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How two friends found their startup idea.
Spoken is a startup founded by Dane Hurtubise and Geoff Abraham, focusing on identifying white-labeled furniture products. White-labeled furniture products are standard furniture pieces sold under different branding, prices, and images by third-party sellers.
Backed by startup accelerator Y Combinator and launched in 2022, the Spoken site has now sparked several viral moments across the internet, including a Reddit post that has garnered over 20,000 upvotes and thousands of comments, and several TikTok videos with views in the millions.
The Most Difficult Challenge Faced by Entrepreneurs: Finding an Idea
Spoken’s success is a testament to the resilience of entrepreneurs. The first – and the largest – challenge Dane and Geoff faced was identifying an idea. The two founders had been working on a different product for many months, but no one seemed to care.
Then when Dane and his girlfriend moved to New York City, they bought a coffee table from Urban Outfitters. In searching for a missing part, Dane discovered that the table he had purchased wasn’t made by Urban Outfitters but by a furniture manufacturer. A Google search brought up the exact coffee table from Home Depot — which, at the time, was being sold for half the cost Dane had originally paid.
From then on Dane and Geoff descended down a rabbit hole into the complicated world of online furniture shopping. At first, they could hardly make sense of what was happening, but in time they started to understand how they could help others make sense of the chaos – by connecting people with products they love wherever they’re sold.
Advice for Startup Owners: How to Find an Idea?
Choosing an idea is often the first and largest hurdle for founders. Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, writes clearly about what makes for the best startup ideas. He explains that they “tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build and that few others realize are worth doing.”
1. Noticing what is missing
Graham says that the startup journey often begins with “noticing what is missing”. Spending effort to try to think of ideas may often be less productive than simply paying close attention. Graham also advises that it is important to turn off every other filter you might think you should have, like asking yourself, “could this be a big company?”
Graham suggests that the best place to spend time noticing is around hard problems where you have a natural curiosity. You may have to habituate yourself to pursuing your own curiosity and enjoy solving hard problems before you start noticing things that may make for a great project.
Dane and Geoff noticed something “missing” with online furniture shopping, i.e. the ability to search for furniture without the confusion of white labeling. When they “went down the rabbit hole” they were fascinated by a hard problem and driven by their own curiosity. This curiosity continues to drive them today.
2. Question the status quo
In hindsight, Graham says the best startup ideas will seem obvious. Yet, they will get dismissed in the early days by those who have embraced the status quo.
Entering new domains can be a fruitful place for new ideas. If you arrive in new domains unaware of the status quo, you are freer to question everything. This is especially true when you bring deep experience from other domains to bear on a new domain. For example, Dane and Geoff entered the new furniture domain, and were free from the constraints of the status quo, i.e. white labeling is just how it works.
Many people who have been in the furniture industry for a long time think Dane and Geoff are foolish for their efforts, giving them even more confidence in their idea.
3. Thinking versus Being Pulled in
Thinking of ideas is a common founder mistake. Geoff acknowledged that “it’s easy to build what we think people want rather than watching attentively for what people really care about.” Graham agrees with his testament that says thinking of startup ideas “yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.”
Dane and Geoff thought their first idea was a good idea. It sounded smart enough to tell their friends about it, but no user seemed to care. Once they tapped into the energy behind furniture shopping, they were pulled in and never looked back.
4. Be patient and embrace the journey
Neither Dane nor Geoff could have predicted they would end up in furniture. The journey takes time, and it is still unclear if the company will succeed.
Being friends for 17 years, the founders of Spoken have walked through many of life’s most meaningful moments together. The two things that kept Dane and Geoff going during the hardest times were their mutual admiration for each other’s skills and commitment to embracing their journey as play.
So, can startup ideas be found?
Perhaps one cannot “find” a startup idea. Instead, they must be ready to receive the little signals all around them that bear further investigation.
If you are hoping to be in tune with these signals
- Notice what is missing near hard problems that spark your natural curiosity.
- Make sure you take nothing for granted, especially not the status quo.
- Observe what people care about rather than “think of a good idea”.
It doesn’t need to sound smart to your friends. Be patient, and savor the journey. Know that this last part is much easier with someone with whom you have deep trust and a healthy working relationship.
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