It’s as simple as this:
Go work for an established company for a year. Preferably more than a thousand employees, so it will have a sizable IT budget. During that year, pay attention to all the inefficiencies of that company. Hang out with the IT folks, and ask them lots of questions, for example:
- What tool do they hate the most? Why?
- Does anyone spend a significant amount of time on routine tasks that could be automated by a service?
- Are they using cloud services? Why or why not?
- What third-party services is the company paying for? Are they happy with those? Which of those are provided by startups?
These are just examples, you get the idea.
You may find that several people are dedicated to the administration of source control systems (which is why GitHub can become a huge company). Or perhaps they don’t have a way to automatically erase sensitive information when people leave the company. Or they don’t have a directory of people’s personal phones, and they would like to map virtual extensions to them. Maybe they are not complying with privacy logs, or not keeping records as they should. Perhaps they are in dire need of red staplers that send an sms when they need to be refilled. Whatever, I’m just making these up.
During that year, find potential co-founders who work at similar companies. When you find a weakness that you believe may be generalizable, validate it with them.
Once you’ve decided on which problem you’ll address, give notice. But don’t quit before making sure you have established a relationship with a decision maker: they can become your first chartered customer.
Important tip: don’t implement anything while at the company. Make sure you start working on your product after quitting.
Another tip: don’t pick something that you find extremely tedious just because you think it will make money. If you’re not excited you’ll probably have a hard time making it happen. There are a ton of exciting products nobody has been building; the shiny Facebook Ecosystem has sucked talent away from the “boring” b2b space.
Bonus points if you and your cofounder managed to save enough money to work on your product / service for three months.
Ok, it’s not infallible. It’s not even a formula. Still, it has better odds of success than creating a solution and then looking for a problem.
Before I started IndexTank I already knew that people would be willing to pay $$$ for such a service because I’d been making money with search consulting for a while. The only question in my mind was whether we could out-execute our competition.
TL;DR: Infiltrate BigCo, learn their weakness, take their money. Who knows, you may end liking BigCo and decide that startups are for suckers. Especially if your boss doesn’t ask you to work on weekends 🙂