Soft Ideas

30 Jan 2020

One piece of startup advice I’d give having been playing this game intensively lately is: watch out for soft ideas.

There are many problems that you can tackle, which feel very large and painful, but the solutions are kind of vague. For example, “employee retention”, “1 on 1 software”, etc..

My personal example is that we had a hypothesis that it’d be possible to help companies manage tech debt through a mini survey that integrates with their git repos and asks developers “hey, what slowed you down?”.

We got a lot of interest - hundreds and hundreds of sign ups, and a lot of regular usage, but we just weren’t convinced our solution was adequate, and we found that our commercial discussions, when they happened, also reflected this - a few bucks a month per user was ok, but not more. Given tech debt is a hugely painful headache, we think a solution should be extremely valuable or not good enough - and this signalled to us that we were in the second bucket. The problem is tough to define, which makes getting to a solution very hard.

What we did next was out of scope for this essay, but the point is that we couldn’t demonstrably solve the problem right in front of prospective clients, or even existing ones.

If you can’t demonstrably solve a problem within the platform, then you’re going to have a hard time convincing people of its value. You can’t “sort of” solve something, and feel like a critical piece of product infrastructure.

Whatever we do next, a new criterion for an idea to qualify as “good” is that we are looking for a problem that we can solve right in front of people.