Finding My Perfect Startup Idea

Having “done” an email server startup, PostPath, through execution and $215m sale, I’m in a new position, that of not needing to work.

Yet – I enjoy noodling around with technology, writing code, problem solving, learning, building something. Equally, I enjoy thinking through the ideas and opportunities that exist throughout the tech industry.

So, I’m beginning to suspect that another startup might be in my future, one that can structure and provide some goal-orientation for that noodling and thinking, and of course could deliver the pleasures of creatively building something great with other people.

Of course, I’m conscious that, once I commit, I will be committed, on the bad days as well as the good. If I were inclined to give up as soon as a feeling of “I’m not being fulfilled!” came over me, better not to start, since there’s no way to succeed without powering through frustrations. So the bar has to be high.

Is there a perfect startup idea out there – a huge market, creatively challenging yet achievable solution/technology, fun, no competition, first mover opportunity with barriers-to-scale for anyone trying to follow? Actually, no.

I’d observe that many of the “best” startups faced substantial competition (Google, Facebook), but simply had a better, or at least different, take. Few opportunities attract no attention at all. You have to tolerate, and eventually overcome, competition.

Startups can also grow in scope, so the market does not have to be so huge to begin with, provided it can become huge – or even better be made huge by the delivery of something important that no-one previously knew they needed.

I don’t think I would compromise on the “challenging yet achievable solution/technology” part, why work on a problem if the work, and the thing you’re building, isn’t interesting in itself? And it needs to be “achievable,” with some worthwhile near-term goals. One thing I regret with PostPath was choosing something that was so hard to get to take-off velocity, though of course solving hard problems can (and did) create value.

So, this blog is part of an effort to find the start-up idea that:

  • Aims at a substantial problem, a market that can become huge
  • Addresses a creatively challenging yet achievable solution/technology
  • Fun to build, fun to have built

Simple, right?

Regular posting is intended, half-formed and ill-formed thoughts will be visible, linking and sharing are encouraged, comments and your own ideas are very welcome.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Finding My Perfect Startup Idea

  1. paulsbridges

    Great start! Are you open to ‘beyond IT’?  I ask because you mentioned ‘code’, Postpath, Google and Facebook… As a humble mechanical engineer I’m intrigued by problems needing a perhaps, ahem, tangible, practical solution…

    • markyedmonds

      Often we hear “software is different”. The reality is many technology startups suffer from the same problems. Three years ago we were about to engage with a VC company (AMR in Sacramento) to deploy Fast-Time-To-Market methods on their startups for their new “Green” fund (http://www.fastworks.us/fastworks/2008/04/starting-a-fast-start-up-new-venture-program-announced.html). Unfortunately this is around the time the economy took a nose dive so they never god the funding. We did however implement it with one of their other startups (Planarmag) who were suffering from the “let’s try and do everything” approach (http://www.fastworks.us/fastworks/2008/10/planarmag-startup.html). Well, in the end they brought their first product to market in 9 months and were just recently acquired.

      Execution is king when you’re a startup, but you need a product that customers actually want! It’s all about focus.

      Is there a perfect startup? Probably not, but I bet you can get close if you have the right idea and the right people.

      • paulsbridges

        Agree! ‘…a product customers actually want’ should be king, however easier said than done. How do you work out what people want? The best ideas can’t be had by market research. There are some good trending companies and blogs about, but I how good have they been at prediction in the past? I recall someone telling me that many of the current big names, Apple, HP right through to Furtune and Disney, were all set up in times of a recession. When austerity measures bite, customers ‘needs’ change.. and the start-ups that become the next big thing are surely more in tune with what those new ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are and then focus in on it.

  2. In the past, I suffered from software developer’s solipsism, the believe that only a flaw in the laws of physics prevent tangible things being reproduced infinitely at zero cost and modified at will… But with the advent of mobile, we’ve all learned to appreciate the physical nature of things again.
    One of my recent favorites – http://www.theglif.com/ – allows you to prop up your iPhone on a desk, or attach it to a tripod – a must for the coming world of 4G, surely?
    So yes – tangible, practical, or both – let’s have at it.

