Getting and Evaluating Startup Ideas

Should you start up? If so how to get and evaluate ideas in ~15 minutes

starting-up sus

Starting up is one of the hardest things that exist in the modern world, as our boi Elon himself said, starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss which for us mere mortals means that we should think a lot before we start chewing on the glass while we stare into the abyss. I mean, it's not healthy.

So, in this blog, I will be sharing all of my learnings from the past month which help you (and me) decide whether t properly. To start up and if yes, how to get startup ideas and evaluate them so that (theoretically) you (and me) will fall in the 10% of the startups that don't fail.

According to Paul Grahm (PG)

...but we should be able to do better than the oft-quoted (and probably made up) standard figure of 10%. I'd feel safe aiming at 25%.

Who's Paul Grahm you ask? Only the founder of Y-Combinator, a successful serial entrepreneur, and the author of the PG's Articles(which I will reference a lot). Yep, he's a chad and I am very captivated by him.

Should we start up?

Let's start first by talking if we should or shouldn't startup. Surprisingly enough the points are the same on both sides of the story, the way we look at the is different which dictates the decision of us starting up.

So, like everything else, the answer is It depends.

It Depends

It depends, but on what? (tl;dr on our mindset) well to answer this I am going to steal some points from a PG's Essay on why one shouldn't startup, the points which apply are to me and then argue on why we should or shouldn't startup.

1. Too Young

The very first point that PG points out is that if you're too young you shouldn't startup, the average age for founders is 27 after all

With age there comes a sense of maturity, ownership, and decision-making, but the catch here is that it doesn't only come from age it comes from experience. And the experience has varying quality, in a set of two who has 3 years of experience each it is not certain that both of them will have the same quality of experience. The experience per year is important too.

PG talks about Sam Altman, a 19-year-old who is one of the most successful founders in YC. When he talked to him it didn't feel like he was talking to a 19-year-old more like a 40-year-old inside a body of a 19-year-old.

What's more important than being of a certain age is having a certain mindset, of ownership. So that when things don't go as planned you don't go on like oh no I messed up, someone helps me. Instead, you pull yourself together, take ownership of the mess and try to clean it up.

I am 19 and will be 20 in July so what this means to my mind is that I have full 7 years to become successful as a startup founder. The experience per year that I will gain when working on building something that people want is unmatched if we compare it to the traditional route.

There's a reason we have a distinct word "adult" for people over a certain age. There is a threshold you cross. It's conventionally fixed at 21, but different people cross it at greatly varying ages. You're old enough to start a startup if you've crossed this threshold, whatever your age.

Paul Grahm

We have another advantage that the people who came before us didn't have. It's the resources and the market. Everyone is very helpful and the fact that I as a 19YO from a shitty college can write this blog means that there are a lot of resources, and I am not all alone like the people who startup up before we were.

2. Too inexperienced

The follow-up to the above point is that what if we are too inexperienced, wouldn't that mean that we are not fit to start up? Shouldn't we get some experience, work for a company and then think about startup up?

Yes, we need experience. But, don't you think instead of working for a company to get the experience we can work on our own and get a better experience. According to PG, even the founders who've startups didn't come out as a success would do it all over again because the experience was so good.

I am a college student with a pretty good resume, and 1.5 years of college still left. So, instead of spending this time doing a couple of internships the work where is more or less meaningless. Why don't I start building something that people want won't that be infinitely better than doing those internships?

Don't know about business? we'll learn. Not determined enough? we'll build the grit. No co-founder? we'll find one. No idea? we'll find one.

Let's just say even if the startup isn't a success I would still have more than zero users on the product which is already better than more than 90% of the students out there whose projects are copied from YouTube tutorials.

As a college student, I don't have any responsibility other than getting a job, which won't go anywhere even after one year. We would still be able to land that job.

I have talked to enough people and worked in the industry enough to realize that it a job isn't all that great of a choice. It's not even a safe option, the layoffs have proved this point. Do you think you'll be working on something cool even if you get a job at let's say Google? No. There's a very high chance that we are going to be doing the most boring work there is, even as software engineers.

I talked about this more in my previous blog about starting up

3. A job is the default thing to do

This well is the hardest to get over, I see a lot of people having a mindset that there is nothing after college other than getting a job. I have seen this first-hand with my friends and relatives. It's worse here in India where the status quo is a Government Job, everything else is just bull crap.

The only thing I would like to say on this is that if things don't work out, you'll still be able to get a job. Many companies prefer candidates with startup experience.

And to read more about it I would highly recommend that you watch this video

How to get and evaluate startup ideas

Okay, so we have finally decided that we want to start up. But we don't have an idea what should we do.

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.

Paul Grahm

It is very important to work on a problem that we ourselves have faced because this ensures that the problem really does exist. And well according to people the biggest mistake that startups make is to work on a problem that doesn't exist. It may seem easy to think of startup ideas when you are thinking of startup ideas, but the advice that PG gives is very counterintuitive. Instead of thinking of an idea we face a problem and then try to find the solution to that problem, and this solution is the idea.

