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Finding a product idea

Eric has an interesting article on finding product ideas at http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/dnsoftware/html/software12142004.asp

One thing he doesn't mention which I have been trying lately is running a dummy Google Adwords campaign, setup a simple web page to gather statistics and run a ad campaign for a week or two to try and judge the level of interest for your product's keywords. You can quickly identify a more popular idea from a small group.
Tony Edgecombe Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
He left off what I consider the best way to find an idea:  consulting.


You run across needs and problems there every day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
How do you dive into the world of consulting? You can't just put the "consultant" sign on your door and go.. can you?
wanna-be
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
I have found this book very useful to product development:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0738204633/qid=1103117989/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/104-8237275-2351915

The basic idea is there are a series of stages and gates that you are passing through before you develop the real product. Even though this is geared towards larger companies, we have adapted it to our small company and we are happy with the results so far.
Roger Jack Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
> How do you dive into the world of consulting


I prefer to go the bodyshop route.

You won't make nearly as much money going this route compared to being truly independent, but my wife makes more than twice what I do, so I'm not concerned about it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
Consulting route (or something similar) is good, for a lot of reasons (see below).  There is an EASIER way to do the "test marketing with google ads" that'll cost <$100 (see below), or you can do it free if your time is free.


1. The consulting route sounds very very good, if you can manage it.

I worked for a company a while back that did exactly that.  www.murphysw.com

Having a small group of TEST CUSTOMERS that you have good communication with is INCREDIBLY valuable. You're basically getting them to pay YOU to be a focus group. Everyone wins.

GREAT ARTICLE ON THE SUBJECT
Which I, ironically, found yesterday accidentally:
http://www.entrepreneur-support.com/starting-a-software-product-company.shtml


2. There's an even easier way to use Google Adwords data:
the Product Idea Evaluator

Haven't used it yet, but it's a great idea (and you can do manually what it automates)

Looks at the popularity of Keywords as DEMAND for a product.
(E.g., 300 people/month looking for "speech therapy software")
Looks at the PRICE advertisers are paying for that keyword as the COMPETITION.
Then you plug in how much you'll make on a sale (not easy to know, of course).

Out it spits viability.

Here is a review of it:
http://www.wilsonweb.com/art/tools/pipe_review.htm
Mr. Analogy {ISV owner} Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
CRITICAL ISSUES

In my experience, to succeed you need to:


1. Understand your target customer.
That can be as a consultant, or because you or your partner worked in that field.

2. Customer focused
If you are truly focused on "how can I help my customer at a price that they can/will pay", a lot of other stuff falls into place.

Eric's article talks about "if Quickbooks is missing an important feature you could write your own Financial SW or a QB addin".  Being customer focused is a NO BRAINER. 

And guess what?  If you DO come up with a product that DOES meet thier needs at a price they'll pay, your job is 1/2 done. Now you just need to market it. And it's a hell of a lot easier to market something that meeds #2 than it is something that doesn't.


3. Believe in the benefit of the product.

I.e., if you were independently wealthy, is the benefit of this product something that you might pursue creating in your spare time.  I.e., would you be on the board of directors of a company producing this benefit.

This helps get you through the tough times, because you can focus on the BENEFIT and karmic rewards of your business being aligned with YOUR goals.

Also, money is a poor motivator (despite what the republicans may say :-).

Making a $ doesn't get me to stay late to answer a call from a customer. Believing in the benefit of my product does that.  (Besides, after the first 20 hours in a week, I'm must working fo retirement money anyway. I won't see it for 20 years).


I think I need my own blog <g>
Mr. Analogy {ISV owner} Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
I think that being a "one-man consultant" is not entrepreneurship, it's not starting out on your own, it's not MicroISV-dom. It's just having a job. Another job like everyone else. You're not independent. You're at the bottom of the totem pole wherever you go. You are constantly selling yourself and trying to find the next gig. The only reason you might consider it superior to a full-time job is if you get bored easily, and you're welcome to the lifestyle of perpetual job hunting if that suits you, but do NOT tell yourself that you're a "startup" or an entrepreneur if you're a one-man consulting shop.

And it's a damn unpleasant way to find product ideas. You could find ten times as many ideas in a week by calling everyone you know from college and asking them what computer problems they have at work.
Joel Spolsky Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
damn! somebody hated being a consultant!
hehe!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
Great idea Joel.


I think that as long as you really spend some time understanding the problem before trying to solve it, that can be a GREAT way to find product ideas.


