What is technology? How do you come up with startup ideas?

Y Combinator’s motto is, “make something people want”. This is a lot easier said than done. Really, it should be make something people need, but this is just way too much pressure for one person to make something out the gate that people desperately need. The idea is to relax your expectations and your mind, to make something people want which is not that far away from making something people need. At the same time, if they want it, there’s at least some value creation happening, as opposed to making something completely worthless.

I like the motto, but I think there is a step even more primitive and straightforward. Something which you could say happens before making something people want.

It taps into the nature/philosophy of technology itself. In most cases, my simple view of technology is that it just reduces the amount of steps it takes to do something. So, instead of:

  1. having to purchase all the equipment you need to be a painter

  2. load it into the trunk of your car

  3. bring it back to your house

  4. walk to the area in your house where you paint

  5. setup your canvas

  6. grab your chair and grab your paint brush

  7. choose/mix your colours

  8. start painting (with no undos)

Through technology … well … you just open Adobe Photoshop.

When it comes to looking for startup ideas or even if I’m just aching to build something in general, my approach is always to look for areas in life where I can use technological advances to save the number of steps somebody else might have to do right now in their real life.

So, how many steps are they currently taking to design a logo? Could this number of steps be reduced? Some new kind of product which makes this process specifically a lot easier?

Marketers are sending email newsletters one way using tools like Mailchimp, but what are there actual underlying goals? Could this process be greatly simplified even further into just three steps total?

Once you have reduced the steps for someone else in meaningful and significant ways, then you can go ahead to the end user and ask them if what you made was valuable to them. You will be showing up with a simpler process which at least saves them time, which should at least be valuable from their perspective to some extent.

My approach taps into a very utilitarian view of technology and is heavily inspired by Peter Thiel, who defines technology as, “doing more with less”. Build products which do more for your end users, with fewer steps required.

This perspective is not true for consumer apps like snapchat, but on the whole I think it captures the essence of the technology industry.

Altogether:

Reduce the number of steps it currently takes to do something … make something people want