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.
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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.