If you are a programmer and need constant ideas to work on, there comes a time when the ideas are just not there. And if you ask someone for advice, lot of times suggestion is that you should “scratch your own itch”. In other words, try to solve your own problem. And since, it is likely that lot of people will be struggling with the same problem as you, you might uncover a market.
The advice sounds fine and dandy, but what about the people who are happy with status quo. Let me give you an example:
Drew Houston kept forgetting his USB stick, saw the problem in keeping files in sync between different machines and identifies the opportunity to improve the situation and Dropbox is born.
For the same scenario had I been in his shoes. I would have blamed myself for being stupid & forgetting the USB. And as a solution, would have made a mental note of checking USB stick before leaving, every time.
This leap of identifying the “cause” as a problem and not dwelling on the “symptom” seems to be the key. For me, the problem was being absent minded. For Drew, problem was lack of service that syncs files between different machines so that he doesn’t have to remember to carry USB stick with him all the time.
So, for people like me who cannot easily identify between “cause” and “symptom”. I have a better solution for identifying ideas to work on. Look for already existing products that you think you can do a better job at, and then just go ahead and do it.
Easiest would be to compete on price, if you can provide better feature set for same or lower price. Or even better, address pain-points of existing products with better, easier implementation.
Being first is a definite advantage, but never let that stop you from building something that already exists. There can always be a better, faster, prettier product for any already existing product.
I am trying to apply this approach with HipCV. Making resumes or cv is a very crowded market with plenty of competitors and plenty to spend on marketing. Still I am trying my best to create a better, cheaper solution.
And I will suggest that you should too.