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Where to find startup ideas for the “Average Joe”

Where do ideas come from?
I often talk with people in the Bay Area who would love to do a startup, but claim that they don’t “have an idea.” There’s an interesting myth involved here, that entrepreneurs somehow get an idea, work on it, and then get rich. As far as I’ve experienced it, people seem to do it in a bottoms-up way, where they start working on something interesting and then decide to turn it into a business later. The important part is to tinker away at stuff, and focus on making things fun and useful for yourself.

Where do you find ideas for the Average Joe?
That said, you probably want to think about the “Average Joe” and what kinds of things they are using on the internet. At the end of the day, you’ll want to make sure you are tapping into mass market ideas.

Here are some places to find ideas:

Sources of people buying/visiting

  • Amazon bestselling books lists, for what people are buying
  • NPD retail data
  • Alexa 100,000 list
  • Compete.com blogs and lists
  • Nielsen Netratings top website lists
  • Search query strings (“myspace” was hot before it was hot in the Web 2.0 crowd)
  • Sourceforge and Freshmeat, for nerd tools that have yet to hit mainstream

Other random thoughts

  • Local happenings? Meetup groups? Growing Craigslist ads?
  • Magazines?
  • TV shows?
  • Media properties?
  • New newsgroups or discussion traffic?

  • Forums?

Once you have a collection of random bits of IP that people are consuming, and various tools and product that might be interesting, you’ll want to ask deeper questions about your audience. Here are some examples:

Questions to ask

  • Who’s buying/doing this stuff?
  • Why are they buying/doing it?
  • Is it a big source of revenue?
  • Is it a contrarian audience that’s growing?
  • What are some related industries or demographics?
  • What are other industry implications?
  • What could be commercialized or jump-started into technology?

At the end of this process, you’ll have 1000s of ideas that you’ll have to filter through. More on the filtering process later…

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