Brute Forcing My Way To Good Business Ideas
Started: Sep 4, 2017
Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017
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I had the perfect idea. I can’t explain to you how excited I was. This was it! Within 15 minutes of having that idea I had already purchased the domain name (never mind that I later changed the name) and had already started coding it. Then I spent the next three months intensely developing it.
Then I launched. People were excited. 30+ people paid me money for it. Wow, things were going even better than I had hoped.
Then I got the post-launch blues. I had such a clear direction for three months, but now what? I didn’t know what to do.
The post-launch blues should be eliminated in this new project because I’ve taken the time to think ahead. I have a game plan for what I should be doing after launch, so I won’t feel lost once I type
git pull and hit enter. The post-launch blues weren’t the worst of my problems, though. The worst of my problems was that the project that I built wasn’t a good fit for me. I was so excited about the fact that I had come up with a unique SaaS idea that solved a real(ish) problem that I never stopped to think about whether it was something that I wanted to be a part of my life for the next few years.
The idea mentioned above was Feed Hero. It’s a SaaS that helps you get deeper connections from Twitter (an someday maybe from Facebook and other networks). The problem isn’t the SaaS itself. It provides real value and solves a real problem. It has the potential to help quite a few people. The problem is that it no longer solves a problem for me personally, and that makes it tough for me to invest my time into it. And if I had had any foresight it would have been easy to detect this ahead of time.
Over the past few years I’ve been on the path of becoming more and more disconnected from 24/7 technology. So why the hell would I start a Twitter app? Feed Hero helps make shallow Twitter connections deeper. It absolutely works. But I want even deeper connections than that. I’m at a point in my life where I’ll be permanently deleting all of my social media accounts within seconds of offloading all of my sites that involve social media (I can’t do it right now because I need access to the APIs).
Side note: If any PHP developer reading this wants to own Feed Hero let me know. I’d give it to you for free(ish) with a couple of caveats (like I’d retain some equity but not make any decisions) if you could convince me that you could make it better than it currently is. I still really like the concept behind the project and I like the project itself, and would love to see it nurtured. I’m not one of the extremists that thinks that everybody should delete all of their social media accounts. Rather I just don’t think that I personally have the capacity to use it responsibly, so I’d rather not use it at all.
That mistake wasn’t isolated to Feed Hero. I’ve had similar experiences with different projects. In fact, one time I owned a website for four years (actually I still own it, but am in the process of selling it) after I lost interest in it. All because it was making money and because it was too hard to get rid of.
All of that is to say that maybe I should try a different approach to coming up with my next idea. My all-in mentality does allow me to do stuff faster than most other people can do the same. It gets me to launch things fairly regularly. But maybe it’s time to tone it down just a smidgen.
Time to try a new method.
The truth is that I have no idea how to come up with a good business idea. I’ve never tried to. My previous (commercially unsuccessful) projects have all been to scratch my own itches. They’ve all come to me rather than me searching for them. Never before have I sat down and tried to generate an idea from scratch.
But I’m running out of options. Fortunately I was able to save up a 15 month buffer before leaving my 9-5 job last December. But that 15 months is dwindling fast. Sooner or later I’m going to have to start making money.
One thing I do know is that I don’t want to come up with a single idea and then take off running with it without any sort of vetting process. If you read the above sentences you’ll know that I’ve tried and failed several times using this strategy.
So I’m not going to come up with a single idea. Instead I’m going to challenge myself to come up with 100 different business ideas. I’ll do that by listing out every problem I can think of in my life that could theoretically have a software solution.
After that I’ll look through all of those ideas and see if there are any commonalities. Maybe there’s a specific area that is perfect for me to enter. Then I’ll create 100 ideas around those commonalities. And then I’ll come up with some criteria for filtering those ideas down into a more manageable number.
A solution requires a problem, right? So I might as well start with my own problems.
This book is about showing, not telling. So I can’t just tell you that I wrote down a list of frustrations and pain points in my life. I have to show you. Here is my list. Feel free to skim through this or skip it entirely.
