Where do great start-up ideas come from? And how do you know if your idea is worth investing the years of hard work it will take to make it a success?
Learning to generate and identify promising business ideas is one of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can have.
Having a curiosity about the world around you and a drive to solve problems will put you in a good position to develop products and services that customers want to buy. But how do you hone that instinct to come up with even better ideas – and learn how to spot the weak ones before you’ve invested too much time and energy?
Here’s our guide to creating and recognising great start-up ideas. Your next success story could be just around the corner...
How to come up with a good start-up idea
If you’re starting from a blank page, there are three key approaches that can be relied on to yield interesting results. Apply this thinking regularly and you’ll start seeing possibilities everywhere.
- Pay attention to life’s problems
Get started by looking out for the annoyances in your daily life, and listen carefully to others when they complain about their own frustrations. Could these issues be solved with better tech or process? Or a new solution altogether?
Success story: The idea for Uber was born when friends Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick were struggling to get a cab after a tech conference in Paris. They discussed how convenient it would be if you could book a cab from your phone.
- Adapt technology to fit new challenges
When tech becomes popular, it’s usually because it solves an existing problem. Look at how technology is being used successfully in different situations, industries, or elsewhere in the world. Could it be used just as successfully somewhere else?
Success story: In a day-long brainstorming session, undergraduate Jack Dorsey came up with the concept of SMS messaging for small groups rather than one-to-one. This small adjustment to an already successful model led to the creation of Twitter.
- Use your industry expertise
Don’t take your knowledge for granted – think laterally about your industry and the problems it has. Could processes be improved? What would you do if you could wave a magic wand?
Success story: Beauty blogger Emily Weiss launched Glossier because she could see there was a gap between what consumers wanted and what beauty brands were selling them. Her goal of democratising beauty has helped her build a company now valued at $1.8 billion.
How to tell if your idea has what it takes
You’ve got your great idea, the adrenaline is pumping and you can’t wait to get started. At this stage, it’s very easy to get swept up in excitement and jump in too soon. Before you make any big decisions, take some time to let the idea breathe and think critically about how viable it really is.
Here are some helpful checkpoints to make sure your idea is on the right lines and identify any potential challenges before you take action.
Your product solves a problem – but is it a big enough problem?
41% of start-ups fail because they misread market demand – it’s one of the leading causes of start-up failure. So it’s vital to make sure your idea resolves a genuine pain point for your customer base.
For example, “Airbnb for dogs” makes a great soundbite, but your target market may feel there are already lots of suitable dog-friendly holiday options out there. Gut instinct is important, but you need to put in the groundwork too.
Is it an idea that will easily scale?
Investors will want to know how you see the company expanding in the future. That could be by increasing sales, adding new products to your line, or entering new locations or markets. Think about where the next logical steps would fall, and if there are any limitations that will need to be overcome to get there.
For example, if you’re a talented cake artist and your business is based on your personal style and skills – how do you plan to increase your output when you only have a set number of working hours per day? Could you train others to work to the same standard using the same techniques?
Have you got a team that can deliver?
Having the right people behind your idea is vital. A strong founding team will give you a solid foundation for success and make your start-up a more attractive investment prospect.
If you’re looking for co-founders who can help you turn your idea into a business reality, think about where the gaps in your own experience lie. Maybe you have great drive and vision, but you’re less sure on the tech. Or maybe you have developer skills yourself, but could use somebody “on the inside” of the industry you’re trying to break into.
Finally, can you communicate it effectively?
Selling your vision is at least half the battle. Without clear communication, you’ll struggle to market your product and securing funding will be impossible.
Try to distill the essence of your idea into brief, clear, jargon-free language. Can you explain the problem your customers are having and how you will solve it in a single sentence? Can you identify the current solution and explain why it’s not working? Do you have clear, helpful statistics to back up your claims?
If you read the list above and answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s not a deal-breaker. But it probably is time to consider whether it’s possible to overcome these obstacles before you take your idea further.
Whether you keep refining, improving, or go back to the drawing board and come up with something new, the main thing is to keep moving forwards.
After all, in the words of marketing guru and Squidoo founder Seth Godin: “The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.”