Coming up with a creative and unique idea is one of the deciding factors as to whether your start-up will succeed. With 9 out of 10 start-ups failing during their first few years, it’s crucial to put in the time and effort to come up with a concept that stands out and addresses a specific need in the market.
However, coming up with a good start-up idea that has potential is hard. To help you, we’ve listed 5 ways that you can come up with a great idea!
More of a watcher than a reader? Check out this awesome video by Noah Kagan giving you 10 exercised to come up with profitable business ideas.
How Do I Come Up With A Unique Business Idea?
Focus On Your Own Interests / Skill Sets
Are you an expert in a certain field, or are you really passionate about a specific topic? If so, think of the pain points that you experience while working or engaging with that field or topic. These pain points can be potential areas of opportunity for a new start-up idea.
By leveraging your expertise and passion, you can create a unique solution that is tailored to your target market and provides some real value. By prioritizing what you know and what you’re good at, you’ll be able to create a start-up idea that you’re truly passionate about and that has a greater chance of success.
When I’m building my startups, I’ve learned that simply taking a step back and looking at the everyday problems I face is a great way to brainstorm ideas.
Plus, being part of the industry gives me lots of experience and connections to get my startup off the ground. This approach has really given my business a boost several times.Tom Farmer
Note: It’s worth validating that your idea is useful to others before starting development
There’s nothing more frustrating than using a piece of software that doesn’t quite fit your needs. Use tools such as Reddit and Twitter to identify feedback that is repeatedly given about a certain product and develop a solution that addresses this feedback.
By analysing the feedback of other companies in a niche, you stand to create a product that truly fits a specific demographic’s requirements, allowing you to penetrate the market.
Review What’s Trending
Ideas or technologies that are trending are a great way to come up with new start-up ideas. Monitor your favourite social media’s trending section or visit Google Trends to identify the keywords that are being searched for frequently. Once you’ve got a list of keywords, brainstorm product ideas that could get picked up by the trend.
Creating a project that makes use of a trend can quickly launch a product into success. After Danny Postma created an AI profile picture generator inspired by the release of DALL·E 2 in late 2022, he received over 750 purchases in 4 days and earnt $50k in 2 weeks. While numbers like these are the exception rather than the rule, Danny’s experience shows the potential of creating a start-up idea from an ongoing trend.
Online Forums / Media
Searching online forums or social media platforms in areas around niches that you’re interested in can be a great way to come up with ideas for your start-up. Reading through posts that potential customers have written can identify pain points about specific tasks that you can solve. Actively contributing to discussions and asking questions about areas that they find challenging can also provide meaningful insight.
Talking to other solo entrepreneurs or indie hackers can spark levels of inspiration and creativity. Hanging out with others, either online through communities such as Indie Hackers, or in person at entrepreneur meetings can provide a lot of inspiration.
One great way to find startup ideas is by chatting with your network and asking them about their everyday problems and challenges.
If you’re stumped for ideas, chances are, a friend, family member, or colleague has a problem you could help solve.Tom Farmer
How Long Does It Take To Come Up With A Startup Idea?
Coming up with a truly great startup idea is a process that demands time and effort. It is unlikely to happen in a single sitting; instead, one should be prepared to invest approximately 30 to 40 hours of dedicated brainstorming.
Generating innovative concepts and identifying market opportunities requires a certain level of exploration, experimentation, and reflection. It is crucial to give yourself the space and freedom to work through various ideas, allowing your thoughts to percolate and evolve over time.
By immersing yourself in this creative process and giving it the attention it deserves, you enhance the chances of uncovering a startup idea that possesses the potential for success and impact.
The 3 Methods For Creating Inspirational Startup Ideas
Now we’ve seen how to get great startup inspiration, let’s have a look at the 3 methods I use to come up with some great ideas.
1. The Spark of Inspiration
Sometimes, the best startup ideas strike unexpectedly, catching you off guard during everyday moments like taking a shower, driving, or simply doodling.
In those moments, the dots connect in a fresh and exhilarating way, and you find yourself with an epiphany. The potential value of this newfound idea feels glaringly obvious, and you’re astonished that nobody else has thought of it before. However, as you delve into research, you often discover that similar concepts already exist.
Still, you might believe you can execute it better. As you contemplate further, you start uncovering challenges and seek feedback from trusted friends, who shed light on aspects you hadn’t considered—such as a limited market or reluctance to pay for the product. It could still be a remarkable idea, but with uncertainty and a stable job, you decide to let the dream fade away. Take solace; it was likely the right decision.
2. Insights from Within
This path to a startup idea emerges from your deep familiarity with a particular industry or domain. Perhaps you’ve spent years developing enterprise software for airlines and noticed gaps in the product lineup or flaws in your company’s go-to-market strategy.