- I don't consistently show up. This is the single biggest reason why I've yet to have any entrepreneurial success. I have all of the concrete skills, yet I have no major success stories to share. I lose interest easily. I get distracted easily. I get easily demoralized by my lack of "success". I quit.
- I “work” too much and too late into the evenings. I get so excited by a project that I can’t pull myself away from the screen even long after my brain has stopped being efficient.
- I don’t have enough structure in my life. The freedom of entrepreneurship seems like a great thing, and mostly it is, but sometimes it goes too far.
- Email feels like a terrible way to communicate with my fans. This isn’t to say that email doesn’t “work” in the sense of turning website visitors into subscribers into money. But is there something that works better? Is there a way where creators could benefit from a fanbase beyond the bounds of just the mass marketing campaigns? What if a creator could interact with fans in such a way that they could become allies?
- I don’t have many fans. It’s easy to blame my inconsistency for this, and that’s true. But one of the reasons I’m so inconsistent is because I don’t have any encouragement to help me through the rough patches. I often feel like nobody cares and then find it tough to continue. I’m not saying that there should be a shortcut to success, but it’s the up-and-comers who need encouragement from fans most of all.
- When I see someone on the street that I don't know I'm hesitant to say hi to them for a myriad of reasons, let alone to start a meaningful conversation with them. The same goes even for more intimate settings were two or more people are hanging out in the same area for a long period of time, but yet still never interact.
- When I'm deep into a project I often fail to give my wife and my dog the love and attention that they deserve.
- It’s hard to go out to eat in cities that I'm not familiar with because I'm not sure where in town might have organic and grass fed food, and where doesn’t use crappy oils.
- There are things like reading and drawing and yoga and working out and other things that make my life sooooo much better, but I struggle to find the time to squeeze them into my daily life on a regular basis.
- I really hate social media, but I feel mildly trapped into it. Will I be impacting my ability to spread my message if I give it up? Probably not meaningfully. If I spent that same time reaching out to just one person in an intimate way and asking for help wouldn’t that have a bigger payoff?
- I’m always moving on to the next cool idea before finishing the previous cool idea. I have shiny object syndrome.
- I can’t reach out to people for help without them assuming that I’m no good because I’m unknown. I guess that’s why LinkedIn was originally created, but screw LinkedIn.
- I struggle to slow down, especially when I’m excited about a project. No matter what I’m doing I can’t resist thinking about how much I want to get back to work, and that eagerness to get out of the current situation and back into a different one makes me miss out on all of the joys of the current situation.
- Blogging is a weird medium in which each blog post about a given topic has diminishing returns. There’s only so much to be said about X. And each post about X is less valuable than the previous.
- I want to help the right people. I love the idea of maintaining personal relationships with my fans. But I hate the idea of dumping my hard work into someone who doesn’t give a crap. Is there a way to separate my actual fans from people who are on my email list but don’t really care about me?
- I have cool thoughts and see cool things, but I don’t want to stop to write them down and to photograph them. I enjoy the moment so much that I rarely record it.
- I spend way too much time intentionally distracting myself by twitching to ESPN, Twitter, Pick Monitor, Google Analytics, etc in a single moment of not knowing what to do next.
- I go on my computer or phone for one specific thing and then end up spending 2-200 minutes doing something unrelated that I didn’t have any desire to do, thereby eating into my day.
- I have a constant fear that the person I’m talking to (in person) is going to pick up her phone because she’s bored with me. That’s maybe a tiny bit a personal issue, but more so I think it’s a legitimate concern that there’s no real reason for me to invest myself in a conversation if it might be rudely cut off.
- I struggle to maintain real-life friendships because real-life gets busy and I forget to stay in contact with people I like. This goes beyond existing friendships, actually. It also includes possible budding friendships. Eg I met so many awesome people at WDS that I genuinely think I could be good friends with, but then life got in the way and I forgot to follow up with most of them.
