How I found my next app idea without looking

By February 15, 2015Our Journey
Brainstorming App Ideas


TL;DR: Don’t look for app ideas to build, look for solutions to solve. The product to build will be obvious when you find a problem many people, including yourself, are suffering from.


I became a developer to build SaaS products. I joined Placester to become a better developer and participate in the building of a startup and an engineering team. I wouldn’t replace my time at Placester for anything, and their amazing solution is going to change the Real Estate industry. After 2.5 years, I caught the bug to find a new idea I wanted to build.


First, I became a consultant so I could pay the bills while looking for my new app idea. My plan was to take a year to find a new idea to build while freelancing/consulting as a web developer to pay the bills.


As a new consultant, I began to make the normal newbie mistakes. Actually, these mistakes were just tasks I hadn’t developed efficient processes for yet. Things like qualifying new leads, writing contracts, setting up development workflows, and avoiding the email overdose were the biggest pain points. Naturally, I quickly began to improve in these areas. I learned better, less redundant ways of doing things, and I started doing more work with a lot less effort because I was wasting less time.


However, I kept finding that throughout a project I was emailing the client anywhere from once a day to once every 3 days. Also, these weren’t short emails; they were often quite detailed and could easily take 20-30 minutes to write. What bugged me was that the content was generally the same in these status emails, but the form wasn’t consistent. They would go something like this:


“Project X is right on schedule. The 3rd milestone of UX Wireframes is going to be sent over this Friday, as promised…”.


Then, I’d review what milestone follows that. The client would often respond with a question about when the whole project would be completed and also ask for me to describe the upcoming milestone deliverables again. And that back-and-forth would happen after most of my project status emails… How redundant…


Then I realized: I was wasting way too much time on client communication and it wasn’t getting better. With just 3 clients and I already had a constant, unending streams of status update emails. In these emails I was reviewing milestone timelines, due dates, and reassuring clients that projects were on time. All these details felt necessary. It was vital project information and keeping the client’s confidence in me was vital to my success in the project, future business and a testimonial… so on I wrote!


Then it hit me – if I was suffering from this problem, many more consultants, freelancers, and project/account managers must be suffering from this too. Stay tuned for future posts where I’ll talk about how I validated that others were suffering too and how I started figuring out how to build ProjectPulse’s MVP.


So what did I learn? Build things that solve your own problems.


How did I get there? By needing to pay the bills first, I engulfed myself in the world of a consultant. I read all the books, followed the blogs, and participated in the forums. I wasn’t experimenting with building new apps for myself, I was becoming an expert in consulting – a completely different world.


You could say I was off course from my original goal of finding an app to work on, but it turns out I was doing exactly what I needed to find the right idea for my app.


Sign-up for updates such as the next post in this series: 6 steps to finding the product idea you should be building.


Edit (3/1/2015): As a few people have noticed, the message I’m giving in this post is very reflective of Paul Graham’s essay How to Get Startup Ideas. Paul’s opening line in his essay is, “The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.” This essay is an excellent read, as are all his essays that I’ve read. I appreciate everyone who reached out to me about it and I’m glad I could share my personal story that’s so closely connected to Paul’s advice.

abhinav marla

Author abhinav marla

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jake Peters says:

    This is literally what happened to us with our first app. It’s great to see we’re not alone in thinking like this!

    What happened to us is we started doing complicated diets and found that we were using spreadsheets to calculate our macronutrients. Took a look on the app store, nothing similar to what we wanted there, so we made our own.

    Now we run a Creative Agency and that’s how we do the vast majority or our ideation. We call it ‘Active Noticing’, and have written about it in a free email course on our site ( recently. Here’s the relevant part:

    ‘Active noticing’ is a way to generate ideas whilst engaging in your everyday activities. You should just do everything as normal, but actively look for pain points. A pain point is something in your life that could be improved, in this case with an app.

    Often you will need to take notice of the things that you usually take for granted in order to generate great ideas this way. Is there something you always do on paper that you think could be digitised? Or maybe something you do on the computer that would be better on your phone?

    For instance, when we wanted to make our first app we paid just a little more attention to our lives, and realised that we were printing off diet sheets each week to remind us of our macronutrients. Out of that single thought came Macromate, and now hundreds of others from around the world are using our technology to calculate their diets on a daily basis.

    Carry on with this process for a week or two, writing down any ideas as they come to you. The trick here is to just write everything – no matter how stupid it may seem. If you think something’s a problem, other people will too.

  • hg says:

    “Sign-up for updates to get the post in this series: 6 steps to finding the idea you should be building.”

    Sign in… where?

  • Galen Vinter says:

    Hi hg,

    There should be a sign-up box that appears fixed to the bottom of this page: . But if that doesn’t appear for you, email “[email protected]” and I’ll add you to the list. 🙂

  • Galen Vinter says:

    Hey Jake, that’s a great story and exactly what I’m talking about, right on! Congrats on Macromates and finding the right idea right under your nose.. How’s the response from users? How often do you guys push updates to the app?

  • Jake Peters says:

    Thanks! User feedback is pretty good, and our engagement levels are solid (for a first app at least).

    We generally push updates every 3-4 weeks, but we’re working on overhauling the UI at the moment so we’ve not updated for a while now.

    The biggest problem is that in the early days code style is a pretty fluid thing, so almost all of the code is being refactored for the next release.

    Hopefully we’ll be pushing out v2 in March 🙂

  • Nicole R says:

    I love this! I’m in a small consulting division and we desperately need something like this for communicating with clients and keeping our projects on track without drowning in e-mail. We’ve tried multiple solutions – Podio, Asana, etc – but nothing has been super simple and intuitive for communicating status.

    Can’t wait to play with the product!

  • Galen Vinter says:

    Hey Nicole, glad to hear you’re excited to get into ProjectPulse! Let’s pick it up via email and get you into the beta 😉

  • Pete Glowa says:

    Sweet design Galen. Been using Trello recently to keep myself organized on all various projects internally. I actually found it easier to get a one page view like you’re doing. The cards of Trello were cool because I could organize them by status (identified, evaluated, executing), but one page really helps on what your milestones actually are for each one. Good luck! Maybe I should get myself into the beta too?

  • Galen Vinter says:

    Hey Pete, yeah, Trello’s pretty great but those cards are generally used as tasks, not milestones, so isn’t a good fit in a lot of cases. Especially when it’s client facing and you need something visual, simple, and linear. I’ll shoot you and email and we’ll get you into the private beta!

  • Abhishek Bhalla says:

    Nice read. Sometimes I wonder – Do the early adopters potentially become your influencers for your product? What is the Lifetime value?

  • Galen Vinter says:

    Abhishek, great questions. The goal should always be to have early adopters become your influencers, no doubt. Although it’s not always possible, when I do have early adopters who stick with me through thick and thin, I read and respond to each and ever piece of email and feedback they give. I consider the ProjectPulse “early adopters” circle a very important relationship that we, as product builders, are very lucky to have!