An undergrad could build something better as a class project. Online dating is a valuable business now, and it might be worth a hundred times as much if it worked.
An idea for a startup, however, is only a beginning.
A lot of would-be startup founders think the key to the whole process is the initial idea, and from that point all you have to do is execute. If you go to VC firms with a brilliant idea that you'll tell them about if they sign a nondisclosure agreement, most will tell you to get lost. The market price is less than the inconvenience of signing an NDA.
Google's plan, for example, was simply to create a search site that didn't suck.
They had three new ideas: index more of the Web, use links to rank search results, and have clean, simple web pages with unintrusive keyword-based ads.
Above all, they were determined to make a site that was good to use.
No doubt there are great technical tricks within Google, but the overall plan was straightforward.
And while they probably have bigger ambitions now, this alone brings them a billion dollars a year.
There are plenty of other areas that are just as backward as search was before Google.
I can think of several heuristics for generating ideas for startups, but most reduce to this: look at something people are trying to do, and figure out how to do it in a way that doesn't suck.
For example, dating sites currently suck far worse than search did before Google. They seem to have approached the problem by thinking about how to do database matches instead of how dating works in the real world.
March 2005(This essay is derived from a talk at the Harvard Computer Society.)You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible.