At the heart of any successful business is a great idea. Some seem so simple we wonder why nobody thought of them before. Others are so revolutionary we wonder how anybody could’ve thought of them at all.
“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas,” says Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. “It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself. The next best thing to an unmet need of your own is an unmet need of someone else. Try talking to everyone you can about the gaps they find in the world. What’s missing? What would they like to do that they can’t? What’s tedious or annoying, particularly in their work?”
Vancouver-based entrepreneur Thierry LeVasseur is a veteran innovator of web-based communications strategies and solutions, with a number of patents to his credit that have provided the basis for several new business ventures. He’ll be the first to tell you that his best ideas came “from a deep understanding of where the needs and gaps exist within the products, services and technologies we use in our daily lives. They also come from the ability to think outside the box, and with a strong user focus.”
Lea Lange, co-founder of the German startup Junique, says her business idea came from her private life: “I’m very passionate about design and can spend a lot of time on it. But, even for me, it’s really difficult to find things to hang on the wall if you don’t want to get involved with real art—and you maybe don’t have the necessary funds available— but equally don’t want to just pop into IKEA. We had the feeling that there is a market for that. That’s how the idea for Junique was born.”
The founder and CEO of Linkitz, Lyssa Neil, suggests you start making lists of problems that you observe out in the world. “Later, you can reflect and prioritize the problems to decide which are worth researching and then testing out,” she adds.
Even if you generate an idea that someone has thought of before, you may still be able to do it better, says Dan Lewis, head of product at Wavii. Keep thinking about it and research potential problems. “Then share it with a few trusted friends and get feedback,” says Lewis.
Al Ries, chairman of marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries, agrees that feedback is crucial. “You are “severely limiting yourself if you rely solely on your own ideas—especially when your creative juices run dry.
“If you have 15 or 20 friends, chances are a couple of them have some incredible business ideas,” Reis adds. “If it weren’t for Steve Jobs’ good friend Steve Wozniak, there would be no Apple Computer today.”