All You Need is a Great Idea
In lieu of a better post on this Memorial Day, I'll be discussing the current state of the web, where all you need is an idea to be set for life. Nothing has changed with me since I wrote How To: Cultivate That Killer Idea last year. There's not a day that goes by that I don't spend time thinking about services, web apps, tools or projects I could build (or startups I could establish) that could make a sizable impact on the web.
In a world where someone can make 6 figures with a viral Flash game and a single person startup can earn 5-10 million per year, anything seems possible. All you need is a great idea. I may never come across a "great idea" in my entire life, so I document all the smaller ideas I could potentially pursue - complete with bulleted feature lists and a roadmap for future versions including all possible forms of monetization. I currently own 15 domains, most of which are related to those many smaller ideas I come across daily.
However, in the last few years venture capitalists, angel investors or whatever you want to call them have taken note of the fact that all you need is an idea, as Michael Arrington noted last week. Everyone wants to invest in someone's idea. I could probably get a few million dollars of funding with a website that sold MySpace themes if I really wanted too. That is an example of how sour the web industry has become though - too many people are jumping on the bandwagon. First there was YouTube and now there are dozens of video sites. There was Friendster and now there are too many social sites. It's hard to come across a unique idea these days and the ones that are interesting are usually very niche.
Take the SF startup Xobni for example. Led by three young guys backed by a lot of capital, the startup named after the reverse spelling of inbox is looking to provide users with detailed information of their email usage so they can become more productive. It aims to provide things like number of emails received daily, time spent on each type of email, etcetera. I think it's an original idea even though it is highly niche and will likely only find users that are busy, tech-savvy business people - the only people that would actually benefit from optimizing their email workflow.
So then, what makes the ideal web app/startup/service/tool? I don't claim to be an expert in this field, I'm just your typical I-don't-wake-up-until-4pm-on-the-weekends college guy, but for me the ideal idea would attract a broad group of users, solve a problem or educate users, integrate into the user's workflow (using the service becomes part of their daily routine), be easy to use, and be free. Just think of a site or service you use everyday and they have probably nailed that great idea - like OpenDNS. OpenDNS offers a technical solution with a candy coat. You don't have to know how it all works, it just does and all you need to know is that it makes your net experience faster and smarter.
Of course, thinking up an idea that could satisfy all of those issues and lacks major competition is no small feat. That's where plan B comes into play - the niche web service/app; something that serves a purpose for a small portion of the web's users. For example, something like a community for programmers where they could sell their scripts for points and purchase others' scripts with those points, or a social network for your dog.
I'm not exactly sure where I was going with this post but I started thinking about life beyond college this evening after having dinner with a smart friend of mine in the same shoes/boat as me. Our discussion also touched on a financial article I read that calculated how one could retire (and live off interest) at age 41 if they started working at age 20 and saved 20% of their moderate 60k salary.
Speaking of ideas and money, I've been reading Timothy Ferriss's book, The 4-Hour Workweek, in my downtime and it really fills you up with the concept that you can do something incredible. It has a bunch of tips and stories from 21 year olds driving Lamborghinis to a guy who easily spends 1 million every time he visits Las Vegas. (For those interested, I have also been reading O'Reilly's Essential PHP Security and O'Reilly's AJAX Hacks.)
Also related, the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs will be having a meetup on June 21st, which I'll likely attend.
So yeah, I'm still looking for that great idea, what about you?