What’s the best way to find ideas?

We are constantly hearing advice like “Scratch your own itch,” “Find problems close to you,” and “Code what you know,” which is all good advice for finding a startup idea.

What then, do you do if you’re not exposed to much?

When I spent time talking to people in Silicon Valley last year, I noticed something I never expected: lots of people have very little exposure to “real world” problems.

People come up with “me too” startups because that’s all they know.

Sure it’s easy and cheap to start a business, and if you’re smart and can hack, all the more reason. But what about the giant issue hardly anyone mentions: real world experience.

I’ve been doing programming work in real businesses for years and “still” get excellent startup ideas from my customers almost every day. In the past week alone, I’ve been challenged with problems I’ve never seen before that are really affecting these people. Just a couple of quick recent examples:

- One customer is preparing blanket purchase orders for new models, but since the SKUs change every season, their ERP system is of little help.

- Another is setting up a new warehouse, but their app won’t allow bulk updates so they have to hire clerks just to enter 10,000 new bin locations.

- Another has a call center whose response time has doubled with an upgrade to their app. Now they want the new release’s functionality with the old release’s interface.

And this is just one week! People will pay big bucks for technical solutions to these real world business problems.

My advice to a young hacker with lots of skill but not much experience (outside of college apps): you may want to consider getting a job for a year or two. I know, everyone wants to start the next , and get rich now and no one wants to sit in Megacorp’s cube farm. And a startup, even a failed one, may be a better education.

On the other hand, you will acquire dozens of great startup ideas (and contacts) and avoid the “me too” trap. Something to think about.