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 contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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