- I struggle to maintain digital friendships partially because the commonly accepted forms of internet communication (email, twitter, facebook) don’t feel friendly to me. Also largely because I don’t connect with someone for a while, and then I feel like it’s weird to connect since we’re not “good” friends and it’s been so long, and then I never connect.
- I find it impossible to find a work-life balance in which I’m working similar numbers of hours each week. I’m instead on the extreme end of things, tending to either not work at all or work all day every day. I find that this impacts my relationships, particularly with my wife, as sometimes I’m hyper-available and sometimes I’m unavailable.
- I wish I felt more important.
- I’m not sure if my ideas are any good, and I’m definitely not sure which one is the best. Is there a good way to test that?
- I feel weird about adding more stuff to this world. There are too many apps and SaaSs already. The world might benefit more from less than it would from more. Is there a way for me to make a business out of convincing others to go out of business? If not, could I combine the pain points that multiple other apps solve into a single app? Technically, yes, this would be increasing the number of apps in existence. But it would be decreasing the number of apps that an individual user uses.
- Balancing consumption (learning) with production (doing) is hard. I could read, watch, and listen for all of infinity without ever running out of content, the whole time becoming theoretically more suited to tackle whatever it is that I want to tackle. But of course in that scenario I’d never tackle a damn thing. On the other hand I could turn off all outside input and just make stuff. But then I’ll be needlessly reinventing a lot of wheels. Is there a way to find the perfect middle ground?
- Because I own websites I feel like I have to bring my computer with me everywhere, and that sucks. Sometimes I just want to runaway to the woods.
- Maintaining multiple sites, especially when each is custom-coded, can be a pain in the butt with regard to making sure that the subtle intricacies don’t get messed up. I don’t want to worry about accidentally messing up the SEO of a site or the social shareability or stupid things like that.
- I spend too much time doing mindless crap, and even more time thinking about whether that mindless crap should be done, and if so how it should be done. An example of this is my content distribution strategy for my Pat On Purpose articles. Should I post them only here? Or also to Medium? What about excerpts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Should I have a subscriber list that gets them more directly?
- Beer is so delicious, but I find it very hard to only have a few per week. This applies with other food, too. Is there a way that I can have a little bit of indulgence without going off the deep end?
- I spend more time online than I’d like to. I want to be as disconnected as possible while also being as connected as necessary. But it’s so addicting, and once I go on for one thing I’m hooked.
- I hate answering the "what do you do" question. Mostly because I’m not “successful” and therefore feel like people are gong to hate me if I answer honestly.
- I don't know what to do with projects I no longer care about. I want to give them away as opposed to shutting them down because they’re pretty cool. But how do I find someone qualified that wants them? And how can I be guaranteed that that person will actually invest any time into the project?
- When I get into one of my long working stretches my health suffers. I can’t even make myself get up and walk for five minutes every hour because I’m too in the zone and that seems like nonsense.
- I feel like I have to be productive all the time and am hesitant to do anything that doesn’t seem like it’s furthering whatever goal I’m going towards. That’s why I’ll stare at my screen long into the night, because it feels productive, but I won’t pick up a book that I really want to read. That book would be a waste of time according to some stupid part of my head.
Patterns and Similarities
By re-reading those problems I came up with the following list of general pain points that I’d love to solve.
- Prevent my own lack of self control from harming me, especially regarding spending time using certain technologies when they aren’t providing me any value.
- Create more time and space for myself to think deeply, or even just to be deeply.
- Get accountability to help me through the tough times and get things done.
- Get accountability to avoid the temptations (like ice cream cake).
- Find a way to keep long-term goals exciting for longer.
- Connect more deeply with people I like.
- Connect more deeply with my fans and have them connect more deeply with me.
- Spend less time “working” but more time working by making sure I’m doing high-value output and avoid the temptation to spend my time chasing false “rewards” like Instagram likes.
- Automate monotonous tasks so that there is more time for creating.
- Create a more efficient/compelling way to share my message with the world.
- Find a group of friends with a similar skill set that would be willing to look after each other’s projects when one person is off in la la land.
