It’s true: having a good business idea is a tiny part of success in business. Much more important elements of start-up success are finding a sustainable and scalable business model and execution, together with a superior strategy, resilience, building a winning team and so on. Nevertheless, a good business idea presents the beginning of everything. It’s the first step you make. It’s the spark that ignites your fire and fuels your vision and everything that enables you to engage other people and resources.
Getting a good business idea is also usually a process, not a single event. That’s where most people make the wrong assumption. Ideas are rarely a one time “aha” moment. In most cases, it takes a lot of testing, experimenting, thinking, changing, reshaping, pivoting etc. of the initial idea to get a really good business idea. The event we want is always preceded by a process. Today, the process of developing a business idea is usually done using the Business Model Canvas or Running Lean Canvas.
But still, you have to start somewhere. You need an initial business idea, an idea that draws you in so much that you’re prepared to work hard on it and test different assumptions to see if you’re really on to something. Thus let’s look at different ways of how to get an initial business idea.
The important fact is that you usually don’t come up with a good business idea. You notice a good business idea. And the best way to notice a business idea is at your daily work in your industry, where your domain expertise lies. You can identify problems your company’s business partners have, from suppliers to distributors and customers. Many new businesses start when someone proposes an idea to their boss and the boss rejects it. The person knows it’s a good idea, and so they open their own business.
- Think about how the company you work for could be 100 times better
- Think about the new things that customers want in the industry you work in
- Think about problems in your industry
- Think about trends and the next big thing in your industry
Choose an industry and do research
If you don’t like the industry you currently work in, go through a list of all potential industries and find the one you could add most value to. Select the industry for which you know you’d be most passionate about. Do research on the chosen industry. Brainstorm ideas. Maybe change your job and start working for a successful company in the chosen industry to learn and collect industry insights. There’s usually a big gap between how you think an industry works and how it really works. Thus real life experiences are always very important.
- Complete list of industries ( PDF)
- HBR List of Industries
- Investor Guide: Industry List
- Wikipedia: Major industries
- Yahoo: Industry Summary
Your current network
Analyse your social and professional network to come up with a business idea. Your network is the most valuable capital you have when starting a new business. So maybe your idea should come from your network. The contacts in your rolodex are your potential business partners and clients.
- To whom in your network would you sell what the easiest?
- Who could you invite to become your business partner?
- Who in your network has really good ideas; who is creative and ambitious?
Build your network
If you don’t have any friends, coworkers or acquaintances to start a business with, it’s maybe time to expand your social network. New beginnings in life usually also mean new people. Thus don’t be afraid to open yourself up to new social connections and new opportunities. With positive vibrations and the right attitude, the right people will come into your life. Go to Meetup and find the next event you can join and network.
- Go to business events and meet new people
- Go to tech events and meet new people
- Go to industry or other events and meet new people
Your personal problems
Think about the personal problems you’re facing in life. Good business ideas are usually solutions to real life problems. The idea behind business ideas is to make our life easier. To make us more productive and connected and safe.
The good or bad part of everything, depending on how you look at it, is that every new product on the market usually not only solves a problem but also brings a new set of problems. Think of the personal computer. It brought many advantages into our lives, but also many new problems. Thus the problems will never end, neither yours nor those of other people.
- Think of problems you’re currently facing and what product would solve them
- What problems were you facing in the past that were hard to solve?
- Which products or services would make your life much easier and cosier?
- How could you use new technologies to solve your personal problems?
Your personal sins
As you’ve probably figured out already, we don’t buy products only to fix our problems. We also buy products because of many other needs we have, many of them only psychological. We could also say that we buy our products because of our sins. If we look at the seven deadly sins, you can see the correlation very fast.
Pride forces us to buy a fancy car, envy to buy the same outfit that a Hollywood star has, wrath to buy a violent video game, sloth to buy a sauna belt instead of going jogging, greed to buy a lottery ticket, gluttony to eat everything on the menu in a cheap fast food restaurant and lust to pay for dating sites.
Good companies are supposed to get you laid (sex/socializing), made (power/reputation) or paid (saving/earning money). You can see that this concept is very closely connected to our sins. To sum up, we buy many products because of our irrational needs. The fact is that we live in a very materialistic world.
The third angle of how you can look at this is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is portrayed as a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top. Pyramid has six different types of needs. The most basic ones are physiological needs, such as air, water and sex. Then we have safety needs, such as personal and financial security. Next ones are needs of love and belonging to family, friends and spouse. Then self-esteem needs come into play, giving a sense of contribution and value. The last one are self-actualization needs.
- Think about which products you buy because of your sins
- Think about which products you’d you because of your sins if they were available
- What do your body and emotions need the most and doesn’t exist yet?