Best source, I think, is a computer-literate friend working in a non computer industry.
Mr. Analogy {ISV owner} Send private email
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
 
 
People looking for ideas should try the travel industry and higher education. I have some experience with both and they are both in very sad shape.

Learning how a plane takes off and actually gets to it's location is one of those things I wish I could unlearn. Trust me you wouldn't want to fly if you knew how old the technology they use is.
Ian
Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
What do you guys think the "oh yeah, well *I* think its possible" idea for product development?  This is similar to what Joel was talking about in his Salon interview, with the Excel team.  A lot of software companies seem to "give up" on features because they think its impossible.  Seems to me a good way to come up with product ideas is to say "ok, what would be really cool, but just isn't possible right now".  Then think "ok, why is it impossible, and is it *really* impossible".
Vince Send private email
Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
> A lot of software companies seem to "give up" on features because they think its impossible.

Amen. I'm a die hard skeptic and all, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen otherwise-smart people quit before they even start. "That's impossible." "Like that'll ever happen." "We'll never be able to achieve that." "Yeah, right." And so on.

All I can think to myself at these times is, "You're right, with an attitude like that you *will* fail / *are* a loser."

Yes, some objectives are difficult to achieve. I guess it's just the "can do" versus "can't do" attitude.

I've considered using these impossibilities for product ideas. Probably the main drawback is having to re-invent the entire product before you can go after the "impossibility." If you're striking out on your own from scratch, there may be other, easier targets. But it's not a bad way to generate product ideas when you're in brainstorming mode.

Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
-- Learning how a plane takes off and actually gets to it's location is one of those things I wish I could unlearn. Trust me you wouldn't want to fly if you knew how old the technology they use is. --

Heh heh. After a couple of contracts in telecom, I'm constantly amazed every time I pick up the phone and get a dial tone. And if the telephone call actually gets routed properly a miracle has occurred.

Bailing wire and chewing gum... Truly the whole world is held together by duct tape, bailing wire, and chewing gum.

Scary.

Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
The thing about the "impossible" ideas is to look at it from the point of view of it having already happened.  Ok, so you have the amazing frobozz widgety thing...what good is it?  What business problem does it solve that couldn't be solved before, and how did people get by without it before?  What would compel them to start using it?

It's nice to have a gee-whiz idea, and even better if you can make it work, but if nobody wants it, you've wasted a lot of effort.
Aaron F Stanton Send private email
Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
I found an interesting response to Joel's comment above over on Christopher Hawkins blog:

http://www.christopherhawkins.com/12-16-2004.htm#63
Ian
Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
> The thing about the "impossible" ideas is to look at it from the point of view of it having already happened ... It's nice to have a gee-whiz idea, and even better if you can make it work, but if nobody wants it, you've wasted a lot of effort.

Yes, then you'd have an idea that wasn't relevant, or wasn't profitable, or wasn't timely, or...

That's different from an "impossible" idea, rejected by a person who is neither expert technologist nor familiar with customer or shareholder desires. And who cares not to consult with any of the above before rejecting the "impossible" idea.

Sorry. It's a pet peeve. I'll stop harping on it. :-)

Thursday, December 16, 2004
 
 
Address a "need", that's where I think you will succeed.  Really I was disappointed with Eric's article, after all, if you have to ask how to come up with an idea, or what's a good idea, I mean honestly the ship has probably sailed.

I'm still having trouble understanding who is the intended audience for the "I want to know how to come up with a good product idea" or "is my idea a good idea for a product" article, maybe I'm being harsh, but the world is full of creative people and ideas are more numerous than flies.  So who are these people who are trying to have a good idea?

Like I said, address a "need", and if you aren't sure what "needs" are out there in the world, well I sort of like the consulting idea, it gets you into places and affords you the opportunity to see different types of businesses.  Oh yeah, and write business software, because if you want to make money writing software then business is the type of software you should write, there are always companies trying to find software or people to implement software.

Like I said though, I'm still confused why people would ask the question in the first place, it points out a lack of clarity and I'm just guessing experience, my recommendation is work for someone who has ideas.  But I do agree with believing in the value of your product, whatever idea you come up with believe in it, even if people think you are crazy (because you are or you will be) believe in your product and know that its purpose is sound.  What do you want your contribution to be, would you ask your mother to use your software?  Or your children?