100 15 Business Ideas
Rapid-fire ideas that are purposefully incomplete, largely based around the problems listed above. The idea with these isn’t just to solve my personal problems, but to solve the problems for anybody else who is also suffering from it.
- A desktop app like focus - but way more flexible - that lets you set up parental controls for your own technology use, blocking (or whitelisting) apps and websites. You could allow social media from 9-9:30, email from 9-9:30 and again from 4-4:30, etc. Or you could have a timeframe where your writing app, for example, is the only app that will open.
- A phone and desktop app that automatically charges your credit card if you use your device during a time when you said you weren’t going to use your device. You set a timer for how long you want to go unplugged and then you turn your device off. If the app is able to ping a server (because your device got turned back on) before your timer is up then your credit card gets charged whatever preconfigured amount you set.
- A website that allows you to split-test multiple business ideas with pre-launch landing pages so you can figure out which one gets the most public interest. You’d quickly fill out some info into some landing page templates. Then the site would track all kinds of analytics as you referred people to each of the multiple offers. Based on those analytics you’d have a good idea of which project was more interesting to the people.
- A website that allows you to give away old projects that you’re no longer interested in working on. Instead of selling on Flippa you’d be giving these away for free, except that maybe you’d keep a % of equity. You’d be able to chat with interested parties to make sure they seem serious about working on the project and are a good fit.
- An app that automatically turns your device off at a preconfigured schedule such that you’d be forced to sit there and do nothing for 30 seconds while it reboots which could be enough time to consider going to bed or doing something else. eg I might schedule my computer to automatically turn off at 7pm every night. If there’s something that I was genuinely working hard on then I’d just boot back up. But if I was just noodling around then that’d be enough encouragement for me to get up and do something else.
- An app that integrates with your contacts, call history, and text message history and nudges you to follow up with friends that you haven’t talked to in a while. Like Feed Hero, essentially, but for contacts in your phone.
- A text-message alternative to MailChimp. Lists, campaigns, subscribers, and all that jazz, except the medium would be SMS instead of email.
- A unified inbox for email, social media, slack, etc. Get all of your notifications in a single place. Not only would that be more convenient, but it’d also - if it acted like normal email with read, unread, and archive functionality then it would ensure that you never overlook a messages again.
- A priority email inbox that only allows accepted emails from your very best connections, thus allowing you to stay in touch with the people you care most about without having to worry about getting constant notifications that you don’t care as much about. I’ve heard aggressive arguments both for and against having email on your phone. This could be a nice middle ground.
- A no-messing-around social media detox SaaS that changes the passwords of all of your social media accounts for a period that you specify and then changes the passwords back at the end, and you have to pay a steep fee if you want the passwords to be changed back earlier.
- A SaaS that hooks up to your ESP that gives your best fans access to content before the rest of your fans who in turn get access before the general public.
- An accountability tool that asks you to say what you’re going to do and also asks for the email addresses of five of your personal friends, all of whom will be notified of whether you did or didn’t do what you said you were going to do.
- A SaaS that combines the email component of MailChimp, the live-chat and personalized feel of Intercom, and the commenting system of Disqus to make a great experience for creators who want to have intimate relationships with their fans.
- A SaaS that would automatically publish to Twitter, Facebook, Medium, etc for you as soon as you hit publish on any post. It could work via an RSS feed so that it wouldn’t have to be a platform-specific plugin. You could set a delay between the timestamp in the RSS and when it should be published various places.
- A SaaS that pings your site on a regular basis and emails you if anything has gone awry. It could monitor opengraph tags, accessibility, SEO tags, and more. That way site owners have a few less tests to worry about each time they push code.
Who Do I Want To Serve?
This was supposed to be a randomly spewed list of 100 business ideas. But after posting the working draft (which had just the 15 ideas above on it) I got a super thoughtful email from my buddy Dave.
Side note: This is a perfect example of the benefits of talking about this project in real-time instead of waiting until after. Feedback.
