You are very curious to build your first product online, but you are not an idea person. Or at least, you think you're not. Yet, it's much easier than you think!
There is one common thread to finding a unique solo business idea. And it is you. Your professional experience, your obsessions, your areas of interest. These elements, are what you need to investigate to find a unique product idea.
But like, why and how?
Because, when you are knee-deep into something, you get very close to one specific audience. And a potential customer!
When you get close, that's when you see/experience frustrations, and identify patterns. And all those are clues for your next idea.
Getting knee-deep into something can be:
- Learning how to code. Starting to apply for software developer jobs. And seeing the interview processes up close.
- Freelancing as a recruiter in web3. Helping hire non-technical talent and coming up with a different way to find talent pools.
- Working as a freelance in chatbot development. Collaborating with lots of clients until you see recurring asks, or pains.
- Obsessing over how the brain works, and writing content about it.
- Being passionate about the world of analog photography. Creating a site that lets you explore and test it yourself.
- Starting to do business coaching. Getting familiar with the world of life coaching, and learning all you can about it.
It starts with you, and your curiosity. It ends up with a wealth of knowledge about one specific niche. And with opportunities to add your own brick, and improve something in that niche.
I noticed 3 ways to find cool ideas. Your professional experience, your obsessions, and audience research.
Let me break it down for you.
1. Find your next idea based on professional experience, and scratch your own itch
Lynne, founder of the $200k annual revenue job platform Key Values, says:
“For anyone that isn't an idea person, coming up with an idea is a massive barrier. I still suck at it. But you'll immediately be better at it once you stop ruling out your non-genius ideas.”
Before building Key Values, she learned to code and worked as a freelance for 2 years. Then, she decided to look for a developer job.
Coming from fast-growth start-up land, Lynne was on the lookout for a team she aligned with. She did countless interviews, before even meeting the team, and felt like the process was backwards! Why not meet the team first, and make sure our values align?
She wondered for months which idea she could work on. Until it hit her, why not build a better way for engineers to find jobs? She knew the problem—she lived it. Yes, there was competition, but it meant there was demand, right?
She didn't have to look further than that, she had a problem she experienced firsthand, and tried to solve it.
Another cool example, is Deya.
Deya is a former freelancer who invented her dream job as a Digital Business Manager. After 6 years of fine-tuning her approach, she noticed the demand from clients to find people like her. She decided to build her own course (which hit 6 figures in revenue) and build the supply! ;)
For both Lynne and Deya, their idea stems from being knee-deep into one industry. Identifying gaps, pains, and opportunities.
Lynne discovered the long, and draining interview process engineers went through. Deya discovered a job she wanted to broadly share with future freelancers.
Another example is Andrew.
A former photographer who built SchoolAssist, a CRM for school portrait photographers.
And another example...
... YES, I have tons of examples like this.
So, on to you. Try and shift your perspective today. Observe your current industry/occupation with an entrepreneurial mindset. What is a pain you experienced? What would you improve?
2. Find your next idea based on your obsessions, a topic you’re wildly curious about
Anne-Laure worked at Google and tried the traditional start-up route. Until she realized she was after something completely different.
She went back to the drawing board and considered other paths she could take. She asked herself something she hadn’t asked before: What do I love?
The answer was surprisingly easy. It was still the same thing she obsessed with as a kid: asking questions about the brain. She decided to pursue neuroscience at King's College. And, while studying, she documented and shared all her learnings online.
She didn't build in public, but learned in public!
"At the time, I created the Ness Labs blog with one goal in mind. Better understand what I was studying at King’s College for my masters in neuroscience.
It’s based on the generation effect. The idea that you will better learn stuff when you take the time and energy to phrase it into your own words."
Her blog and newsletter grew to 80,000 subscribers. Then, she launched a paid membership, which now counts +2,000 members.
Ness Labs is unique because it started with an obsession with the brain. It grew because she documented what she learned without a specific goal in mind. Only following her curiosity.
Ness Labs is now a business because she stumbled upon a pain to solve for a niche audience. Aka. isolated knowledge workers during Covid, looking for a fresh perspective on productivity.
And she found a way to solve it, with consistent original content and a paid community.
What is one obsession you have at the moment? How can you share what you learn with others?
3. Find your next idea with audience research and a demand-first approach!
If you want to get away from your past experience (which I understand because I went through that). Or don’t want to get into the “passion/obsession” route—you can also opt for the analytical way to find an idea.
Get curious about one audience you want to serve and learn as much as you can about it. That's what Laura Roeder did. And then built PaperBell, a 100k+ annual revenue SaaS tool for coaches & consultants.
So I've never done any formal coach training or anything. I've hired coaches over the years. It's, it's just a space I've been sort of familiar with.
She dabbled with business coaching herself for a while.
So, that's how I discovered the need for my own business. And then of course I started researching the coaching space. Which, you know, there's a lot of overlap between coaches and online marketing and online courses.
And she started researching to know what a tool just for coaches would look like. Once you know what your audience is, you're establishing a persona. So, it gets easier to find information, because you learn about where they hang out, which tools they use, and what their days look like.
Now you can go deeper to learn about what they struggle with, and if there is a demand for something (an awesome product!). Let's get into a few nerdy techniques to identify if there is demand around your audience:
- Niche communities, like Reddit, are places where people with similar interests gather. Reddit, for instance, is a goldmine of information with 130k+ active communities. There is a big chance yours is on there too! You can use GummySearch, an audience research tool for Reddit. You can log in to the free version, and select audiences. You'll have an overview of pains, ideas, and opportunities around one specific audience. A goldmine!
- Questions asked on Google. Once you get an idea of pains, go on PeopleSearch and type the problems/pains you learned about. Play with the keywords, and see what questions your audience asks on Google. I just did it for coaches and found: "What makes a good coaching website?". Interesting!
- Search volumes on Google. Then, go on UberSuggest, or any SEO Keyword Research to go deeper into a keyword around your audience. If you type "coaching websites", the keywords volume of searches increases (up to 2,000/month). But, there isn't much competition. And ta-da, Laura's product, Paperbell, ranks number one! You can also see other websites currently ranking on these keywords. That's your competitor landscape. All these are clues to the existing demand!
- 1:1 audience discovery. You can also reach out directly to your audience. For example, reach out to coaches on Instagram, and ask for 1:1 calls. If you can, it's an excellent way to get qualitative information about your audience.
All this data will help when you build your first idea.
Because you won't build in the void. You will build an idea knowing your persona, your industry, the competition, and if there is demand.
Some ideas from conversations I had with people around me:
- "I'm curious about Naturopaths but don't know how to find one around where I live". Why not create a site to rank, and find naturopaths based on location? Then, it could be a different version of this.
- "I dream of self-publishing my book". You can start writing a newsletter about it. And help people self-publish by documenting the process. Then, it could become something like Reedsy.
So, which audience are you super curious about, and want to start searching about?
The main takeaways to find your next product idea are:
- To find ideas, you need personal experience. You need to do things, learn, fail. And that's what I love most about solo building!
- When you are knee-deep into something, you usually get very close to one specific audience. That's where you see behavioral patterns, pains, and all and find useful ideas.
- Build something for yourself/scratch your own itch first, as you will learn tons along the way.
- Follow you gut, back it with data.
Go on with your uncertain path, weird obsession, and keep following your curiosity. Then, do one thing to scratch your own itch, share it with the audience in question, and keep iterating like this.
That's how ideas, that are aligned with you as a solo maker, will emerge.