You want to build a business, you believe you have the skills to make it happen, but you're missing The Idea™

It's super frustrating, and from what I see in startup communities like Indie Hackers, it's super common.

“I don’t have any ideas to focus on”
“I have too many ideas and don’t know which to focus on”
“Help! I’m stuck in a cycle of building and abandoning products!”

I've been finding it helpful to bucket the above struggles into one distinct step that I'm calling "pre-conviction." Whether you have ideas or not, if you're unsure about them, your goal should be to find an idea you truly believe in.

If you can't answer the following questions with confidence, it's unlikely you're convinced by your idea

  • Who will it serve?
  • What will it help them achieve?
  • How badly do they want to achieve said thing?
  • How willing are they to pay to achieve said thing?
  • Do I like the type of people it will serve?
  • Can I reach them?
  • Do I want to run this type of business?
  • How many customers will I need before this business is viable?
  • Can I easily reach that many customers?
  • etc.

If you don't have any ideas, your aim should be to discover them in a way where most of the above questions are already answered. If you have too many ideas or you're stuck in a "build and abandon" cycle, you should discard ideas that you can't easily answer the above questions for.

How do you discover more convincing ideas? I'm still struggling with this myself, but here are some approaches that have worked well for others:

Contracting & freelancing

This works well if you don't have any ideas, or you know who you'd like to serve, but not much else.

For example, if you want to build a product that helps small business owners, you could look for freelance gigs that help plumbing businesses set up their email and social media marketing automations. If you spot an opportunity or a gap in the market while doing this, that discovery will likely come with a whole bunch of questions already answered.

Quick experiments and iteration

A "12 startups in 12 months" style challenge is a great way to let the market give you answers. Build a whole bunch of things, put them out there, and see what gets a decent response. There are plenty of issues with this approach, but it's worked reasonably well for me so far.

Having the hard deadlines means you avoid the trap of building for 6 months without speaking to anyone and putting your work out there makes it easier to get into conversations with a variety of people you can learn from.

Customer research

"Talk to your customers" is commonly shared advice, but it's not easy when you don't have an idea you believe in and you're not even sure who you want to serve. The "Sales Safari" approach seems best for people in the "pre-idea" stage.

Whichever approach you take, talking to people & potential customers is always helpful when done right. I recommend reading The Mom Test if you want to get better at this.

I clearly don't have all the answers, but thinking about a distinct "pre-conviction" step has helped prioritise my next steps. It's also made it easier to filter out startup advice aimed at founders who have strong conviction.