  3. As you said: “…So the bar has to be high”.
    Start up usually comes for alternative solution or new solution.
    “WHAT NEXT” ? Watching at the market evolution may give some inspiration.
    Connect, inform, remote access anywhere and anytime are current tendencies.
    Several services such messaging, social network arose. Still, something is is missing to fulfill the omnipresence.

  4. markyedmonds

    I would love to see how Apple does their “market research”. Did anyone say they wanted an iPhone – no. Did customers ask for an iPad – no. If you had asked customers “what they wanted” they would be limited in telling you only what they know of. These were (are) breakthrough products that required vision and foresight and more than likely a little bit of faith.

  5. paulsbridges

    Mark,
    Exactly (though I both love and hate using Apple in examples of product development)!! At least with the early iPod break-through, I think I recall from some HBR review that Apple’s break-through was to create a seamless, reliable, easy-to-use interface between hardware and software? Up until then geeks bought a shiny Sony MP3 player, worked out how to use it, and didn’t mind the unreliable and fiddly software setup. Apple made it work for the masses (through iTunes I guess). As you say, in ‘market research’ users probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate the ‘need’ for hardware/software integration, but Apple sure had the vision and recognised it as a mechanism to differentiation.

    Duncan, not sure how helpful this is, but it sure is fun chewing the cud!

  6. markyedmonds

    If you’re looking for a really cool idea that integrates cloud and mobile, we recently started using Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/tour). It’s simple. You save a file in your Dropbox and that file is automatically updated on all your other pieces of equipment. I have a MAC (running OSX and Windows), a PC and an iPhone. Within a few seconds of saving a file on my MAC, that file is also updated on my PCs and have immediate access to it via my iPhone and therefore on the road (and yes, I have actually used this for real!). I can also access all my files from the web. What’s cute about it is it all happens transparently within seconds. We just love it!

    • paulsbridges

      That is indeed pretty cool.

      • I like DropBox, too, for me the great things about it: i) Serves as offsite doc backup (important for us earthquake-zone dwellers); and ii) mobile, both iOS and Android, and web access is excellent, just as Mark said – your docs are available to you everywhere.
        But a part of its appeal lies in its simplicity… that is key, too.
        Downside is, a bit pricey – $120/year for 50GB. I hope for their sake that the backend is as efficient as it should be.

  7. paulsbridges

    I agree with ‘PierreKande’ that remote access is interesting: With Remote HD (www.remotehd.com) I was pretty astonished to find that I could control my home Mac from anywhere in the world via wifi, 3G or even Edge connection on my iPhone. If I need a file I can just log in, read it, email it to myself or I guess put it into soemthing like DropBox to access later. I was impressed, but I maybe behind the times…

  8. markyedmonds

    Simplicity is the key. You install it, log in and it just works. Dare I say it…much like Apple’s products. Myself and Neal use it all the time now – not only are our documents backed up automatically, we have the same docs on all our machines not matter where we are. There is zero time involved making sure everything is synced. I would pay $200/year for this.

    So, if the idea:
    – useful on a daily basis to a lot of people
    – takes almost no time to work or maintain (it just works out the box, though to make this happen things often have to be complex on the inside)
    – looks and feels cool
    – has little competition
    – is price competitive

    hmmmm…sounds like the start of a set of best practices (or criteria) for evaluating a startup idea.

  9. As Duncan opened the door to a next start-up idea, well, let’s think about the impossible (well, I guess you were told it was impossible for the last startup too…).

    In the last years, there is a shift happening into space travel – instead of funding large national agency (ESA, NASA, etc), a few small companies have been fairly innovative and enabled to raise a fairly large amount of capital through those tough times. It would BTW be expected a fairly important of innovations will come from them –
    – SpaceX – an other $50M end of 2011 on top of what has been raised before, http://www.space.com/news/spacex-commercial-space-investment-101111.html
    – VirginGalatics (http://www.virgingalactic.com) , The Spaceship Company (http://www.thespaceshipcompany.com/)

    Well… solar-cell engines might be the next challenge… and there is still plenty of software to write to get them to work well. Impossible?


    EricD.