Filtering your startup ideas

Posted by Hywel Carver on March 13, 2014

This post is for people who are just starting out. When you’re just beginning your startup, you’re not looking for PR, investment, growth hacking, finance / tax / accounting / legal help.

You just want to work out where to begin.

That’s what this is all about. Read on…


If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve got some ideas that you’d like to develop into a startup. That’s awesome. All successful startups began with one good idea.

Read that again: successful startups are based on one good idea. You probably have several ideas. Maybe you have hundreds. Your startup needs one. And it needs to be good. And that’s the thing that’s hard: coming up with ideas isn’t hard, you can find a million for free by searching online.

What’s hard, what’s really, really hard is filtering through all those ideas and working out which one is worth devoting yourself to.

Starting something new isn’t easy, and splitting your efforts across a hundred new ideas is a hundred times as hard. Write your ideas down and then forget about all-but-one of them.

Picking one idea

You don’t have time to try all of your ideas and see which is the most successful, so you’ll need to whittle your list down to one or two worth pursuing. This is how to do it.

Favour fewer groups of people. If your idea requires having a number of both buyers and sellers, or both employees and employers or both teachers and students to be registered, it’ll be harder. Your site won’t look valuable to sellers until there are lots of buyers and vice versa. Sites where each user is likely to be both a buyer and a seller will be easier.

Favour ideas that solve problems. Some products are nice to have: they add to people’s happiness or add something to their lives. Other ideas solve problems that are costing people money, time or stress. The second kind are much easier to build a business around because your customers already feel their problems and stresses, and want to get rid of them. Your sales pitch will write itself.

Favour ideas with clearly defined customers. Some ideas have “anyone who owns a television” as their target market. Better ideas have “people who ride an exercise bike at home in front of the TV” as their target market. The more specific the customer definition, the easier it is to sell to them, because the group will have more in common with each other.

Favour ideas which don’t require mass action. Some ideas will only really work when you have 90% of a group of people signed up. E.g. if your business idea revolves around finding which shop in the whole country is selling something for the cheapest price, you’re going to need all of the shops to sign up and upload their pricing. It’s never going to happen.

Favour ideas where each customer gets some benefit from day 1. This requires a bit of empathy. If I’m the first person to sign up to your online auction site, there’s a good chance that I won’t want any of the few items being auctioned, and probably won’t be back. If I’m the first person to sign up to your site that offers 1-1 French lessons online, I’ll probably get some benefit from the first French teacher that signs up and I’ll stick around.

Favour ideas that can be profitable from day 1. If you provide a service people are happy to pay for, you’re probably doing something valuable. If people aren’t willing to pay now, you can’t be certain that they ever will.


Startups don’t starve for ideas, they drown in them. Choose one and leave the others behind for now. The best ideas solve a problem for a small, clearly-defined group who will be willing to pay for your product from the day you launch.

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