First you must take honest inventory of your skills and that of your team. Most likely, if you’re like most of my audience members, Big Data will be out. So will be Cloud Computing and Infrastructure, and all the other highly technical niches. Unless you’re a serious computer engineer, you’re going to want to stick to interface and user experience driven websites. Let’s operate with that assumption.
That leaves the following niches:
And I’ve left out a few like Support, CRM, etc, because I don’t find them exciting. The point is to find your focus anyway. So we’ll do that by using the focus I’d have for myself and I recommend to others similar to me.
Let’s further narrow the above list. You’re a web developer, and your iOS and Android skills aren’t quite up to par yet, or it’s just cheaper for you to not go there with your team. But you still want to be in a position where you’re not competing with too many companies. And you want to have as many options for ideas available to you as possible. Here’s my top 5 picks:
Now, building slick tablet interfaces in HTML 5 is definitely on the come up. It’s going to be hot for the next 2 years. There’s so much that can be done there. Most sites on tablets are just the regular website made for a computer. They all really should be slidey websites that take advantage of gestures. You should be sliding left and right, not just up and down. You should be tapping part of the screen for a mini set of controls to appear through which you can manipulate the page. Etc. There’s a lot that can be done here. I highly recommend it for product guys that have done nothing but look at the interfaces of newly launched startups on Techcrunch all day. Just invent a new interface, and figure out how to build a product around, or sell it as a service to other sites that may want to incorporate it.
Crowdsourcing is also fantastic because--in my opinion--there’s so much information out there that has not been crowdsourced yet into neat bundles that are easy to learn from. I really believe in the power of Crowdsourcing and I think we’re going to figure out how to put together our heads as the human race to accomplish some great things through tools geared towards lots of distributed people working together. This niche has a lot of potential for you to imagine disruptive ideas.
Education is hot for so many reasons. I’d just like to see tons of textbooks turned into all kinds of learning experiences on tablets. That doesn’t even require fighting the current incumbents keeping new technology innovations out.
Local is super solid and will continue to be. There’s just so much that can happen there, especially since smart phones just keep getting more and more prevalent. Look for deep integration into other things outside of the phone, i.e. the POS, and other electronics. The phone you carry on you is only going to get more and more deeply connected to everything within close proximity to you. There’s still tons of potential for ideas here to make these connections.
Gamification is big because there are so many game dynamics you can invent to motivate people to perform the actions you want them to perform in your application. When I planned ThirstyVIP.com we spent months imagining several complex games befoer we finally settled on something more communication and transaction oriented. That doesn’t mean the gamification was a bad idea. It just would have been better if a company like BadgeVille could plug it into our application. At the time we discovered all sorts of game dynamics, from virtual good stuff, to MMORPG treasure chests of items you collected and earned armor points from and the like to plain badges. There’s tons of stuff you can do. There is basically an endless amount of ways you can reward your users and rules/constraints that govern what users must do.
Ok, so now with the markets we plan to enter in mind, read Techcrunch.com every day until you figure out an idea not done yet that will solve a real problem that some group of users will be willing to pay for...
You think I’m joking? There really is no other way. You need to do this for a while. You need to look out for the articles about all the graduates from programs like Techstars and Y Combinator. I love those articles because it lets me check out 10+ startups quickly all at once. That’s how I sharpen my market and product knowledge.
For real though, I wish I could give more advice. I’m trying to think of specifically what happens in my head when I see a newly launched product that gives me an idea for something else related, but new and unique. Typically new ideas will be a mashup of multiple other ideas. Or, it will be a play on an old theme. For example, Scvngr came up with a spin on the group buying daily deals thing where they created basically a game dynamic where the deal gets better or changes each time you come back and redeem it, thereby solving the problem Groupon was having in that it didn’t create any repeat customers. Now, I’m not sure how successful it’s been, but it still highlights how you can watch market ideas and use a little bit of elbow grease and wit to come up with a new and innovative spin that patches up a hole in what’s already out there. This example is exactly what I’m talking about. You need to be able to see what problems current solutions/product do not solve, and like a quarterback sneak through the middle unexpectedly.