Product Ideas 💡

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (But Were Too Busy To Ask)

by Jakob Greenfeld

It's easier than ever to build. It’s more important than ever to think about what you want to build.

In the caricature version it all starts with a lone genius who has a eureka moment. The idea is so obviously amazing that afterwards the outcome is preordained.

In the real world, however, coming up with profitable product ideas is a process that requires time, dedication, and skill. Motivated by the naive pop culture view of entrepreneurship, many aspiring entrepreneurs just pick the first idea that seems reasonable. Typically, the result is that they spend years executing on an idea that was doomed from the start. Of course, eureka moments do happen. But usually this is the result of years of preparation. As with most "overnight successes", it only looks easy from the outside.

The good news is that this is entirely preventable. There are many battle-tested methods for coming up with product ideas that have a realistic chance of being a commerical success. Since it's impossible to predict in advance which strategy will eventually lead to your personal eureka moment, it makes sense to become familar with a whole arsenal of methods.

Unfortunately, while there is certainly no lack of advice, most of it is fragmented and contradictory. One successful entrepreneur claims that method A is the way to go, while another highly-respected entrepreneur argues convincingly that method A is fatally flawed and only method B really works. But then a super-rich VC chimes in and makes the point that according to her first-hand observations neither method A nor method B are used by the best entrepreneurs and yet another method is clearly superior. And so the discussion continues through dozens of instances, regularly coming full circle. This is extremely confusing and frustrating.

Motivated by these observations, the goal of this site is two-fold:

With that said, there is just one more thing I want to talk about here because it's essential to make sense of the overall structure of this site.

Namely, that coming up with great product ideas is a three-step process.

It always starts with an idea - or, to be more realistic - lots of ideas. Bad ideas. Impractical ideas. And occasionally a good idea. But at the ideation stage, there's no way to tell which is which. Hence you need to generate lots of ideas. You need to exercise your idea muscle regularly. You need to become sensitive to all the ideas around you until you're able to generate valuable product ideas.
Once you've written down a bunch of ideas, it's time to evaluate their potential. While there are objective methods, most criteria are almost entirely subjective. But this doesn't mean that they're worthless. The goal is not to discover objective truths but to filter out all ideas that have no chance of becoming a success.
All ideas that make it through the first filtering step, are ready to be put to a first real-world test. By doing as little work as possible (but not any less!) we check our assumption that there are people out there who are interested in buying what we're about to create.
“The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.” - Eric Ries

For each of the three stages, there are different methods you can and should try. It takes a lot of practice to find a process that works for you and hence you should experiment with different strategies. And I honestly think that there isn't one ideal method at each stage. Different methods work in different contexts for different people.

Moroever, note that you'll most likely have to go through all three stages several times until you find an idea that is "a winner". This is a feature, not a bug. After all, the purpose of the "meat grinder" (as Tyler Tringas calls it) outlined above is to waste as little time as possible on ideas that no one wants.

The key to making it all work is to be agile in your handling of ideas. If you glob on to an idea, you block all the other ideas you could have. The goal during the first stage (ideation) is to write down lots of potentially interesting ideas without any judgement. Only during the second and third stage, you start to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This site is a living, breathing project. So if you have any kind of feedback or want to discuss your favorite product ideation strategy, feel free to send me a message.

Jakob Greenfeld