Dave made a strong case that instead of thinking of ideas in a free-for-all manner I should instead think about the audience / market that I want to help and then think about what problems they have and what I can do to help them.
That makes a lot of sense. Not only is that probably a better way of thinking of this project, but it'll also ensure that all future projects (if applicable) are geared toward the same audience. Or in other words I won't find myself again in the position I'm in now with one sports website, one car website, one social media website, and one accountability website.
I’m going to leave those 15 free-for-all ideas up there (because this project is all about not hiding the blemishes) but now I’m going to transition to Dave’s approach. I'll generate ideas for the market I want to serve. But first I have to figure out what that market is.
Bloggers and SaaSy Solopreneurs (solo entrepreneurs that own software-as-a-service businesses) are the two markets that immediately jump out at me without thinking. Maybe that lack of thinking will come back to bite me. But I have less than a year to finish this thing, so I’m going to trust my instinct on this one.
Most of the problems I have encountered in my short SaaSy Solopreneur life have been a direct result of not having an audience, which is a blog-related problem. Every SaaSy Solopreneur that I know is also a blogger, so I’m going to start there. I’ll adjust later if needed.
I’m not going to list the problems that bloggers face, though. Instead I’m going to list the wishes that they have. That’s almost the same thing, but with one important difference. Just because a problem exists doesn’t mean that bloggers are aware of it and/or want to solve it. What’s the point of creating a solution to a problem that people don’t actively want to solve?
These are all wishes that I have myself. But note that I’m only listing wishes that I’m pretty sure lots of other bloggers have too. I’ll test that hypothesis later.
- I wish I posted more consistently.
- I wish my writing was better.
- I wish I could get subscribers/fans.
- I wish my subscribers/fans cared more about me.
- I wish I got more traffic.
- I wish I could monetize my traffic better.
Now it’s time to think of some ways that I can satisfy these wishes.
How Can I Help Bloggers Post More Consistently?
Related: Imposter Syndrome, Focus and Direction, Writer’s Block, Accountability, Inspiration, Audience Engagement
- An accountability tool that forces bloggers to publish consistently. It could be the world’s simplest app. You enter your website, make a pledge, and then enter your credit card number. The app checks your website to make sure that new content has been published. If you stop publishing you get charged. I’d want to do something cool with that money such that I wouldn’t just be taking money from people.
- Make writing more enjoyable by making an app like Bear that works on Android and Windows as well as on iOS and Mac. I switched to iPhone solely so that I could use Bear. Seriously. But I’m guessing that there are lots of Android users who aren’t willing to take that extreme step and also aren’t willing to use Bear if it’s not cross-device compatible. It’s a lot less valuable as just a desktop app.
- A tool that automatically posts all of your new posts to Facebook, Twitter, Medium, etc on an optional delay. How does this help consistency? Because a lot of people see these pain-in-the-butt tasks as mandatory and that adds weight to the “I don’t feel like blogging” side of the scale.
- A book-formatted blogging system (sort of like what I made for Pat On Purpose) that allows bloggers to easily tie-together thematically related posts. This would make the blogger feel that there was more purpose and cohesion and value behind her posts, and would therefore make her more inspired to keep posting.
How Can I Help Bloggers Write Better?
Related: Finding Your Voice, Consistency, Giving a Crap, Target/Niche
- A tool in the realm of Hemingway or Grammarly that analyzes a post and provides a score as well as some suggestions.
- An easier-to-digest analytics app that takes zero technical skills and quickly tells writers which of their posts resonated most strongly with readers and which paragraphs in each post caused people to fall off.
- A writing app that has a hardcore mode in which no other app on the computer can be used for a specified period of time. Writer’s block lasts a lot longer when you have infinite distractions at your fingertips.
How Can I Help Bloggers Get More Subscribers?
Related: Calls to Action, Unique Selling Proposition, Content Quality, Consistency, Distribution Channels, Target/Niche
- A SaaS that combines email marketing, live chat, and comments all into one. The live chat would attempt to engage visitors. If successful the visitor would then become a fan (subscriber), and all future communication, including marketing messages, would be flow seamlessly between email and live chat. Comments would be fan-only so if you wanted to comment you’d have to become a fan in order to do so.
