Issue No. 13

Always be Looking for Pain: How I find and source SaaS ideas

As long as you’re listening and reading with intention, you’ll find problems to solve. It’s as simple as that. If you have a problem-solving mindset, you’ll start running across problems constantly.

Reading Time: 10 min

Always be Looking for Pain: How I find and source SaaS ideas

Source: DALLE, told to extract key phrases from this newsletter, create a prompt and using the style illustrative, colorful, futuristic create an image.

This week’s main topic is how to constantly look for SaaS ideas.

What you’ll read this week:

  • This week’s insight 👉 Building is the smaller half of starting a SaaS
  • The Main Topic → Staying in a “problem-solving” state of mind to find SaaS ideas
  • Boring SaaS Business Experiment Update, what’s happened in week 1?


🔹 This week’s insight 👉 Building is the smaller half of building a SaaS

As I wrote about two weeks ago, your ability to reach your intended audience is often greater than your product (especially early on in your SaaS’s life).

Case in point from Kyle Nolan.

Look at things take off for Kyle!

I’ve been talking with a few people lately about needing to do marketing, and one question I see frequently is what should I be doing. If you haven’t read the book Traction, you definitely need to, it outlines 19 different ways to reach your audience (yes, that’s an affiliate link, but the book is a must-read nonetheless, I’m just trying to pay my ConvertKit bill 😂).

Ultimately, building is only half of starting a successful SaaS (and it’s the smaller half).

🔹 Staying in a “problem-solving” state of mind to find SaaS ideas

Last week when I launched my Boring SaaS Business Experiment, I got a lot of questions:

  • How’d you get your ideas?
  • How’d you decide on them so fast?
  • What stack are you using (this one made me lol since builders are gonna build).

I quickly discovered that the first two questions asked, how can I find problems to solve?

My answer to everyone is, in short, “Always be looking for pain.” Then I evaluate so I can start validating.

In practice, here’s what my process looks like.

Constantly be listening

You can find ideas in surprising places. Some of my favorites are:

  • At the office (assuming you have a 9-5)
  • Friends & family in a professional field
  • Online communities

I almost always look for B2B problems when looking for pains to solve. I’m not really interested in B2C (other than my desire to make a game someday).

As long as you’re listening and reading with intention, you’ll find problems to solve.

It’s as simple as that. If you have a problem-solving mindset, you’ll start running across problems constantly.

Warning — Just because you can solve a problem doesn’t always mean your audience wants or needs you to. My wife can attest to this 😂 but also that I’ve finally learned it.

So what are people saying?

At the office…

One of my Boring Business SaaS experiments is literally born out of a common problem that has many solutions on the market today. But many have too much overhead or have moved upmarket to enterprise buyers, thus making room for me.

Like most ideas at the office, it started with a conversation like this, “Hey, do we have something to let me do X?”

But many other ideas are from being stuck doing a task manually or using an existing software solution that just sucks (I’m pretty sure Notion started because one of their founders had to use Confluence).

…many ideas are from being stuck doing a task manually or using an existing software solution that just sucks

Friends & family…

I’ve heard people complain they don’t know an industry well enough to find ideas for it. That’s fine, but guess who does? Someone in that field.

I know people in construction, legal, medical, housekeeping, and more in my family. A couple are business owners. In a simple conversation on how things are going, invariably, something will scream “there’s pain in my field”.

Case in point

  • My sister-in-law has a housekeeping business. Running a cleaning business has unique scheduling problems, including billing, etc.
  • My brother-in-law is a lawyer. Wow, talk about an industry behind the curve in technology! Back office problems, legal solutions problems, on and on, there’s plenty of room to build something.
  • My wife and another brother-in-law are in the medical field. This one is harder to get into solution-wise because of HIPAA requirements. But it’s a field dominated by one large vendor. But there are all sorts of interesting problems at play. And it has a rich history of doctors championing new solutions.
  • Another brother-in-law (Can you tell my wife is from a large family yet?) was in construction. Again, tons of problems. Tracking building supplies, scheduling subcontractors, invoicing, and more.

I could go on. I have friends in state government, friends working for other software companies, doing all sorts of things. But instead, let me give you an example.

Story Time — Wouter IJgosse of DecisionVault

Wouter, who I met in the MicroConf SaaS community back in 2020, is the founder of DecisionVault. DecisionVault is a solution that simplifies the intake of legal clients.

He’s not a lawyer. His wife is.

And that’s where the story of DecisionVault came from. His wife’s own frustration with the software systems and the duplicative work they often required.

There had to be a better way.

And there was. DecisionVault, a company Wouter started in 2020, is rapidly growing solving this exact problem.

All because Wouter was listening for pain.

Online Communities…

People talk.

They also love to complain.

Somedays, that’s what I think the internet was made for.

But this is good news for you. Because if you’re looking for a problem to solve, a problem people are talking about online is a great place to start.

The champion of finding problems this way Amy Hoy. She even coined a phrase for it called Sales Safari.

A quick recap, though, is:

  • People gather online
  • Find an audience you think you can speak to or help
  • Read what they’re talking about
  • Sort what you’re hearing
  • You’ll see common patterns
  • There are solutions you can provide (not just software!)

Once you get in the mindset, you can’t help but find problems. But is that idea worth solving?

Ask myself — Is software the solution?

As the saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

A lot of indie hackers get lost at this stage. They have an idea and know how to write software, so they go write software.

But the real question is, is software the right solution?

This is where I lean in and ask more questions.

  • Could a simple update to training be a better solution?
  • Could a change in process fix it?
  • Does it even need to be done?! (Lots of things get done in corporate America that literally are wastes of time and resources).

