Home Articles Paul Graham plays match-maker for you and your love-of-my-life business idea

Paul Graham plays match-maker for you and your love-of-my-life business idea


There’s no hiding away from the fact that finding a great idea is important. You can deny it all you want but it won’t the facts. You need to find a way to create something new, do something better or offer something compelling.

That’s not all though. You also need to find something you love enough to believe in, even when others do not. You see, once you find something you truly, deeply and passionately care about; then your drive to turn it into a business will eclipse any challenges you may face in making it real.

Many of us have been sold on the Hollywood idea of the blinding flash of inspiration (often times in the middle of a hot cappuccino). However, in real life, finding your idea is more a process of elimination and refinement, rather than a blinding flash.

And if there is one man who knows how to generate business ideas, it is Paul Graham. Paul’s first company was acquired by Yahoo in 1998 and became the Yahoo! Store. He then co-founded YCombinator, a startup incubator based in Silicon Valley, in 2005.

Since then, Paul has started over 460 companies (nope, that’s not a typo) including AirBnB, Wufoo, Dropbox, Reddit, Optimizely and Scribd. Ycombinator is now considered the world’s most prestigious business incubator. When it comes to starting businesses, Paul Graham is internationally recognized as a guru.

What 3 principles of Paul Graham can you use to identify a viable business idea?

In an interview that you can check out here, Paul talks about five-key principles. Let’s recap just three of those principles which I strongly feel will come in handy as you look for your million-dollar idea.

Paul’s Principle #1: Look for problems, not ideas
Rather than sitting around trying to think of a business idea, look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself. Why? Because it ensures the problem really exists.  By far, the number one mistake start-ups make is to solve problems no one really cares about. Do I hear a lost-and-found sunglasses app?

Paul’s Principle #2: You don’t have to be brilliant, just don’t suck
There are many businesses out there that are definitely not brilliant. Windows was spectacularly un-brilliant for years, yet it went on to become the world’s dominant operating system. So, all you have to do is to find a problem that people want solved and solve it in a way that does not suck.

Paul’s Principle #3: Vitamins vs. Painkillers
What you are looking for are problems that people desperately want solved, the thorns digging away at their ribs at every turn (sorry about the somewhat graphic metaphor). You are not looking for problems where they go “Yeah, I guess that would be OK”.

If your idea is something that might improve people’s lives at some point or MAY help them, you are going to have to go through a process of convincing them first. Now don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying that it is impossible, but it will certainly be more challenging.

If your product takes away a throbbing, existing pain that people have NOW, your business will take off quicker and with much less effort. It will also survive downturns of the economy – people still buy painkillers when times are tough, but vitamins are optional.

Stewart Bell is Managing Partner of Corporate to Freedom. He is one of Sydney’s top business coaches who have coached over 300 financial services firms and consulted to some of the largest financial institutions in Australia. He’s a keynote speaker and enthusiastic writer on the topic of business coaching who has featured in publications including The Financial Review, Money Management, Professional Planner, Risk Info, IFA and Kaplan Professional.

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