- A less-bloated, less obnoxious version of SumoMe.
How Can I Help Bloggers Increase the Quality of Their Subscribers?
Related: Outreach, Giving a Crap, Personality, Intimacy, Distribution Channels, Target/Niche
- A SaaS that allows bloggers to offer a conditionally free newsletter to their fans. Engaged fans get the writing for free. Disengaged fans are forced to pay.
- A SaaS that automatically dumps “fans” who aren’t acting very fanly. Fans on the verge of a break up get a couple of emails demanding that they change for this relationship to work. And if they don’t they’re gone.
- A slightly different version of the above that requires two-way communication. People who never respond to emails get dumped.
- A SaaS that lets bloggers communicate with their audience via text message or some other more intimate form of communication.
- A SaaS that requires a would-be fan to either schedule a phone or skype call or write a hand-written letter in order to be added to the fanbase.
- A standalone app for bloggers to communicate with their fans. Otherwise this is done in a regular email inbox, and that makes things easy to get lost.
How Can I Help Bloggers Get More Traffic?
Related: Content Quality, Consistency, Catchy Headlines, SEO
No idea. Thinking.
How Can I Help Bloggers Monetize Their Traffic?
Related: CTA (call to action), CRO (conversion rate optimization)
No idea. Thinking.
Whoah, I Just Realized Something
All of these blogging problems/wishes are interconnected. It’s so obvious. How did I not realize this before?
I don’t have much traffic because I don’t blog consistently. I don’t blog consistently because I don’t have many fans encouraging me to do so. I don’t have many fans because I don’t have much traffic.
My writing would be better if I wrote more consistently. It’d be easier to write more consistently if my imposter’s syndrome went away. My imposter’s syndrome would go away (at least partially) if my writing was better.
I don’t have a good relationship with my fans because I’m afraid to reach out to them. Because I have imposter’s syndrome. But my imposter’s syndrome would go away if I had more fans.
If I could get more traffic I’d be inspired to write more consistently, which in turn would bring me more traffic.
Any idea must meet all of the following criteria:
- I must gains new skills and new connections in the process such that I find myself in a better place than where I started even if the idea itself fails.
- When people ask me what I do it must be something that lights me up when talking about it.
- I must genuinely see myself still happy to work on the same project 18 months from now.
- If somebody were to ask my wife or my hypothetical child about what I do it must be something that they’re both proud of.
- The target audience must be a group of people I like, because I’ll be talking with them often.
- It must be something that people are willing to pay for. How can I know if people would pay for it? Well, any idea that makes it out of this round will get tested in the next round by asking people to pay for it and seeing what happens. In this round, though, I think a good place to start is to make sure that the idea offers an objectively quantifiable improvement to the buyer in some way. That doesn’t mean that I have to be able to quantify it right now, but I should be able to quantify it at some point in the future. Otherwise it’ll probably fall into a “nice to have but not worth any money” category in the non-buyer’s head.
- It must have a USP (unique selling proposition) that is very heavy on the U. People aren’t going to switch away from a different service to come to something that’s 5% different or even 5% better.
- It must contribute in someway to lessness. That could mean multiple things. It could mean that it would allow customers to replace two or more things in their life with this one thing. It could mean that it would allow customers to spend less time doing things that they don't enjoy doing with that don't bring them direct value.
- Bonus points if it’s a tool that could replace more than one existing tool for the people who use it. Minimalism is fun.
- Bonus points for any project that has a built in marketing aspect. That is, that the essence of the project markets itself in some way. Something where customers are naturally inclined to invite their friends, for example.
- Bonus points if it has a natural element of scarcity and or exclusivity. But no bonus points if that scarcity and exclusivity has to be manufactured in a fake way.
Next up: Based on that criteria and on my own excitement I’m going to pick a few of the ideas I came up with (or a mutation thereof). Read more about them in the next chapter.