The Hollywood version of startups often involves some divine inspiration by the company founders. It’s usually a flash of brilliance and recognition that becomes the basis for their entrepreneurial venture. But, it’s not always that way and, in fact, we’d say that more often than not, it shouldn’t be that way. As we talk about often in The Startup Playbook, it’s not your idea that’s important, it’s the execution of a business built around an idea that makes a company work. So, it’s OK when founders struggle with how to come up with a startup idea.
Creating an idea for a business should be thought of as a process. If you talk to creative agencies that are chartered with inventing new marketing campaigns, you’ll learn that they don’t sit around waiting for lightning to strike. They aggressively put themselves in positions to create new ideas. They’ll brainstorm, they’ll look at analogous categories, and they’ll go through exercises to change the way that they are looking at things.
You can do the same with your startup idea. It is rare that ideas will just pop into your head. Put yourself in a position to create ideas. If you know a market sector that you are interested in, spend time with people in that sector. If you are deeply involved in a sector and want to leverage your experience, go talk to potential customers in that area.
There are a number of ways that you can generate ideas:
- Personal need – many great companies are created because a founder needed that particular product. When they went to look for it in the market, they couldn’t find it. So, they created it. This is a fantastic way to create new ideas. Think about things that would make your life easier or that you need. Generally, businesses in this category tend to be consumer focused businesses, but some times you find that need in your business too.
- Customer need – another great method to create ideas is to spend time with potential customers in under-served markets. If those people are willing to spend time with you, then that is invaluable. You can ask them dozens of questions, learning about how they spend their time, the challenges they’re facing, what would make their life easier, and their priorities. Many people that are doing their jobs are anxious to talk about how they can solve their problems. You may need to find the right type of people, but if you are able to create the right environment, the potential customers will be open to talking. The more people that you can talk to, the greater the number of ideas that you can generate and you can also spend time refining the idea with the prospect.
- Research – some founders are great at doing investigative research. They can look at a variety of different markets and dig into each one to find potential gaps. Research doesn’t count on any domain expertise in the category, but rather a sense for what could be missing in the market based on investigative research.
As with most brainstorming exercises, come up with the ideas and don’t censor them at the beginning. Having a list of different ideas, spaces, and markets that are interesting to you is a great way to start. You’ll have time to whittle them down into ones that have potential. Most ideas aren’t viable, but as you refine and work on them, you’ll be surprised at how many of them can work.
And, then don’t forget your idea is just the start. You’ll be refining it and vetting it over a long period of time to see if it’s viable, and then ultimately scalable into a thriving startup.
We talk a great deal about the ideation process in our book, The Startup Playbook. You don’t have to sit back and wait for that great idea to hit you, you can go out and create it! Grab a copy of the book to learn more.