30 Startup Ideas from Y Combinator

Fresh out of ideas for your next technology startup? No worries—investor/programmer/Web guru Paul Graham, founder of the Cambridge, MA, and Mountain View, CA-based Y Combinator startup incubator, published a handy list this weekend of 30 niches waiting to be filled by clever entrepreneurs.

Graham says he published the list because the ideas represent the kind of proposals Y Combinator is hoping to see when groups apply for the program (which pays startup founders’ living expenses while they spend three months solidifying their business ideas). That’s not to say that Y Combinator is only looking for startups in these areas—just that “we really want people to work on them,” in Graham’s words. And truly clever software engineers and marketers, he acknowledges, will take the ideas “in directions we didn’t anticipate.”

A few of the ideas that sound especially sensible and worthwhile to me:

#3 “New news.” Newspapers and magazines are dying. Blogs like PerezHilton, TechCrunch, and (we hope) Xconomy are pointing the way toward something new. “But these are just the beginning,” Graham argues.

#7 “Something your company needs that doesn’t exist.” This is just good advice in general, and embodies Y Combinator’s ruling philosophy: make things people want. If you frequently curse the lack of some item of software or hardware that would make your own life easier—a machine that would clean out the company refrigerator so that it doesn’t start to smell like a biology lab, perhaps?—it’s probably a good idea for a product.

#9 “Photo/video sharing services.” Flickr is great, Photobucket is great, but there are so many more cool things that we could be doing with our online media.

#16 “A form of search that depends on design.” Apple gets its chocolate into Google’s peanut butter. Enough said.

#21 “Finance software for individuals and small businesses.” Graham is absolutely right when he says “Intuit seems ripe for picking off”—Quicken is feeling ancient and creaky. But hurry, because companies like Geezeo are already working on this one.

#23 “More open alternatives to Wikipedia.” Graham perfectly summarizes why I use Wikipedia a lot, but would never think of trying to contribute to it: because “Deletionists rule.” Graham thinks that’s because the clique of Wikipedia editors is “constrained by print-era thinking.” I think it’s because they’re a clique. There’s lots of room for a truly open, collective, yet authoritative effort to document the world around us. I’m not sure this is a business, exactly, but it would sure be worthwhile.

#28 “Fixing email overload.” I’d kill for this one. But as Graham notes, “the best solution may not be anything as obvious as a new mail reader.” Maybe it’s a technology that would siphon away much of the non-urgent stuff we receive every day into other kinds of receptacles, where we could check it at our leisure.

Graham’s list stopped at 30. But we’ll toss in one more idea for good measure:

#31 Better, easier, more specialized online backup. Companies like Mozy and Carbonite offer pretty good catch-all services for backing up your hard drive to the cloud. But the interfaces are still kind of clunky—they aren’t drop-dead simple, the way they need to be to encourage mass-market adoption. And what if you just want to back up your photos or videos? There must be lots of niche online storage applications waiting to be explored.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “30 Startup Ideas from Y Combinator”

  1. My company is working on #31. We recently launched Cucku Backup which is an alternative to Online Backup. Our product backs up to a friend, family member or second PC (Social Backup). Social Backup allows you to help someone out and also means getting offsite backup for free without the monthly fees associated with Online Backup.

    Ease of use is critical to driving adoption of offsite backup. The Social Backup model does more though – it helps people reach out so that the technically adept can help a friend or parent that they know is unprotected. Bridging this gap between people who backup and people who don’t is much more significant that just building a better backup product.

  2. Wingo says:

    ycombinator is just fishing to knock off someone else’s intellectual capital and doesn’t even bother to respond to inquiries even though they are soliciting ideas.

  3. My startup is working on #13 (since it’s not part of this article, I pasted it below the comment). Socialdecks has been launched as a new twist on flashcard-based memorization.

    Users can sign up (for free!) and study/review topics of their choice in unique ways, such as regular flashcards, or by a number of browsing methods (cloud, tagbase system, matrix, list, hierarchical, etc). There are thousands of topics to choose from, and you can learn in the best method suited for you with ease and speed.

    The “social” in Socialdecks comes from the power of connections made on Socialdecks. Users meet other respected members as societies based on their recognition on the leaderboard or respective profile badges, as well as even just by using useful/insightful decks built by masterminds. Users have made hundreds of connections on the site, and they have helped people learn and grow in an entirely new way.

    Evey new feature released is taken under consideration for user response, user friendliness, and user usage. This is exemplified by the simplicity of such features as signing up, which requires only 3 quick and easy fields, card creation, which requires only 2 fields, or even deck compilation, which requires only 1 field to be filled out, then you click your way through the simple, interactive application to form your deck.

    We don’t force you to sign up for many of the features. In fact, in current setup, you can browse, search, view, analyze, and interact with the application, all without even signing up or logging in. But once you log in, a feature-rich application is at your fingertips, only 3 fields and a click away!

    Some of our latest features include Socialdecks Groups, a portion of the site dedicated to classes and groups of people collaborating together on a single topic, such as a spanish class or physics class working together to study for an upcoming exam and the Socialdecks Online Store, a simple way to supplement your flashcard-based studying with textbooks.

    As a startup, Socialdecks strives to enhance the education process by providing a feature-rich application free of charge to a responsive and interactive audience.


    13. Online learning. US schools are often bad. A lot of parents realize it, and would be interested in ways for their kids to learn more. Till recently, schools, like newspapers, had geographical monopolies. But the web changes that. How can you teach kids now that you can reach them through the web? The possible answers are a lot more interesting than just putting books online.

    One route would be to start with test prep services, for which there’s already demand, and then expand into teaching kids more than just how to score high on tests. Another would be to start with games and gradually make them more thoughtful. Another, particularly for younger kids, would be to let them learn by watching one another (anonymously) solve problems.

  4. Joseph Ivy IV says:

    Reply to #7
    Solar Phoenix Research & Development Group presents:

    Astrolocare Software
    “Look to the stars to know who you are”

    Astrolocare will attempt to bridge the gap between the old and the new by creating software that uses the tools of astrology to systematically create compatibility profiles that will better assist people working in groups. The program will arrange people by their astrological or zodiac signs, numerological numbers, temperaments, beliefs, likes, dislikes, ideals, perceptions and other various complex components I haven’t grasped yet. The overall purpose of this software is to cut down on idle time, revitalize the notion of team spirit, improve efficiency, minimize operating costs and increase total revenue yields throughout any industry involving the grouping of people. I realize that most people will be turned off at the sheer utterance of Astrology, suggesting that it should be better used as a gimmick to lure poor unknowing souls to believe their lives are not in their total control. To that I say neigh, we are in control of our lives but we would be very foolish not to use the tools the universe has given to us to map out our lives so that we can fully maximize our God given talents. Let me know what you guys think about my idea and hopefully we as a whole can get things going on the right track, because if you where born after 1979 like me, older people think you are cat shit crazy, lol. Have a good day everybody and remember a good Scorpio told you that!

    Copyright 2008-2010 Byrdonaturd