Random Thoughts on Startup Ideas

I was re-reading Paul Graham’s essay on “Organic Startup Ideas”  today. Paul (as usual) gets you thinking. This essay, may in fact trigger a lot of posts. I will share one of our own experience on an organic startup idea.

The best way to come up with startup ideas is to ask yourself the question: what do you wish someone would make for you?

This is how we came up with our product InfoMinder. I was doing some research on XML towards the end of 90s. I found many interesting sites and bookmarked them. Soon I realized that I had over 300 bookmarks. I figured that even if I spend a minute on each page, it will take me about 5 hours to go through them all. So had one of my developer friends code a simple script to import the bookmarks and check pages daily and send an alert when they change.  This way I needed to visit only the pages that changed.

Once we had this simple notification scheme, we realized that just getting an alert was not enough. When I visited the changed page, I had no idea  about the actual changes on the page. We added a small feature. When we detect  changes in a page, we highlight the changes and deliver a link to the highlighted page. This worked well for a while.

Very quickly we noticed a pattern. We were getting a lot of notifications for trivial changes.  So we had to add a filter to ignore trivial changes. And we gave the product to a bunch of friends. We started getting some really useful feedback and that triggered a whole set of updates to the product.

We did one mistake, though. We kept the bookmarks private for each user. So we missed the entire social bookmarking revolution, even though we had all the features delicious had.

So here is the lesson. While you can start with a useful product idea, try it out and even find a decent number of customers, some times it take a little bit of additional inventiveness to make it a movement.

If you are are startup or thinking of doing one, certainly read Paul Graham’s essay on Organic Startup Ideas.

Don’t forget to share your stories in your blog and post a link here or just add a couple of paras in comments.

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4 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Startup Ideas

  1. “We did one mistake, though. We kept the bookmarks private for each user. So we missed the entire social bookmarking revolution, even though we had all the features delicious had.”

    I guess any tool/product deserves its bit of serious thought and consideration for improvement. This seems especially important for organic startup ideas simply because you never know what’s going to make it an instant hit socially.

  2. One good thing though is that we have paying customers and very interesting uses of the technology. It is heartening to note that some of our customers are running their entire business with this tool as their key component of technology.

  3. Hi Dorai,

    Nice article.

    Now only I came to know that your speech at Chennai Tie last year which said “Watching market disruptions and acting early would give competitive advantage” came out of your own experience.

    Quite useful.

    Regards,
    Mugil.

  4. Mugil,
    Thanks. There are lots of possible forks at each step of the journey. We had 4 product ideas and chose one since it was the closest to completion. Some times, something like that changes the company a lot. I come from the technology innovation side. Life would be easier if you came from the direction of innovation based on market needs – the ‘gold mine’ Paul speaks about in his article. It is easier said than done since you need to understand the conflicting needs of your customer base, some times.

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