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 IndieDev Tips #3 • Guide to MVP - Part 1: Finding ideas

 IndieDev Tips #3 • Guide to MVP - Part 1: Finding ideas
By Edouard Barbier • Issue #3 • View online

Source: Unsplash
Source: Unsplash
Hey, welcome back! Let’s talk about finding ideas.
At its core, building a successful business comes down to two pillars:
  1. The idea: finding what to build
  2. The execution: bringing it to life in a compelling way

Though this issue is dedicated to finding app ideas, keep in mind that the most important part is the execution. Having the best idea in the world is not enough, if you don’t execute it properly, you will fail. On the opposite side of the spectrum, what might seem like basic ideas (think: todo lists apps, weather apps, note taking apps etc), often considered overdone, can totally become healthy business if they are brought to life in an innovative way. 

In its essence, an idea with potential needs to tick these boxes:
  • Solves a problem faced by many people
  • Adds more value than existing solutions (does it better, or faster, or much cheaper, reduces more friction or pain points)
  • Is something you are confident you can build or learn how to build relatively easily.
  • Has a clear potential return on investment (i.e. people will open their wallet for it)
So how do you go from knowing this to generating ideas? Let’s explore this 4-level pyramid I totally made up. 
Source: me jamming in Figma :)
Source: me jamming in Figma :)
Level 1: Solve existing problems you face or faced
This is one of the most common advice simply because it’s the best one. Solving problems you face yourself gives you a massive advantage. You’ll know what feels right, how much value your product is adding and that will speed up your ability make decisions & reach product market fit.

With this “solve your own problem” advice, a common reaction I often get is: “What if I don’t have any problems?”. And my answer is always the same: “You probably don’t look at what you do with the right lens, or you haven’t explored new things in a while". We will get to that in level 2.

If you hesitate between several project ideas and one of them happens to answer a problem you know a lot about, prioritise this over anything else. You’ve got your idea.

An example from my own experience: YT Tracker’s idea came from me launching a YouTube channel and not being happy with the way YouTube presented their analytics to creators. I solved my own problem by creating a new solution and it turned out many people faced the same issue.
Level 2: Discover new problems
The second best way to come up with ideas is to try things for the first time. The goal here is to put yourself into new situations that will lead you to face issues. Once you do, you’ll end up with Level 1 ideas. You can do so by learning something new, starting a hobby etc. The “what” here doesn’t really matter, what’s really important is to expand your scope of possibilities. If you’ve never played chess, you will never know what’s hard about trying to learn to play chess and how it can be made easier. If you’ve never planned a road trip, you will not know what are the pain points that go into planning a road trip.

The key here is to start exploring something you truly enjoy and to make a conscious effort to analyse all the pain points you will face. Keep in mind that working on a product requires a certain level of passion. If you start getting traction, you will need to be ready to work on this for a few years. If you do this properly, that will help you visualise what the main problems are and where you can potentially bring an innovative solution.

A recent example that occurred to me: chasing Snow in Switzerland. We wanted to go for a winter hike, but we were unsure if there would still be enough snow in the resorts around us. Finding out this information turned out to be a nightmare (looking at recent posts in XYZ locations on Instagram, checking weather reports that weren’t updated or webcam feeds). We faced a problem that could be solved with data and technology. Will I build something for it? Probably not anytime soon considering the amount of work I have lined up. But it’s still there in my ideas page in Notion. I write down all the problems I face (however small, or meaningless). Someday some of them might collide into something that will become something worth building.
Level 3: Hunt for problems faced by many.
The next best thing if you don’t see problems to solve for yourself and don’t really see what else you enjoy and could explore, is to start looking broader for problems faced by many people in various niches. In short, welcome to “market research”. This term is boring and feels academic but it is nonetheless super helpful to generate ideas.
You can do this in many ways. Here are a few I find useful:
  • Listening to Podcast and learn about challenges faced in various industries.
  • Scan ProductHunt, HackerNews & TechCrunch to find innovative products that can bring inspirations.
  • Keeping an eye out for newly launched platforms or new online ecosystems. Their growth often triggers opportunities to build products that serve these new ecosystems.
  • Spending time scouting the AppStore to identify opportunities. This is a big one for me and it deserves its own newsletter issue.
  • Reading forums, Facebook groups and subreddits relevant to your interests. People love to complain and share their pain points. Listening to these opportunities can be a game changer.
  • If you already have an audience or a following somewhere, ask questions, send surveys or polls that might help identify the pain points your audience faces.
Level 4: Alternative strategies
Finally, if none of the above was helpful, you have to look even further. We’re getting into territories that are going to require you to look longer until you find something you’re interested in and that are a real problem to solve. Let’s list a few more strategies I would go for if Level 1, 2 and 3 didn’t lead anywhere:
  • Attend / Watch yearly keynotes from Apple & Google and pay attention to the latest APIs that will be released and could bring new capabilities to our smartphones. 
  • Pay attention to new platforms becoming
  • Educate yourself on big societal issues, find one you truly care about and deep dive into it to see if you can find solutions worth building at your scale. Think ‘Climate Change’, ‘Mental Health’, ‘New diets’, ‘Ageing’, ‘Remote work’… there are tons more, each bringing interesting and challenging problems to solve.
  • Deep searching to extract ideas from various sites. I have my own magic queries I love to use for this. I might dig into them in a future issue.
  • Find apps that are scamming people, make your own version in a more ethical way and get creative with your marketing to get a market share in the category scammers are operating in. I have my own strategy for this, but that’s a story for another day.

That’s all I have for you today. Now, go ahead and start listing ideas. We’ll talk about the next steps in the MVP process soon. Validating ideas, coming up with feature lists etc. Stay tuned and keep up the good work. 

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider sharing this issue with a friend or tweeting about it. You can find me on Twitter @edouard_iosdev or on Instagram @edouard_iosdev.
Thanks for reading.
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Edouard Barbier

I’m Edouard, an Indie iOS Developer & Serial App Maker from Belgium. In 2015, I started to teach myself how to make iOS apps. In 2018, I left my job at Google to pursue the indie lifestyle.

This newsletter will include tips, mistakes I’ve made and tons of experiences I can share with others including a roadmap to escape the 9 to 5 and build products for a living.

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