But instead, we make up a problem in our head that we think people are facing then make up a solution and start building it. This is very wrong on a lot of levels.

For example, a social network for pet owners. It doesn't sound obviously mistaken. Millions of people have pets. Often they care a lot about their pets and spend a lot of money on them. Surely many of these people would like a site where they could talk to other pet owners. Not all of them perhaps, but if just 2 or 3 percent were regular visitors, you could have millions of users. You could serve them targeted offers and maybe charge for premium features.

The danger of an idea like this is that the people we'll talk to won't say that they would never use it, but instead, say that they might use it. Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don't want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.

Depth First Search

Yeah, in order to get a good startup idea we have to be narrow-minded. There have to be some users who really need what you are building, not people who might use it but people who really need it and will use it straight away. The number of these people is small so you shouldn't worry about that because if there was something that a large number of people urgently needed, it would've already been built.

You can either build something a large number of people want a small amount or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type

Paul Grahm

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they'll use it even when it's a crappy version made by a two-person startup they've never heard of? If you can't answer that, the idea is probably bad.

Paul Grahm talks about an analogy of a Well and how it is similar to a good startup idea.

You don't need the narrowness of the well per se. It's the depth you need; you get narrowness as a byproduct of optimizing for depth (and speed). But you almost always do get it. In practice, the link between depth and narrowness is so strong that it's a good sign when you know that an idea will appeal strongly to a specific group or type of user.

How to expand this "well"

Well, PG says that it is not easy to tell if an idea is a part of a huge company or just a niche product. What do we do then? he says that being at the edge of the field helps.

What this means is that if we are at the very edge of the advancement of a particular industry then we can have a hunch if the particular thing is big or not. And to build this hunch.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig says:

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

Being at the leading edge doesn't mean we have to be the ones pushing it forward we can be at the leading edge as a user too.

Here's a story from PG's Essay: Being at the leading edge of a field doesn't mean you have to be one of the people pushing it forward. You can also be at the leading edge as a user. It was not so much because he was a programmer that Facebook seemed a good idea to Mark Zuckerberg. After all, he used computers so much. If you'd asked most 40-year-olds in 2004 whether they'd like to publish their lives semi-publicly on the Internet, they'd have been horrified at the idea. But Mark already lived online; to him, it seemed natural.

Paul Buchheit says that people at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field "live in the future." Combine that with Pirsig and you get:

Live in the future, then build what's missing.

If you're not at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you can get to one. For example, anyone reasonably smart can probably get to an edge in programming (e.g. building mobile apps) in a year. Since a successful startup will consume at least 3-5 years of your life, a year's preparation would be a reasonable investment.

Start noticing

Okay, okay I get what you're saying but how do I use the "living in the future" thing to get the freaking ideas? Well, you start noticing the things that are missing.

If you're really at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field, there will be things that are missing.


The catch here is that it won't be obvious that they are startup ideas, so not only think about the things that are missing but also don't think about whether or not this could be a big company. You will have plenty of time to apply tests and think about this later, but if you start thinking about it it may end up filtering out some good ideas and get you interested in some of the bad ones.

Most things that are missing will take some time to see. You almost have to trick yourself into seeing the ideas around you.


The ideas are out there. It is impossible that the technologies have stopped progressing and all of the problems to be solved are already solved. In the future if these problems that you failed to see get solved you'll be like:

jackie chan confused What you need to do is turn off the filters that usually prevent you from seeing them. The most powerful is simply taking the current state of the world for granted. Even the most radically open-minded of us mostly do that. You couldn't get from your bed to the front door if you stopped to question everything.

Since we're looking for startup ideas, we can take efficiency for granted and start to question things. "Why is it like this?", "How can this get better?", "How can I do this half the steps?", and you will be able to push the technological innovations forward helping you avoid the confused Jackie Chan phase of your life. Pay particular attention to things that make you annoyed.

If something annoys you, it could be because you're living in the future.

Okay, how is this the right problem? Well, it will seem obvious to us. This ultimately means that coming up with startup ideas is a question of seeing the obvious. That suggests how weird this process is: you're trying to see obvious things, and yet that you hadn't noticed.

Don't overthink a problem, take some time creativity is a by-product of procrastination after all. Work on projects that seem cool, they'd help you notice ideas because this helps you naturally build things that are missing. It wouldn't seem as interesting to build something that already exists.

Just as trying to think up startup ideas tends to produce bad ones, working on things that could be dismissed as "toys" often produces good ones.


Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

First principle thinking

Yeah, all of that makes sense so now let's get a course on entrepreneurship and start learning how to build a company right? Because that is what the schools and universities of the world have taught us. We need a teacher to guide us through the process, customers? pfft.

The thing is that building a company is something that you learn best by doing, the customer is the teacher that guides you to make a good product, not a random teacher who'll tell you words, you'll mug it up and puke it all over your answer sheet.

College is a great time, an incomparable opportunity as PG puts it, to become the sort of person who gets startup ideas organically.

The clash of domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas. If you know a lot about programming and you start learning about some other field, you'll probably see problems that software could solve.