Despite bringing attention to these issues, they remain unresolved due to other organizational priorities. Alternatively, you observe that your company spends significant sums on vendors but fails to achieve satisfactory outcomes, envisioning a way to deliver better results at a lower cost.
In some cases, you may have witnessed your organization’s political or organizational reasons hamper the launch of a promising product or feature, despite positive user interest.
Driven by these observations, you decide to take matters into your own hands and begin exploring potential solutions on the side. Leveraging your extensive knowledge and network within the industry, you gather more specific information, engage with trusted colleagues and industry contacts, and assess the feasibility of solving the identified problem.
The advantage lies in your established position and connections in the business landscape. Good luck as you embark on this entrepreneurial journey!
3. The Purposeful Quest
Unlike the previous paths, this approach starts not with a specific business idea but with an innate desire to become an entrepreneur and establish a new venture.
You may be contemplating quitting your job and diving in wholeheartedly or starting as a side project alongside your current work. Regardless, you’re actively searching for the right business idea to pursue. It could be something related to your existing work environment or industry, similar to the second path.
While the first two paths often unfold organically, the deliberate idea-seeking process caters to individuals who unequivocally know they want to start a company but haven’t yet identified their ideal concept. If you find yourself in this third group, then this answer is tailored specifically for you.
Creating a New Business Idea – The Step-By-Step Guide
Idea generation is an exhilarating and liberating process, but it represents only the initial phase of the journey. The true differentiator lies in the execution of your idea, a stage where many individuals stumble and fall short. However, it is worth emphasizing that having the right idea significantly enhances your chances of successful execution. In order to accomplish this effectively, the following system will guide you in the pursuit of a well-crafted concept that aligns with your goals and aspirations. Remember, while ideation may be enjoyable, it is the execution that separates the wheat from the chaff.
1. Identify Your Personal Goal
To kickstart the process, it’s crucial to determine your primary motivation or personal goal for starting a business. This step allows you to align your aspirations with the specific type of venture you envision. Take the time to contemplate and choose from the following options, considering the potential outcomes and your level of commitment:
- Fun or Hobby-Based Business: Explore the realm of creative endeavours or niche interests, such as crafting handmade bracelets to sell on platforms like Etsy.
- Part-Time Lifestyle Business: Consider a venture that offers flexibility and the potential to transition into a full-time pursuit over time, like running a wine-investment club.
- Full-Time Startup with Acquisition Exit: Aim for a fast-paced startup experience with the goal of being acquired within 3-5 years, exemplified by concepts like an innovative fish-based accommodation platform, akin to Airbnb for fish.
- Large, Cash-Flow Positive Business: Set your sights on building a substantial and financially sustainable enterprise, such as a business-to-business furniture import and delivery service.
- Path to Industry Credibility and Networking: Prioritize building industry credibility and fostering connections within your field, like establishing a scriptwriting peer-training exchange for aspiring comedy writers.
To ensure you have a reference point for future decision-making, create a new spreadsheet and dedicate the first tab to outlining your chosen goal. While it may seem meticulous at this stage, having this documented will prove invaluable in case you need to pause the project and resume it later on.
2. Frame the Problem
To enhance the effectiveness of your brainstorming, it is essential to approach idea generation in a deliberate manner. Merely jotting down ideas from scratch may lead to underwhelming results, influenced by your existing predispositions. For instance, a gamer might generate ideas focused on gaming, while someone working in cloud computing may envision innovative approaches within that domain. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can limit the breadth of your ideation.
To overcome this limitation, you need to intentionally structure your brainstorming process. Here’s how:
- In the spreadsheet you created in Step 1, add a new sheet and create a list of 15-20 distinct customer or audience categories in the first column. Instead of relying solely on traditional demographic descriptions (e.g., age range, income), employ descriptive phrases that capture specific groups of consumers or businesses facing unique challenges and needs. These types of descriptions are more tangible, facilitating idea generation effectively.
- Begin with categories related to your personal interests, hobbies, experiences, or professional network, but don’t confine yourself to these areas alone.
- Along the first row of your spreadsheet, list various business or pricing models that could be applied to the identified customer/audience categories. Remember, there is no definitive right or wrong approach, and the term “business model” is used broadly here. Some models may not apply to every group, and there can be overlap. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate your brainstorming process and facilitate the comparison of new business ideas, rather than becoming an expert in business models. Consider models such as subscriptions, product bundling, risk management/insurance, auctions, resale/classifieds, peer-to-peer exchanges, outsourcing non-core functions, freemium, advertising-supported content, new product development, after-sale care, daily deals (discounted pre-sale), collaborative consumption (e.g., like Airbnb), rapid evaluation/matching (e.g., like Tinder), sales channel innovation, lead generation and referrals, marketplace, brokerage, BI/CI solutions, community building, and more (for additional inspiration, refer to TechCrunch’s business models).
