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Startup ideas vs Problems

Posted at — Sep 13, 2019 by Abishek Muthian

Startup Idea

It might be surprising for those who hear about how often I or any other startup coach has to face someone who is utterly convinced that their startup idea is revolutionary, is going to rake Millions if not Billions of dollars, but don't know what problem their startup idea is trying to solve . Needless to say, they most certainly will fail with their startup.

Failure is not always bad with startups, in fact failure could be one of the most guaranteed way to learn in the startup ecosystem as a result of trying out something new . But not everyone can afford a failure, one could be investing their life's savings in their startup, they might have quit their job to start a startup, they might have just one chance in their life to become an entrepreneur; in these cases, it is always better to avoid a failure when possible.

One of the easiest way to mitigate failures with the startup is to look out for those who have failed already, what they say about their failure and those who have had the privilege of seeing entrepreneurs, startups  fail because they did not heed to the advise.

It is rare to find a well defined procedure for a startup process, which works for everyone. One of such rare procedure is, 'how to come up with a startup idea'. Contrary to popular belief, successful startup ideas are less about intuition and more about careful analysis of a problem which needs to be solved, the ability for us to solve that problem and the need gap for our solution in the market.

Since, finding a problem to be solved may not be everyone's forte; experts suggest one to solve their own problem for getting the startup idea . But, even our own problem and solution may not be free from the cognitive biases i.e. what may be huge problem to us, may be is of our own making (or) the solution which we think works great for solving a particular problem, may have a better, more efficient solution.

How to ensure that the problem and solution is robust enough for evolving into a startup idea? Validation, is the key here. But, even validation is not fool-proof and is largely dependent upon those who are validating the problem and the startup idea.

Case in point

In 2015, Me and my team started building what we thought was a revolutionary news aggregator . May be it was revolutionary as far as technology is concerned, USP was that it allowed its users to share the news along with their voice to other apps, it also allowed the news to be added as reminder to be spoken during voice calls,  it had extreme customisable features such as ordering news categories, ordering news sites, scheduled pull notifications, automatic data saving features by disabling images, reader mode etc. which wasn't available in any other news apps of that time.

We worked on the app for more than a  year, only to find after releasing that  the market for a standalone news aggregator app was long gone, in fact 'news' was the least downloaded category in Appstore & Playstore (2016) as people were consuming news(or Title?) from Facebook and Twitter.

I did identify the problem which I had, i.e. non customisable news and boring sharing experience. I also built a solution to address it albeit perhaps over-engineered, but I tried to sell it as a product when not many had the same problem. Hence in spite of having a problem,  working solution it was a failed startup idea. To cut myself some slack, I did validate the solution with my friends.

But here is the issue with validating something with friends and family, it is highly likely for our friends to share similar interests and the family almost always support our effort on anything. So, friends and families should be avoided at best when validating a problem and solution for the startup idea. My friends where just as News hoarders like me, so they liked the solution; but majority of the consumers were not and also I failed to account that Facebook, Twitter are essentially the largest news aggregators.

This doesn't mean that our product didn't solve the problem, I personally still use the app, occasionally update the app to adhere to latest Playstore API changes and regulations. Few others like me still use it, nevertheless the size of the need gap was so small that it failed as a startup idea.

How to validate the problem, How to validate the solution and at the same time ensure that the size of the need gap necessitates a startup solution? The problem needs to be validated by those who actually face the problem, existing solution if any should be brought up by those who faced (or still facing) the problem or those who are addressing this problem and if there is any need gap in the existing solutions which is large enough to warrant a startup solution has to be found. The startup idea, is the solution to solve the problem for which people are willing to pay for getting their problem resolved.

If that sounded simple enough, the guidelines are actually simple, but where can we find others who face the same problem like us, those who are willing to discuss the problem without bias, those who can share their experience about the existing solutions for their problem, those who are working on solving the problem and especially when they necessarily shouldn't  be from our friends or family due to the reasons mentioned earlier?

