“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” – Oscar Wilde
For entrepreneurs, ideas that are deemed impossible by the masses are oftentimes the only ones worth pursuing. Yet how does one stumble upon those rare gems that lead to prosperity and recognition? True, many major companies were the result of serendipity on the part of the original founders, individuals lucky enough to just “come up” with a solution to a pervasive problem.
However, finding a potentially lasting and lucrative startup idea does not need to be left to chance. In fact, there are a multitude of ways that fledgling founders can discover and develop their startup ideas, and we’ve collected just a few of them here for your benefit. Hopefully, hearing from industry experts will give you the inspiration you need to mine your own gems.
Define Your Focus
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain
Paul Graham, programmer, venture capitalist, and co-founder of the noted seed accelerator Y Combinator, explores the creative process of generating startup ideas in a comprehensive essay on the subject, “How to Get Startup Ideas”.
In his essay, Paul asserts that simply thinking of potential startup ideas is an inefficient means of generating startup ideas. Aspiring entrepreneurs should instead direct their efforts towards focusing on very specific targets during the ideation phase.
The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.”
Check out Phil Libin’s Rule of Startup Timing!
Focus on Existing Problems
While focusing on existing problems seems like an obvious strategy, too many “wantrepreneurs” attempt to solve problems that no one actually has, and end up wasting time on creating non-existing solutions to non-existing problems.
Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly dangerous: it doesn’t merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.”
Focus on the Depth of the Well
Paul posits that a startup can either deliver something that a large number of people want in a small amount, or deliver something that a small number of people want in a large amount. Opt for the latter, as a startup should strive to dig a well that’s narrow and deep rather than a well that’s broad and shallow. Basically, a startup’s initial offering should cater to the small group of users who not only want to use the startup’s offering, but who urgently need it. You can worry about expansion later.
When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: Who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad.”
Focus on Yourself
When in the process of contemplating startup ideas, what you should really be doing is not “thinking up” but “noticing”. This may come as a shock to many (not that formal brainstorming and research methods aren’t effective – we’ll get to those later), but countless ideas for lucrative companies grew out of someone noticing what’s missing in the world around them.
And how do you learn to notice the potential ideas that are all around you? Become an expert in the industry you are most interested in. Try it – it might be easier than you think.
Being at the leading edge of a field doesn’t mean you have to be one of the people pushing it forward. You can also be at the leading edge as a user. If you’re not at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you can get into one. Since a successful startup will consume at least 3-5 years of your life, a year’s preparation would be a reasonable investment.”