TII #002: How To Generate New Ideas And Earn Money With Them
A methodical approach to generating ideas and making your first dollar it.
Reading time: 4.5 minutes
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If you are like me you strive for freedom.
You want to be your own boss, make your own decisions and support yourself with your own Indie business.
Yet, with all the information out there it's hard to know where to start.
There are many voices giving you advice like "Validate before building!", "Start with a problem, not an idea!", or "Sell first!" to name a few.
While good, what all these are missing is the "how to".
Where should one start? How do we know if it's a problem worth solving? How do I find users before building anything?
Finding a problem and generating ideas
More than a year ago, I had been working on several projects. Yet, at the time I haven't made a single dollar with these products.
This changed when I got sick of building and challenged myself to a different approach:
Selling the solution to a problem before building it.
Now, many people solve their own problems and this is an amazing approach. They are their own customer, which comes with several benefits.
However, it's difficult to make that first dollar by selling to yourself. You also run the risk of falling into the "build it and they will come" trap, which I wanted to avoid at all cost.
My focus was to make money first. So, I needed someone else to pay for whatever I made.
Cue finding a problem/opportunity.
My approach? Asking everyone around me these questions:
What is the biggest problem you currently have?
What feels like a waste of your time at work?
What do you hate most during your day at work?
What is the one thing you would like to change during your everyday life and why?
Followed up by these questions:
How are you currently solving this problem?
How much time does this usually take up?
Have you looked for a solution?
How much does the current solution cost?
The follow up questions are there to gauge, whether the problem is important.
If they say they aren't looking for a solution, or it doesn't take up much time, it's usually not that important to them.
You want the problem to be important, otherwise it's difficult to sell a solution.
How I made my first $50
When I say I asked everyone around me, I mean everyone. Starting with friends and family, slowly working my way up to strangers.
One day I was sitting in a barbershop getting a haircut. At this point it has become natural for me to ask these questions, so I asked my barber. He was also the owner of the business.
He had difficulties getting reviews for his business on Google and Facebook. People got their haircut, left the store and reviewing the barbershop was out of their minds.
The social proof was vital to him, as most customers came via Google or Facebook search. A good sign!
Once I got home I went to work.
I created a solution with QR codes to redirect the customer to the respective review site. Once redirected, it would already open the review form so they only needed to rate and type.
To finish it up, I created a nice design and got the QR code printed on thick, high quality paper. Three versions total:
Choosing the high quality paper was deliberate for the best possible impression when presenting this to the barbershop owner.
I went back to the barbershop to show him how he could remove friction from the review collection process. He liked it and bought it off me for $50.
The only thing he now had to do after finishing a cut was to point to the printout and most of the time he got a new review.
This little purchase was a good indication there was something I could build on.
To find a problem, ask open questions. Whether you ask yourself, or people around you, ask open questions. Find out what irks them, or where they waste time. Take inspiration from the questions above.
Focus on making the first sale ASAP. I was tempted to build an automated solution for the QR & PDF generation, print fulfilment and so on. Instead I manually created the result to sell it. Automation can follow.
The first sale doesn't need to be online. Yes. We all want the unlimited scalability of software. Keep in mind you can do this after you have got some validation indication for your idea.
Asking questions and selling is a muscle. If you come from a tech background like me, it might take some getting over yourself at first. Start small with family and friends. Keep going and work your way up to strangers. Exercise this muscle. It will be worth it.
Remove your biasses. You may think "Why didn't the barbershop owner make these PDFs himself? It's so easy.". The answer is simple. They don't know how to, or are to caught up in running their business and don't have the time. Only because it's easy for us, doesn't mean it's easy for them.
Here is a bonus tip to find problems and generate ideas.
You can also listen for peoples' problems in everyday conversation without asking questions. Here are some opportunity/need codewords:
“I hate …"
“I don’t like …”
“This frustrates me …”
“Why is this like this?”
“Do I have to ...?”
“I wish there was …”
“I’m tired of …”
"This sucks …”
There is some nuance when talking to people.
Try to build rapport when speaking to people to ease them into questioning. E.g. ask how they are, how the business is going, etc. before going hard on the "intimate" questions.
Also, when talking about my experience in the barbershop I mentioned:
"He was the owner of the business".
It's always better to talk to people with the power to make buying decisions. My efforts could have went nowhere if I asked one of his employees instead of him.
Lastly, is this the best way the problem could be solved? Probably not. But that’s where you can work with your customer to evolve the solution. Once they are invested it’s much easier to work with them.
I hope you found this article helpful.
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