Anyhow the notion that enough people are asking how to come up with ideas to warrant Eric's article worries me, I mean the US has always been considered a hotbed of ideas and innovation.  What are they teaching in college these days?  Is this a new trend, droves of uncreative programmers flocking towards lone bastions of ideas?
Jay Lauffer Send private email
Friday, December 17, 2004
 
 
I put about 40% of my time into comsulting. Well, I'm cheating because I'm lucky enough to have quite a stable consulting gig with a great customer. But still, it does teach you a hell of a lot about running a business. All the basic stuff you should know about before you start hiring people.

So I think it can be beneficial, and unless you've got a stack of cash, even as as a micro-isv you'll have to do it. (Please don't borrow money to start a micro-isv, please don't!).
Richard Rodger Send private email
Friday, December 17, 2004
 
 
-- I'm still having trouble understanding who is the intended audience for the "I want to know how to come up with a good product idea" or "is my idea a good idea for a product" article, maybe I'm being harsh, but the world is full of creative people and ideas are more numerous than flies.  So who are these people who are trying to have a good idea? --

Well, for example, I have past experience working in the defense industry. Let me tell you, there is an industry with some really [bleeping] bad software! However, the bureaucratic and political barriers to entering that market can be staggering. Not to mention the waste, abuse, and outright fraud. And the customers have been burned so many times by poor software that the customer relationships can be absolutely pathological. So you could have a brilliant product idea that might save millions of dollars and maybe even lives, but the idea is a non-starter.

Or perhaps the fellow with telecom experience has a brilliant idea. But he'd need $3 million dollars worth of switching equipment (and a warehouse to stage it in) before he could even begin software product development!

So you may have to discard or postpone a lot of good ideas because they are currently inaccessible given the resources available. That's how you can get to the desperate point of wondering what kind of product you should develop. And it was sporting of Eric to tackle the question in his latest article.

Friday, December 17, 2004
 
 
Joel,

That is the most vicious set of statements I've ever read
from you.  To quote Christopher Hawkins says it all:

 "We are entrepreneurs as much as you are, Joel. We have skin in the game and we take our chances, just like you. Don't you think it's rather classless to tear down an entire segment of small businesspeople just to reassure yourself that you are in a "real" business and therefore better than us lowly independents? That kind of thinking is reminiscent of a small child building a fort and then tacking a sign on the front of it with "no gurls allowed" scrawled in a number of Crayola colors - it is false, it is elitist, and it is exclusionary."

I'd HATE to be a consultant for or working for you.  If you believe that good, qualified consultants should be treated like they are the low feeder, you're missing out
on some great folks who can do great things for you.

Shame on you! Until now, I really thought you were smarter
than that.
Independent Consultant Send private email
Saturday, December 18, 2004
 
 
I have to say Amen to Joel's post.

IMO it is a matter of a community, a team. When you are in a company with several like minded people, the chances of success are multiplied and it is much easier to get from one point to another one when you are not the only one rowing.

As far as business ideas go, Ideas Do Not Matter. Marketing ideas Does matter. Take some aspect, product, service and improve it. Make sure it is in the area you are familiar with.

There are plenty of inventors who cling to their ideas and some of their stuff is trully revolutionary. But so what... Have you heard of them? Exactly. Without marketing, there is nothing. I was watching CNBC half a year ago and they had a segment about a new company that will revolutionise phone service. Basic VOIP that has existed before this company and not any different from their competitors. Why was this one particular company featured? Because the guys who started it are the creators of Kazzaa plus the CEO is famous.

If you need ideas, I have plenty. Take an area of financial planning. More and more people are going into credit card debt. Many of them are computer literate, they  were not poor before. They have huge credit card debts, etc... Give them some software package, maybe Painless Bankruptsy 2005. In this case, you might have to team with a SFP.

This dude I just met today worked for two years running IT department at a dental laboratory. Knows the business in and out. Bam! Can be a vertical software solution right there.

And it goes on...
Alex K Send private email
Sunday, December 19, 2004
 
 
I think Eric's article about finding ideas was great. Sure, ideas are like flies, but it seems many of us are looking for the 'right' idea, just like many are looking for the 'right' significant one.

It seems, what Eric was trying to say (?) was that you're not supposed to look for AN idea. Instead, you are supposed to find a whole lot of ideas, and then discard those that aren't commercially viable, while simultaneously avoiding the situation where you spend all your time looking for the single idea that's going to make you rich aka Next Netscape.

In short, one doesn't need a great idea. Only an ordinarily good idea is needed, as long as it's commercially viable. Finding one is easier if you have a lot of flies: the one that avoids your flyflap the longest is more likely to be at least a little better than most of the others.
Mystran
Sunday, December 19, 2004
 
 

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