Instead of going and getting a summer internship at a software company go and work for a biotech company. CS majors can get an internship at a software company pretty easily but to get startup ideas, you might do better to get a summer job in some unrelated field.

Or don't take any extra classes, and just build things. It's no coincidence that Microsoft and Facebook both got started in January. At Harvard, that is (or was) Reading Period, when students have no classes to attend because they're supposed to be studying for finals.


But don't feel like you have to build things that will become startups. That's premature optimization. Just build things. Preferably with other students.

The unsexy startup & schlep blindness

When we come across ideas for a startup, we naturally ignore the ones that lie in the following two categories:

  • The unsexy startup
  • And, the hard AF startup

Some problems are so hard to solve, or rather we are so fearful of solving them that we deliberately ignore these types of ideas. This is called Schlep Blindness

An example would be Stripe. Thousands of programmers were in a position to see this idea; thousands of programmers knew how painful it was to process payments before Stripe. But when they looked for startup ideas they didn't see this one, because unconsciously they shrank from having to deal with payments. And dealing with payments is a schlep for Stripe, but not an intolerable one. In fact, they might have had net less pain; because the fear of dealing with payments kept most people away from this idea, Stripe has had comparatively smooth sailing in other areas that are sometimes painful, they might have had less pain; because the fear of dealing with payments kept most people away from this idea, Stripe has had comparatively smooth sailing in other sometimes painful areas like user acquisition. They didn't have to try very hard to make themselves heard by users, because users were desperately waiting for what they were building.

The unsexy startups are similar to this but instead of fearing the ideas we despise them. Turning off the schlep filter is more important than turning off the unsexy filter because the schlep filter is more likely to be an illusion. And even to a degree it isn't, it's a worse form of self-indulgence.

The unsexy filter, while still a source of error, is not as entirely useless as the schlep filter. If you're at the leading edge of a field that's changing rapidly, your ideas about what's sexy will be somewhat correlated with what's valuable in practice. Particularly as you get older and more experienced. Plus if you find an idea sexy, you'll work on it more enthusiastically.

Evaluating the Idea

To evaluate any startup ideas, a simple way to do so is to answer a set of questions that'll help you understand the customer's needs if the problem is good, and if you are the right person to do so.

So, I blatantly copied this set of questions from YC's Startup School and listed them below. I have been working on answering them on my idea and if you want to evaluate yours, try answering these questions:

  • Founder/Market Fit
    • Is our team the right team to build this application?
    • For example, let's say Plangrid is an iPad app that helps people see construction blueprints
    • A good team for this would be a founder who has worked in the construction industry and a person who knows how to build it.
    • Founder Market fit is so important that it is wise to look for an idea that fits with the founders.
  • How big is the market?
    • Ones that are big now, and ones that are small now but are rapidly growing
    • An example of the second one is Coinbase which grew with the web3 train
  • How acute is this problem?
    • A problem that people don't care about, it is a made-up problem or there is just not enough reason to solve it.
    • An example of the opposite of it would be Brex which allowed startups to have a credit card, before them it just wasn't possible for startups to get a credit card from the banks
  • Is there any competition?
    • Founders generally think that having competitors is a bad thing, but counterintuitively most good startup ideas already have competition.
    • But if you're going into an especially entrenched competition, then insight is necessary
  • Do you want this (the product)?
    • Do you personally even want this product? or Do you know people personally who'll wish to use this product?
    • If the answer to both of these questions is a no then well, don't start up
  • Did this only recently become possible or necessary?
    • Something has recently changed in the industry, a new technology, a regulatory change, or a new problem
    • For example, Checker does background checks via an API. Delivery services like door dash and Uber started to take off and suddenly there was a massive increase in the number of delivery people that they required. And to do background checks on them Checker was there.
  • Are their proxies?
    • A proxy is a large company that does something similar to your startup but is not a direct competitor
    • For example, Zomato or Swiggy, which are food delivery companies in India. But there already was UberEats present but it was not available in India.
  • Is this an idea that you want to work on for Years
    • This is a personal question, for example not a lot of people would be excited to build tax accounting software
    • So you have to ask yourself if you are willing to work on this for years.
  • Is this scalable?
    • Software? Yes. They are already infinitely scalable.
    • Agencies and service companies not so much.
  • Is this a good ideas space
    • An idea space is one level of abstraction out from a particular startup idea. It is a class of closely related startup ideas.

Phew, we're finally done and my mind is now finally at ease. Wait no I have to answer these questions for my own idea... and I'm stressed again.

I hope after reading this you can answer whether to startup or not because I have got my answer and it is "Hell Yeah!" because I honestly don't see a downside to starting up right now, I am in college, I have a full 1.5 years left and I honestly don't have anything better to do. Job? I can still get a job if the startup doesn't work out, I'll have a killer project with real users to showcase on my resume which is going to be a real stand out.

By the way, did you notice that I didn't talk about competition in this blog post. It is a whole different topic to discuss about since I completely stopped working on my ideas when I found out about the competition.

Anyway, this is me gulaab ka phool signing off.