3. Come Up With Ideas
By now, your spreadsheet consists of a grid with customer/audience types listed vertically and business/pricing models listed horizontally. Each intersection point in the grid presents an opportunity for brainstorming ideas. To effectively generate a range of ideas, follow these steps:
- Start by going through each square in the grid. While some boxes may be quickly dismissed (e.g., Business Intelligence for stay-at-home moms), it’s worth considering each one, as unexpected ideas may emerge.
- Proceed column by column, focusing on a specific business or pricing model. Spend around 5 minutes researching existing businesses that employ that model to familiarize yourself with the space. Then, contemplate how the chosen model could apply to each potential customer or audience group. Consider their priorities, pain points, inefficiencies, and dependencies. Explore relevant discussion forums to gain insights into their interests and common complaints. Look for existing companies that already serve these groups. Take note of what they offer.
- The first column will likely take the most time as you learn about each of the 15-20 customer types. The process will become faster as you progress through subsequent columns.
- Whenever you come up with a promising idea, record it in the corresponding box of the grid. For example, providing after-sale customer management for retail insurance agents or establishing a debt auction business for startups seeking seed funding. If necessary, use the appropriate formatting to add multiple ideas within a single box.
- Aim to generate at least six solid ideas. Create a new tab in your spreadsheet specifically for listing these ideas. In addition to jotting down the ideas themselves, include details such as the goal, target audience(s), and business/pricing model(s) associated with each idea. While these aspects may evolve over time, starting with a grounded foundation allows you to work backwards and refine your concepts.
Remember, the goal is to develop a robust list of ideas that can be explored further. By following this process and documenting your ideas in the spreadsheet, you’ll have a solid starting point for the next stage of the startup ideation process.
4. Refine Your Ideas
The next step involves evaluating your list of ideas against specific criteria to narrow down your options to the most promising three. Consider the following factors:
- Heat in the space: Take into account the level of activity and discussions surrounding the industry or market. Look for relevant insights on platforms like Quora to gauge the interest and engagement in the field.
- Your experience and connections: Assess your familiarity with the industry or similar businesses. Consider whether you have relevant experience or valuable connections within that space. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages associated with your background.
- Alignment with goals: Determine how well each idea aligns with your original goals and aspirations. Assess whether the upfront capital costs required for the business are compatible with your desired investment level.
- Market opportunity: Evaluate the size of the market and the uniqueness or differentiation of your approach. While competition should be considered, don’t be discouraged by its presence. View it as validation that the space is intriguing. Numerous companies have disrupted markets that were previously considered solved, as demonstrated by examples like Google, Facebook, Uber, Gmail, iPhone, Flipboard, and others.
To narrow down your ideas, rely on a combination of science and intuition. Trust your gut feeling and consider factors like which ideas seem the most enjoyable and where you feel most comfortable and confident.
Quantifying Your Findings
If you want to add a more scientific approach, you can quantify the criteria. Create additional columns in the Ideas tab, each representing a criterion. Score each idea on a scale of 1-5 for each criterion, with 5 being the best. If uncertain, rely on your intuition or spend a short amount of time researching online. Remember, don’t get stuck in the details and keep moving forward.
Once you have assigned scores to each idea, add up the scores and sort your list based on the total. Higher scores indicate greater interest in the idea.
After evaluating your ideas, seek feedback from trusted friends or advisors. Narrow down the list to the three ideas that appear most promising. If you have performed the optional scoring step, remember that you are not obliged to choose the three ideas with the highest scores. Select the ideas that resonate most strongly with you and align with your overall vision.
5. Research, Research, Research
To evaluate and refine your ideas more efficiently, engaging in discussions with potential customers, users, and partners is crucial. However, going into these conversations unprepared can lead to asking the wrong questions, sounding out of place, and wasting both your time and theirs.
Before investing in surveys, coffee shop chats, or informational meetings, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the basics of the industry you are targeting. If you rated yourself 5 in the “Experience and connections” category in Step 4, you can skip this step. Otherwise, allocate 2-3 hours per idea to gain industry knowledge.
Throughout this process, take detailed notes. Create a new tab for each idea or an entirely new document where you can jot down information. Track the individuals you’ve spoken with, email correspondence, feedback received, and other relevant details. These notes will prove invaluable as you progress.
Here’s my recommended approach:
- Seek input from knowledgeable friends and family: Reach out to your network, leveraging platforms like LinkedIn. Provide them with an overview of your idea and request their opinions. Take thorough notes during or immediately after the conversation and ensure you ask about the biggest challenges or issues they perceive. If they are part of your industry, inquire about other companies in the space and their insights on industry pain points.
- Talk to potential investors: Engage with individuals who may have experience in angel investing, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, and similar areas. Position your conversation as seeking advice rather than seeking investment. Their trained perspective can provide valuable insights.
