problem that you would be ready to work on it for years. If you believe you are ready for this challenge, you have the keys to truly make an impact. Good luck!


The Anvil is a student run, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and empower the entrepreneurs of Purdue University and the Greater Lafayette, Indiana community.

We provide a space for students interested in creating their own companies to meet other like minded peers and exchange ideas with one another, while providing events and resources for the student-run ventures getting their start in West Lafayette.