I have searched the corners of the startup ecosystem for such a place, there are online forums which discusses 'startup ideas' as such in social networks and URL sharing sites; but that defeats the very purpose of what I've been telling so long, it is a very bad idea to approach with a 'startup idea'. What we need is a platform where anyone can post their problem, others  who have the same problem can validate it by voting, discussing, those who have built products to address this problem can join the discussion, if there is a need gap; solutions could be formed in the discussions and which can potentially become a startup idea.

There was no such platform, so I had to create one myself.


If you have read till this section, you are either impressed with me for practicing what I preach i.e. creating a solution to the problem I had  or disappointed that I made you read all this to promote what I have built. You will not be wrong either wise, but I would request you to read few more lines before you throw in your judgements.

Needgap does all the requisites of a platform which is needed to validate problems, solutions, need gaps to create a startup idea. It is not a magic bullet to create successful startup ideas or successful startups, but I hope it becomes an indispensable tool for the startup ecosystem and to startup coaches like me who don't want entrepreneurs or startups to fail for common errors such as overestimating a startup idea.

Like all community run service, needgap would take time to reach to the level where any and all need gaps can be validated. By design I have made it easier for the need gaps to be shared once submitted with those who might likely face the problem, minimising the dependency on the active community inside needgap. For more details about needgap,  please check my post titled  'needgap, submit problems for startups to solve '.

But, But someone will steal my idea

No, they wont . Because, there is nothing to be stolen and a startup idea has no tangible value unless it is executed and actually becomes a successful startup.

When it is a startup, only way to prevent someone from not wanting to steal your startup idea is to not sell your product itself i.e. not becoming a startup in the first place; I hope that the absurdity in the notion of getting 'stealing startup idea' is clear.

If there was an easy way for someone to steal a 'startup idea' and become successful; almost every other person we see would have been a very successful entrepreneur.

I've seen people go to great lengths to protect what they think is a 'great startup idea' only to fail after building the product because no one wanted that product in the first place. Anyone claiming, someone who stole their idea and became very successful are either lying or doesn't know that startup ideas are worthless and it is the execution that matters i.e. provided it solves a valid problem.

Finally, I would like to assert that needgap is just a tool to make validating problems, need gaps, solutions easier, even if you don't use it; don't forget to ensure that the problem you are solving to create a startup idea and the need gap in it are genuinely validated without any bias.

My first idea wasn't great, said no entrepreneur ever

There is a reason why Joe Gebbia , co-founder Airbnb still rushes to his basement to pack an order for critbuns a butt cushion for designers; his first failed startup. Joe, says fulfilling an occasional order of critbuns reminds him of his origins.

I already said, I still update my Talk about News occasionally. Is it just for remembering the origins?

Contrary to popular belief, most successful entrepreneurs didn't come up with winning startup ideas in their first attempt. Even successful artists such as Beethoven, Shakespeare created their masterpieces while producing some of their worst work at the same time; says Adam Grant (Prof. of Psychology in Wharton Business School).

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the worldBuy , Adam says there is no tradeoff but a positive relationship between quantity and quality when it comes to creative thinking. He sights examples of creative geniuses like Picasso who had done 1,800 paintings 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics 12,000 drawing before creating lesser masterpieces and others such as Einstein, Edison to state that they generated several number of ideas to get to a few successful ones by which we remember them.

Adam suggests; if we ask Beethoven, Shakespeare about their favourite work; they may even choose the one which wasn't as successful as their masterpieces.

He cites Ira Glass's 'The Gap', which is the gap between our Vision and the Creative Ideas we could generate when we start. Most people quit at this point, but creative geniuses process it instead of quitting.

He cites Dean Simonton, psychologist who had studied Creative Geniuses throughout the history to state 'They are not better than their peers, they just produced more work'.

Adam concludes by saying,

The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.

-Adam Grant

He says, this is true across all fields, be it art, science or entrepreneurship. I say this is one more reason for participating in needgap frequently!

How to think about a problem

Artificial Intelligence expert and famous author David Chapman talks about problems in his famous web book - How To Think Real Good .

He says, for figuring out a good problem the following are necessary -

To learn in-depth about problems, solutions and in general how to think real good; I highly recommend reading his book.

Change log

January 2020 : Added How to think about a problem.

September 2019 : Added But, But someone will steal my idea.

November 2019 : Added My first idea wasn't great, said no entrepreneur ever

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

USA India

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