Amongst other things, I’m checking my bias toward software.

Great, a software solution does seem like the correct answer. Now what?

Market research — Are there already competitors (I hope so!)

Next, I want to see if there’s already competition. And I’m hoping there is. I’ve already done the “create a new market game” (future newsletter), which is exhausting.

I like boring SaaS problems. Problems that have been solved by others because they’ve done one of the most challenging lifts for me already. They’ve validated there’s a market already.

Many IndieHackers are afraid of competition. But guess what!? There are 8 billion people on earth. And there are over 334 million companies worldwide. There’s plenty of room for you. This is why having a mindset of abundance is so important.

As I look into competitors, I’m doing the following:

  • I’m evaluating if there is a broader need, current solutions == yes, no solutions be wary.
  • I’m looking for clues on how big of a market there is (a bunch of people fighting in the same small pond is not a good idea).
  • I’m seeing what people are saying about these companies. Competition is a fantastic source of intel. Looking at what people complain about in their current software is a great way to find your space.
  • I’m looking to see if others are seeking the same pain. And I’m looking to see if the language they use is the same as the competitors I’ve identified.

Pro tip - I like looking at companies’ language in their hero statement and searching in communities to see if others are asking for solutions that match that language. The more asking, the better.

I like spaces where competition is already participating, AND people are unsure of a solution (thus complaining about the pain).

Also, it’s a great way to start thinking about your positioning.

This is great because next up, I’m thinking about how to reach my audience.

Marketing — How will I reach my audience?

As I dig in, look at the competition, and reflect on how I discovered this pain, I ask one key question: “Why were they not already aware of a solution?”

  • Maybe they are, but what they see in the market doesn’t match their need?
  • Perhaps they are priced out?
  • Maybe they’re not the actual purchaser? In other words, there may be demand, but no one is willing to pay?
  • Perhaps they weren’t aware of a solution, so there’s a market mismatch in positioning and pain? (See the pro tip above)
  • The list goes on.

I’m asking myself these questions because before committing to an idea, I always want to know what my marketing plan will look like.

That’s great, but how do I select one idea over another?

I’m probably thinking about 5 to 10 ideas at any given time. That’s why I could rapidly come up with my two choices for my Boring SaaS Business Experiment.

At this point, for all the ideas I’m deciding from, I’ve:

  • Decided there is a pain worth solving for because...
  • There’s competition.
  • The market is big enough for me too.
  • I have an idea of how I can reach them.
  • And I care about the problem enough to grind it out. Because building a SaaS is challenging on many days. If you’re not passionate about a problem, walk away.

The last one is a big one. There are plenty of ideas. Find the ones you’re interested in.

So there you have it. That’s how I find ideas and evaluate them. Ultimately, I’m looking for ones where the market is big enough and it fits my interests.

Is there another way to evaluate ideas?

Jason Cohen, of WPEngine and SmartBear (you probably already know his blog thinks so. He’s working on a great blog post, “Excuse me, is there a problem?

He’s noticed something I’ve seen as well. Many people are trying to solve problems that are not viable to build a business on. Not even a solopreneur company.

Check out the article. It’s written with indie hackers in mind. He provides an excellent evaluation flow diagram and an interesting rubric to evaluate ideas.

Enjoy! (and let me know what you think)

🔹 Boring SaaS Business Experiment Update

Last week I announced my experiment. And it struck quite a cord with people when I shared it. So what have I accomplished in the first week of nights and weekends?

Rapidly decided on a tech stack

Nothing super fancy. I optimize for my familiarity and benefits that get me launched.


What’s funny is I think my tweet about my stack had more time spent by people reading it then me deciding on it.

Got started with a SaaS starter

I have the working code for both SaaS already. Why reinvent the wheel? I deployed Supabase’s SaaS Subscription Starter and rapidly started customizing it. Focusing not on aesthetics but on base functionality.

Getting the hard things out of the way first is my motto.

Most of my work has been on the hosting product. I almost have the primary functionality done.

Figured out my marketing approach!

Really I already had a good idea of what I’d do (I do follow my own advice 😀), but now that I committed to the ideas, I wanted to hammer details out more.

Here are a few brief details on the plan. I’ll be unpacking my approach in a future update.

Project Osprey (Security Data API space)

  • A traditional landing page is needed.
  • Expect a longer sales cycle (than Project Coot).
  • Will go a PLG route. Free API calls each month. Let people try and get addicted.
  • But to get people on the site?
    • SEO (how can I ____ type of blog posts)
    • YouTube videos (again, how can I videos)
    • Cold Outreach — I’ll admit this one has me nervous. I’ve not done it before. But given the target demographic, it makes sense, and it would be stupid not to try.

Project Coot (Hosting space)

  • The landing page lets you immediately get started. This one needs a very low barrier to entry.
  • Again PLG and freemium really feel like a requirement here. I expect this to have far more freemium users who never convert than Osprey. Thus the need to have a low barrier to entry.
  • And how will I reach my audience?
    • An identical approach.
    • More to figure out on cold outreach here. I may target the market that sells to my primary users.

I have very little confidence in SEO only plays now (too slow for my taste, you’re at the whim of the search engine algorithm, and ChatGPT’s play could change the search landscape dramatically. I don’t know when it will). It’s not good enough to solely be online with good blog posts anymore. Thus I’m leaning into video and cold outreach.

Other minutiae?

  • Pricing plans. I used ChatGPT quickly for Project Coot to give me Free, Standard, and Advanced. It took me 2 minutes. Love it. Not sure why my brain froze at first. Just glad I was able to get moving fast.
  • I got Stipe set up. Thankfully I ran across a bit that says you should set up different accounts for different projects. Dodged a bullet there.

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