- Conduct extensive online research: Explore the industry landscape in-depth. Find out about competing companies and add them to your spreadsheet. Read their websites, watch videos, and conduct searches using combinations of relevant keywords” This type of search query surfaces articles and blog posts analyzing the broader industry, offering useful perspectives and uncovering competitors you may have missed. Utilize resources like Wikipedia to learn industry vocabulary and structure, and search platforms like Quora for industry-specific questions and discussions.
- Identify external dependencies: Determine any external factors or dependencies that your business idea may rely on. This could include the availability of data (free or paid), specific physical materials or machinery, permits or government approvals, recruitment of specialized personnel, expensive equipment, or the need for significant outside funding due to high capital costs. Understanding these dependencies will help you gauge the feasibility and challenges associated with your idea.
By completing these steps, you will gain sufficient knowledge to have meaningful and intelligent conversations with individuals in your target industries. Furthermore, this research and understanding will likely lead to improvements and refinements in your ideas.
6. Engage With People Outside Your Circles
Before diving headfirst into a new venture, it’s crucial to validate your business idea beyond your close circles. You need to determine if your idea addresses a genuine issue for potential users or customers and whether they would be willing to pay for your product or service. Additionally, it’s essential to understand if businesses have the budget to invest in what you’re offering. The specific approaches for validation will depend on your business idea, but here are some general recommendations:
- Run an online survey:
- Utilize platforms like Google Surveys to quickly gather responses from your target customers or audience.
- These surveys allow you to easily limit responses to your target group, ensuring valuable feedback.
- While online surveys may incur a cost (a couple hundred bucks per survey), you can also consider posting your concept on discussion forums or platforms like Quora to gather feedback at a lower cost.
- Engage with potential customers:
- If your target market is consumers, identify where they spend their time and approach them in those locations (e.g., specific neighborhoods, coffee shops, concerts, sporting events, conventions, etc.).
- Consider printing a sign for the back of your laptop that offers a “free latte” in exchange for feedback if you end up in a coffee shop.
- If your target market is B2C businesses, position yourself as a customer and interact with them, asking relevant questions and even making a purchase if they have retail operations.
- For B2B businesses, reach out via email or attend conferences where they are present. Aim for informational interviews, presenting your intention to improve the industry and seeking their expertise and advice. People generally appreciate being asked for their opinions and expertise.
- Communicate with suppliers:
- As a potential buyer, engaging with suppliers is relatively easy, as they will be interested in securing your business.
- In a previous step, you identified external dependencies and potential vendors. Schedule meetings with these suppliers to gather information.
- While some details may be available on their website, specific information such as pricing and access restrictions might require email or phone communication.
- Aim to speak with multiple providers for each item to compare prices and identify industry trends or differences.
7. Get Started
By now, you should have a clear idea as to which startup idea is right for you and enough potential customers to get started and get good feedback.
- Importance of a Unique Idea: Success in the startup world often hinges on having a creative and unique business idea, given the high failure rate of startups.
- Ways to Generate Startup Ideas: There are various methods to generate innovative startup ideas:
- Leverage Your Expertise: Identify pain points in areas you are knowledgeable or passionate about to create tailored solutions.
- Competitor Analysis: Analyze feedback and shortcomings of existing products or services to develop a better solution.
- Monitor Trends: Keep an eye on trending topics and technologies to create products or services that capitalize on current market interests.
- Engage Online: Participate in online forums, social media, and discussions to uncover pain points and needs in specific niches.
- Network: Interact with other entrepreneurs to gain inspiration and insights.
- Time Investment: Creating a great startup idea takes time, typically requiring around 30 to 40 hours of dedicated brainstorming and research.
- How Business Ideas Emerge: Startup ideas can originate from various sources, including unexpected sparks of inspiration, insights gained from industry experience, and deliberate searching for entrepreneurial opportunities.
- Step-by-Step Idea Generation Process: To generate and refine startup ideas, follow these steps:
- Identify your personal goals for the business.
- Frame the problem by categorizing potential customer groups and business models.
- Generate ideas systematically by exploring intersections of customer categories and business models.
- Refine ideas based on criteria such as market heat, personal experience, alignment with goals, and market opportunity.
- Conduct thorough research to validate and improve your ideas.
- Engage with people outside your immediate circles to gather feedback.
- Take action and start working on your chosen startup idea.
- Validation Is Crucial: Once you have an idea, validate it by gathering feedback and ensuring it addresses real market needs.
- Continued Learning: Continue to educate yourself about the industry and market trends to stay ahead and adapt your startup idea accordingly.
Remember, generating a successful startup idea is just the beginning; execution and adaptability are equally crucial for long-term success.
The Bottom Line
Although coming up with a solid idea for a start-up can be challenging, hopefully, this blog post has highlighted some new ways that you can seek inspiration. Once you’ve got your idea, make sure that you validate it to ensure that it is a great market fit for your clients.