How to come up with a business ideaHow to come up with a business idea

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Anyone can come up with a business idea but crafting an idea that can be taken from paper to production and still exist five years from now takes more than just creativity. With up to 97 percent of startups fated to fail, what makes the other 3 percent immune? While passion about your idea is necessary to see you through the grueling process of building a successful company, it’s also important to place your idea in the context of the existing business ecosystem. Where can your idea fit in? Can you take an existing idea to the next level? Is there a true need or desire for your product or service? Do you already have a successful business but want to take it in a new direction? Are there people within your network who can help get you started?

This post will explore these questions and spark your entrepreneurial creativity as you set out to compose a business idea that will succeed.

Innovate around an existing idea

Innovation is a misleading buzzword because it often implies the invention of something entirely new and different. In fact, the most successful innovations are improvements on existing ideas, either by using technology that wasn’t available before or by attending to a new market that wasn’t being serviced. In his Tedx speech “The art of innovation”, Guy Kawasaki uses the example of refrigeration by breaking it down into three stages:

  • Stage 1 - chopping blocks of ice from a lake and hauling them to town with a horse and cart.
  • Stage 2 - refrigerated trains that carried produce unspoiled to different parts of the country using a technology that wasn’t previously available to the guys hauling ice on horse and cart.
  • Stage 3 - the home refrigerator which used the same technology but targeted a different market: middle-class homeowners.

As Kawasaki points out, interestingly, none of these entrepreneurs innovated the next stage of their product. The horse and cart ice salesmen didn’t innovate the refrigerated train cars who didn’t innovate the home refrigerator. What the innovators of those business ideas did was identify the availability of new technologies and new markets for a product that everyone wanted: refrigeration. Consider if there’s a product that currently exists that either hasn’t made use of technological advances or hasn’t been offered to a certain segment of the market. You might just be the person who takes things from horse-drawn ice blocks to the home refrigerator.

Capitalize on pain points

Automobile production entrepreneur Henry Ford is credited with the following quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Ford became one of the most influential innovators of his time for his ability to identify and capitalize on a principle pain point: the need for faster and more efficient transportation. Perform market research to find out what the population wants that it isn’t getting.

While Ford was looking at how to provide the population with a “faster horse”, few things can be as potent a motivator for inventing a new product or service than your own frustration. When your own needs aren’t being met, you already understand the potential an idea has to serve others. Steve Jobs famously said that, “Steve Wozniak and I invented the Apple because we wanted a personal computer. Not only couldn’t we afford the computers that were on the market, those computers were impractical for us to use.” He created the product he wanted for himself. What product or service do you want that doesn’t exist yet?

Expand on something you’re already doing

Maybe you already have one or several businesses, but you want to take things further. In this case, you have a lot of data already at your fingertips. All you need to do is access it. Start a dialogue with your current customers through polls, social media and emails to find out what they like about your current product or service and what they would like to see more of. If you already have an idea of what you would like to do next, ask your customers what they think about it. For example, if you own an organic groceries delivery service but were thinking of getting into the prepared meals niche, find out what kind of meals and recipes your clients would most enjoy. You may want to do a combination of offering standard grocery delivery + delivering ingredients packages to make meals at home + fully prepared meals ready for consumption. The best way to expand is to use your current clientele as a springboard for your next idea.

Network

No matter what level of experience you have, you surely know some people who can help you get to the next step of your business idea. The good news is that in general, people will likely feel flattered that you came to them for advice or that you see them as an expert on a certain topic. But there are some things you can do to enhance your success when contacting people about your potential business idea:

  • Have a solid idea of what you want to do – people are much more inclined to respond positively to someone who says, “I want to start a nonprofit that teaches kids from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in San Francisco how to code” rather than, “I’d like to do something to link economically disadvantaged kids with the tech scene.” Ask them their advice on how to achieve this goal, where to start, who to talk to, how to raise funds, etc.
  • Create a targeted list – It’s better to target than to cast a wide net. You might not want to hit your grandmother up for advice on the coding nonprofit, but your old classmate who works for a tech company in San Francisco could be the perfect contact for such a project.
  • Be responsive- If someone takes the time to give your idea some thought, follow up with them by thanking them and continue the dialogue by asking thoughtful questions about the advice they gave or commenting that certain ideas of theirs would be especially useful to you. Make sure they feel that you paid attention to their advice so that if you reach out again further down the road, you’ll get a welcome response.

Don’t be shy about reaching out and using the network you’ve built to find your way toward your business idea. You might find a co-founder, an investor or even just someone to offer insight and encouragement for you to pursue your idea. Don’t underestimate the possibilities already present and waiting in your contacts list.

Conclusion

The good news is that you don’t need to do anything as radical is inventing the wheel in order to come up with a successful business idea. Pay close attention to consumer pain points and to your own pain points. Observe if an existing business hasn’t taken advantage of innovation. Open yourself to the potential to diversify within your current business model and reach out to those contacts who may hold the key to helping you get off the ground. Then, when you have come up with that great idea, keep your energy up, stay passionate and hold on for the ride!