Here’s a formula for a base-hit (or better) and optionally landing a really cool job for smart entrepreneurial geeks.
1. Take a look at the biggest apps that people can’t seem to get enough of. The iTunes Music Store, MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, etc. Don’t just focus on the hugest companies, also think about local companies that you admire, and are well funded and/or profitable. Their strengths are all very clear.
2. For each of these companies, make a list of what they’re not so good at and imagine how much more valuable they’d be if they were good at each of those things.
3. For each of these companies, figure out if they tend to build or buy technology. This is easy to research. Don’t rule out anybody based on your findings, just use the data. If they’re buyers, you’ll make sure to build your tool in their “mold” with a similar attitude, look, and feel. If they’re builders, you’re more likely to get interest from other companies that exist around the ecosystem created by that company. Just being aware of this can sharpen your thinking.
4. Figure out what you’re good at and are passionate about personally. Perhaps it’s mobile apps, ease of use, RSS, or whatever. Map this to the list you generated in step 2.
5. A very limited number of companies should now come into focus. If you can narrow this list by figuring out which of these companies you have some sort of connection into such as geography, a buddy who works there, a relationship with an existing advisor, etc., then you should probably focus on them. Much of business success is often related to who you know or whose attention you can get quickly.
6. Jump on the blogs and support forums for these companies, and see what their customers are asking them for. Talk with company insiders that you might be able to get access to, if any.
7. Pick your top company, and go and quickly build a prototype that fills their gap. Test it with a few dozen friends – don’t spend too much time on details once it’s basically working.
8. If you do know an insider or two, pitch the tool directly to them.
9. Post your free “extension/addon/tool” somewhere their customers will see it and start using it. Show it off at a tech meetup. Blog about it. Tell your friends.
10. React quickly to what the early users want, improving your tool.
Then quickly respond to any business inquiry emails that you receive. Didn’t get any? Go to step 1. 😉