Other people’s problems and sins
If you don’t have any real problems or sins that could be good grounds for finding a new business idea, help yourself with other people in your life – from closest friends to strangers you observe in the cafeteria. The idea is to notice something that nobody has really noticed before from the business idea angle. You have one mouth and two ears for a reason: to listen to people and come up with the next big thing.
- Be curious
- Ask Questions
- Be emphatic
Products and services that suck
As any human being, you also probably use many products and services. And you’re unsatisfied with many of them or they even piss you off. You see many ways for how you could improve things and make the world a better place to live. One way to come up with a business idea is to find a product you like but you see many improvements that would make the product 10 times better. Don’t ignore the fact that established businesses usually win in the saturated market, but there are also always newcomers who shake things up a little bit. Maybe it’s time for you to shake up a chosen market.
- Which product or service could you do 10 times or even 100 times better?
- Could you make something cheaper, smaller, larger, quicker, longer, more attractive …?
- Could you make something available to more people?
- Could you make a high-end product affordable for mass market?
- Could you combine two products together?
The skills and talents you have
Think about the special skills and talents you have. Maybe you could build your business idea on that. Maybe you have really good consulting skills and you can start a consulting business. Maybe you are a very sporty type of person and you could do a personal training or fitness app or something similar. Many people start their business based on their skills, special talents or educational background.
- What are currently the best opportunities in the field you studied in?
- Do a personal SWOT analysis and think about the skills you could build your business on.
- Do you really excel at something that’s sellable?
- Can you make any awesome products with your talents?
Merging experiences from different industries
If you have many skills or experience form various industries, what you can do is take a solution from one industry and carry it over into a new industry. Or, for example, if you have #-shaped skills, you can join two of your skills together to come up with a new idea. You know, if you’re bodybuilding in your free time and coding is your occupation, you can make a fitness app and so on.
- Is there an idea you can take from one industry and implement it in another?
- Do you have two totally different areas of expertise you could join into one idea?
Same as for your skills and talents goes for your hobbies. Many people get business ideas from their hobbies and things they love to do in their free time. Make a list ofyour hobbies or hobbies you think you’d like and analyze if there are any business opportunities.
Just be careful, because real monetization potential must exist. Many business that are treated like hobbies pay like hobbies. That means nothing or close to nothing. Make sure there’s a very strict distinction between your hobby and business if you build your business based on a hobby.
- Could you make a business out of your hobby?
- Discover a Hobby
- Wikipedia: List of hobbies
- World's Largest List of Hobbies
Many new business ideas come out of research work. Google, for example. It’s not easy to find an idea with strong core competency and an unfair advantage. Years of research and development with commercial potential can be a great intellectual property to build business on. Of course there are other challenges, like how to do technology transfer etc. But more and more research institutions have technology transfer offices that make sure that transfer is legal and fair.
- Could you develop a business idea with the research you did for your Bachelors/Masters thesis or doctoral dissertation?
- Do you know anybody at research institutions you could connect with?
- Do you know any scientists doing research that could be commercialized (professionally in cooperation with technology transfer offices)?
Evolution and thinking about the future
Close your eyes and imagine how the world will look in 10, 20, 50 and 100 years. The gadgets you will have at home, the transport you will use, how you will work etc. Try to imagine all different details and things that currently aren’t possible.
Think about evolutionary (linear) changes that will happen and how things will get better step by step (super smartphones for example) and about revolutionary (rapid) changes that will completely reshape the world (for example a phone integrated in your pinky finger).
- The best way to predict the future is to create it. What products do you imagine in the future?
When thinking about the future, think about the devices that will merge together. Like ten years ago, you had a mobile phone, a camera, a compass etc. Today you have everything in a smartphone. More and more devices are converging. In the future, we will have smart watches, smart clothes, smart everything that will be connected to the internet. This kind of thinking may inspire you for a new kind of device or service.
- What devices or services or other ideas could you merge together into a new idea?
Your potential to create new ideas is like a muscle. The more you train it, the more ideas you will have. First you need to keep your mind open. You know, because a mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open. You need to be focused on new opportunities. After having an open mind, you need to constantly brainstorm new ideas. You will become better and better with time.
But no matter how good you become, there will always be dozens of shitty ideas when you brainstorm; yet among the shitty ones, a golden one will be listed sooner or later.
- Always have a pen and paper with you. Brainstorm at least 20 ideas every day.
Maybe coming up with your own idea is not really your forte, but you still have the potential to be a good business person. An important part of success is to be honest with yourself and know what strengths and weaknesses you have. Today, it’s business teams that win, not individuals. Thus nothing is wrong if you start searching for people who have good ideas and partner up with them.
- Do you have any friends that can come up with a business idea and you could join them?
- Could you join any groups for meeting meet people with good business ideas?
