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How to Find Profitable Product Ideas

This is the second in a series on profitable product ideas. Read the first in the series if you haven’t already: what good product ideas look like. OK, now let’s get to the meat of the topic: how to actually find profitable product ideas.

Once you know what a good product idea looks like, you might have begun the research process only to find out that everything ‘good’ has already been done. Gah! What to do now?

Fret not, it’s likely that you need to look a little harder better.

Look for Something Old, Not Something New

The first tip is to look at jobs people perform every day. If you’re working in an office, look around you and identify the numerous tasks that people perform every single day.

It’s probably a mix of Excel and Outlook combined with the trusty two fingered combo of copy and paste. Can you break this down into individual steps? Can you turn this in to a product?

You may be surprised to know that many successful startups began with just email and a manual spreadsheet. e.g. Churnbuster and Craigslist.

Churn Buster’s finely-tuned email campaigns ensure the highest percentage of customers are updating their payment information without any thought from you.

andrew-culver Andrew Culver, Churbuster

 

The service began in 1995 as an email distribution list of friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area, before becoming a web-based service in 1996 and expanding into other classified categories. It started expanding to other U.S. cities in 2000, and currently covers 50 countries.

craig-newmark Craig Newmark, Craiglist

Now that you’ve identified the individual steps, can you find a way to either

  1. Automate one (or more) of the steps
  2. Remove one of the steps?

“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.”

 

paul-grahamPaul Graham, Co-Founder Y Combinator

 

Sometimes that’s enough to trigger an idea – hopefully it is! If not, read on for more…

Exercise the Idea Muscle

If you’re struggling to find good ideas, can you come up with bad ones? You might think this is counter-intuitive but it can work really well. Admit to yourself that 9 out of 10 of your ideas are going to be less than perfect. Now be realistic and realise that 99 out of 100 of your ideas will probably never see the light of day.

So, instead of worrying about coming up with good ideas, focus on idea generation, however facile the idea might be. Set yourself a target of 5 ideas per day – they can be stupid, silly or asinine but they will be ideas nonetheless. At the end of the week, not only will you end up with 35 ideas but you’ll probably end up with many more!

Ideas tend to breed with one another. They intermingle and improve on themselves so that each idea, whilst it might be less than average on its own can be combined with another idea to create a better idea. The collective idea is greater than the sum of individual ideas.

The other benefit is that you practice, exercise and strengthen your idea muscle. Just like when you work out at the gym, if you practice regularly and consistently you will improve.

Give Yourself the Chance

Sometimes, forcing ideas never works. You can try and try and try and nothing productive ever emerges. It’s possible that you’re not giving yourself the best chance of coming up with the best idea.

 “You’re only aware of less than 1% of your brain activity, and most creativity happens in the other 99%….If you want to stimulate an idea, you need to give your brain time to go ‘off-line’.”

vincent-walshProf Vincent Walsh of UCL, Cognitive Neuroscientist

Instead of trying to be creative whilst sitting at your desk, take a break. Take a few minutes off and step away from the screen. Allow yourself time to daydream, to walk in the park or to play some sports. Why do you think so many ideas ‘appear’ in the shower? Your brain is in it’s creative mode, free from the distractions of it’s ‘work mode’.

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

When a new product comes out, write down ways to use it for a product idea. It’s ok to leverage other peoples work as inspiration for your own ideas. Moreover, you might find that you can repurpose an existing idea in a different niche where you have a competitive advantage.

Give It Time

Great product ideas won’t come immediately. A little known fact about WD-40, the world’s best selling multipurpose lubricant is that it took 40 attempts to get it right. WD-40 stands for Water Displacement – My 40th attempt.

Perhaps slightly more recognisable for a younger generation is Angry Birds, the best-selling iPhone game that has made its creators Rovio, millions and millions of dollars.

Was Angry Birds the most successful game in a line of successful games from Rovio? No.

Did Rovio know that Angry Birds would be successful? No.

Rovio struggled and struggled to find a game that the mass market would like. They launched over 50 games before Angry Birds.

If Angry Birds wasn’t successful, the company would probably have closed and been unable to pay its employees.

Make sure you’re acutely aware that you won’t get it right the first time. You probably won’t get it right the second time. But you might get it right the third or the 53rd. If you come up with 5 new ideas each day, you’ll have 70 ideas in two weeks.

Give it a little time to allow yourself the chance of success.

Work Backwards

Once you’ve narrowed down on a list of potentially good ideas, you can work backwards from a successful product to gauge the success of each of those potential products.

How did Netflix guarantee that House of Cards would be a success?… Netflix didn’t just randomly spend a ton of money to create their own content, they worked backwards from what they knew. They used the knowledge from previous and successful content to guarantee success.

noah-kaganNoah Kagan, How to Generate Success

Surround Yourself with Creative People

“Isolation is something you need to avoid. I’ve gone through it. I think a lot of founders go through it. Get a group of supportive people around you; a way to have accountability and a way to have other people mentally invested in your startup.”

rob-wallingRob Walling

Tools of the Trade – The Secrets of a Swipe File

Swipe files are perfect for collecting everything from ideas to sites, snippets and straplines. They could be comments on a reddit post, websites of virtual water coolers (where your customers ‘hang out’ online) or even just phrases of copywriting that have resonated with you.

There are many tools to create a swipe file but really, it’s just a collection of different documents or pieces of text. Whilst many find that tools like Evernote work really well, I like the simplicity of a series of text files or lately, Dragdis.

Swipe File Tools and Apps

Do It Properly

Understanding the market and your customers will dramatically increase your chance of success.

Don’t build something people want, build something people need

justin-jacksonJustin Jackson

 

A good friend of mine has just released a calendar app. He spent months developing it and launched it with a paid plan a few weeks ago. Was it successful? What do you think?

Does anyone need another calendar app? Make sure that you are solving problems, not inventing them.

How do you find What People Need?

This is such a good question and open to enormous debate. Asking potential customers what they need is fraught with difficulty and you’ve probably heard of the age-old wisdom:

“If we asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.

henry-fordHenry Ford

Instead, they built a car.

Interviewing potential customers (note that interviewing is the wrong word – you should just be ‘having a chat’ with them and asking them some questions) is difficult. Moreover, it’s really difficult to ask the right questions that elicit responses that are valuable to you.

If you’re not already signed up to the Product Launch list below, sign up now and you’ll find my best advice on interviewing potential customers. It’s going to the mailing list shortly so make sure you’re on it!

Summary

Having Money, Time, Energy, Team/Skills certainly helps but you can build profitable products in your spare time. You can do this. Now is the time. Sign up below to get actionable strategies to guide you through launching your own profitable product.