Looking for the next billion dollar idea? Come on, many unicorns turn far away from their initial ideas. At the same time, novice entrepreneurs often fail to understand that and strive to invent the next “you name it” idea.

Experienced entrepreneurs know the better way. All they need to do is to look inside their inner self and talk to other people to learn what remains broken in the world around. Then — fix that, in the best possible way.

Well, so easy to read, but the devil is in the details. That’s why I’d like to share the set of techniques how to come up with better ideas for a startup.

Look Inside Yourself

Great ideas are born when you feel a particular need on your own. However, you may not notice those signals in the daily routine. Want to talk about it? Well, sit down comfortably, calm down your mind and ask yourself:

What of your talents do you like most or what skills do you want to improve?

Consciously or subconsciously, Mark Zuckerberg wanted to be more social, hence Facebook. Jack Dorsey wanted to feel more connected to a city’s activities, which led to Twitter.

Let’s continue, now proceed to more concrete questions:

Write down your answers. Even if you failed to identify something worthwhile, you might have an insight next time when you re-read it.

What Drives You?

Time flies when we enjoy something. These are the moments that can bring in new opportunities. This is a way to identify business ideas from your hobbies.

  1. List activities which you truly enjoy doing. Select three or five the best ones.
  2. Talk to yourself in detail: what do you really like in each of those activities.
  3. Find one or two most painful problems in relation to these activities.
  4. Describe in details how to solve these problems if you had all the resources.
  5. Tell your friends and peers about the solution and get their feedback.
  6. Describe in detail the minimal viable solution. How would it look like?
  7. Determine what you need to build the prototype and proceed to actual work.

Make the first, simplest step without delay. Do it today, right now! Decide what should be your next second step and schedule it for tomorrow, in the morning (if necessary, wake up earlier).

You see, you are on your way to make something meaningful.

Talk to Professionals

Talk to people who work in the area of your interest or where you see the highest potential. Without any doubt, most of them face lots of challenges in their professional life and know all the details that make sense.

Ask questions, do not interrupt, listen carefully and write down their answers. Here are questions you may use.

After a dozen of discussions, you may spot some repeating answers. It could be what you are looking for. Ideally, 25–30 talks of this kind are needed to gather enough data to start seeing repetitive patterns.

We, at Standuply, did hundreds of interviews to understand how we can improve communications in distributed teams using a Slack bot.

The Deliberate Idea

Dan Lewis, CEO of Convoy.com, goes further and distinguishes three basic idea types:

  1. The spontaneous idea.
  2. The insider idea.
  3. The deliberate idea.

The first two types do not depend on our efforts. In contrast, ideas of the third type are born when access to insights is difficult. Thus, you have to put some extra effort.

The algorithm is the following. Motivation -> Problem -> Several ideas -> Validation -> Implementation. It takes ~30–40 hours, see more on Quora.

Moreover, Dan shares many links to different training books and articles which are also worth your attention.

Look for Complaints

Every time someone complains, write it down. It could be about customer service or how expensive bath towels are. Listen for phrases such as ‘I hate’, ‘I wish’, ‘thats so annoying’. These are queues for potential startup ideas.

Search on Twitter can be also very insightful. Twitter is often used to post complaints addressed to companies or share thoughts aloud. Here are some more phrases that can take you closer to insights.

“I wish I had”
“is the worst product”
“that’s so frustrating”
“does anyone know how”

You can also read feedback sections at different websites with users ideas and comments. From time to time, you can find something interesting. For example, try this Google search request “sucks site:uservoice.com”.

Platform Thinking

Find a problem which is still solved inconveniently or in an old-fashioned way. Then you have to figure out whether this problem can be solved by the people on their own, but with your coordination.

Here is a simple algorithm.

  1. Select a market where two parties exchange some values (i.e. taxi drivers and passengers, or locksmiths and apartment owners).
  2. Identify the problems which limit their collaboration.
  3. Think about how to solve the problems encountered by both parties. Your invention should increase the value of their cooperation.

The best example is, for sure, Uber. So you need to match an undervalued (redundant) resource (the free time of car owners) with a non-satisfied deficit (cheap taxi for every day, as if having an own chauffeur).

Not many ideas? You can study this topic on Quora. However, there is no guarantee you pick the unique idea nobody works on.

Idea Hexagon

Ramesh Raskar, a MIT Media Lab professor, purposed a unique method to develop inventive skills (see on SlideShare). It is called “Idea Hexagon”. Here are its key thinking principles.

  1. X for Y => X for…?
    (Uber for taxi => Uber for home cleaning)
  2. X + Y = …?
    (Scooter + iPhone => Electric scooter)
  3. Given a hammer, find all the nails
    (Hammer — App Store, nails — apps => Apps ecosystem)
  4. X + Adjective =…?
    (Car rent + social = Car sharing)
  5. Do exactly the opposite
    (Bank with many offices => Online bank without an office)

Ramesh likes to say:

It is important to work with people who think differently. The greater is their difference, the more effective shall be the co-work.

See the video here.

Product Analysis

Here are some simple exercises to help you getting new ideas.

  1. Improve sales.
    Take any product and try to invent ways to increase their sales. What do you think should be done to achieve this? How can you make it better?
  2. Apply new business model.
    Pick a product and change its business model completely. If it’s a toy shop what would happen if toys are for rent?
  3. Business decomposition.
    There is Facebook with a variety of functions, and there is Twitter with the only function of user status broadcasting similar to Facebook.

Brainstorming to Spur Creative Thinking

Brainstorming model by David Skok helps to inspire creative thinking. Here are the basics.

  1. Identify something which is an Extreme Pain for the potential customers.
  2. A new disruptive solution should be found to kill this pain.
  3. Write down, then score and validate your ideas.

Looks simple, but the process is described in every detail. Check it out here. Put simply, the success of a business idea depends on how much unfulfilled need there is in the market.

This does not always mean that you should launch a product that does not exist in the market. You may also succeed by finding a better way to do something. For example, stand up meetings are nothing new and have long existed as a way for teams to get together for a daily status updates. With Standuply, we found a significantly better way to do get these updates. Our bot runs agile standups by reaching out to specific members of the team with predefined questions and uses their response to prepare project status reports. This brings down the time your team wastes every day with your daily scrums.

But just because you think it’s a fantastic idea does not mean there are people ready to pay money for your product or service. David Skok recommends scoring your idea based on various factors like competition, market size, barriers to entry, and so on. You may also take the idea to your target customers and assess their interest. For interest, you can set up a quick, cost-effective website using online website builder tools that explains your value proposition and market it to your demographic. If there are people signing up for launch notification or better, ready to pay for your product, then this validates your idea.

Develop Yourself

Your ideas reflect your inner world, experience, and views. Thus, training your brain is a great way to invent something new. Here are some tricks to help you to become more creative:

There is no silver bullet, the great idea can reach you everywhere: when you drive, go jogging, or during a brainstorming session. Nobody knows when it will happen next time. Stay focused and keep watching as hunters do.

Sometimes you know — it’s so close, so that you aren’t gonna quit. You may get tired, feel disappointed and frustrated. But do not never ever give up!
Keep going, and some day you will see that the gold is in your hands.

As for me, it took me 8 years long of searching and trying.

Alex Kistenev

Alex is CEO and co-founder of Standuply where he's in charge of strategy and marketing. Alex is a snowboard fan and travel addicted. Contact him via Twitter or email.

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