Another thing you can do is to look for inspiration. Good ideas mean nothing but making new connections or finding better ways to do things. Below you can find ten different types of sources that can inspire you to come up with a good idea. You can also find many links to help you out. Start browsing, researching and brainstorming. Sooner or later, you will come up with something that will set you on your new course in life. Because if you’re reading this blog, you are a winner.
Future trends are especially important for inspiration. By knowing the trends, you can also analytically decide for the most perspective industries. Here are some sites that analyse trends and predict the future:
- Alexa – What's hot?
- Alltop – What's hot?
- Forrester Blogs
- Google Trends
- Mashable Watercooler
- OReilly Radar
- Reddit Futorology
- Singularity Hub
- Think with Google
- What's Next – Now and next
- Yelp Trends
- Yahoo Trending Now
- YouTube Trends
With all the social networks, social trends are becoming more and more important, especially for ideas in culture, media and everything that’s built for the masses. Thus you can get easily inspired by browsing different social trends.
- Bottle Nose
- Like Button
- Social Trend Institute
- The Guardian Social Trends
- Trends Active
- BrandMentions – select a keyword and be notified of any mention
Magazines and articles
Magazines can be a good source of inspiration. Articles, ads, interviews, you can find a lot of content that can spark your new business idea. Specialized and hobby magazines can especially be a great help. On top of that, browsing magazines is also relaxing and fun.
Business idea lists
You can find many business idea lists online. They’re usually not revolutionary business ideas, but definitely something you can start with. Especially if you aren’t looking for hi-tech ideas, but something you can start cheaply, easily and quickly.
- Business Idea Startup List
- Business Insider: 50 ideas
- Entrepreneur Business Ideas
- Financial Highway: 50 Home Business Ideas
- FT: 50 Ideas
- Lifehacker: 50 Ideas
- My Top Business Ideas
- Pintrest: 50 Small Business Startup Ideas
- The Guardian: 50 Ideas
- The Self-Employed: Business Ideas
- The Simple Dollar: 50 Side Ideas
Product sites and lists
One thing you can do is browse different product sites and lists and think about how you could improve products. It’s a great way to brainstorm. You can also brainstorm on how to merge two products, how a product could be used in a totally different industry and so on. You just have to keep your mind open.
- Alibaba Showroom
- Amazon best sellers
- Flippa – buy and sell websites
- IMDB Movies Coming Soon
- Shopping Popular Pages
- Viral Video Chart
- What is hot on eBay
Product inspiration sites
It’s the same with product inspiration sites. The listings on product inspiration sites are only more diverse and you can find many products that aren’t on the market yet or never will be. Product inspiration sites are not only good for triggering your thinking about the future. Many unconventional products can also force you to think more outside the box.
- Business Opportunities
- Business Pundit
- Cool Business Ideas
- Cool Hunting
- More Inspiration
- Small Biz Trends
- The Cool Hunter
- Trend Hunter
Affiliate and CPA networks may also be a source for inspiration:
- Affiliate Playing – List of CPA networks
- CJ Affiliate
- Wealthy Affiliate
Much like you can copy products, so you can copy start-up ideas. It’s not the best way to start a business, but it is one possible way. Many European entrepreneurs copy American start-ups in their own country. For example, you now have numerous Groupon clones in every country. Other start-ups may also be a good inspiration for you to improve something, merge something or do it even better in a different kind of way.
- Arctic Startup
- Fast Track
- Fortune 500
- Global Finance
- Google Finance StockScreener
- Inc 5000
- Killer Startups
- Startups – Just Started
Franchises are a very popular way of opening your own business if you don’t have your own business idea. Franchises can also be a great source of inspiration for starting a business. You can look at successful franchises and think of the ways you could also start a similar business, not necessarily your own franchise, but the business as business.
- Entrepreneur Franchises
- Franchise Direct
- Inc Franchises
- International Franchise Association
- The Franchise Book
You can also browse patents to get good business ideas. Patents are, of course, protected intellectual property, so you risk a lawsuit by copying them. The idea is not to copy patents but to ask yourself about the kind of problems the patents are solving and then finding new, better solutions for them. Patents can be a good source of inspiration.
Groups and forums
Last but not least, one thing you can do is to browse online groups and forums. The idea is to identify problems people are facing, services they’re not satisfied with and so on. If you have an online group of people with a problem and you come up with a good solution, you can very quickly test your idea. The best ideas are the ones solving real problems. You can find many people complaining on the internet. Present them with a solution. Maybe that’s a good start for you.
- About Experts
- Google Groups
- How To Do Things
- Wikipedia: List of forums
- Yahoo Answers
- Yahoo Groups
I wish you all the luck and creativity possible to come up with the next big thing. I hope you have found many useful resources in this article that will help you to get business ideas. And don’t forget: ideas are a mere beginning. Building a scalable business model and executing it are much more important and harder things to do. Nevertheless, you have to start with a good (or even bad) business idea. It’s the first step towards your more creative and exciting future.