How to come up with innovative business ideas

Airbnb, Tesla, WeWork are some of the innovative companies that launched not so long ago. What they all have in common is they were revolutionary businesses that were really simple ideas that shaped the world. Finding a business idea takes lots of self-reflection. However, once you zero in on one, how do you test your idea and what separates it from horrible ones?

Come up with that great business idea

When still considering a business plan, skip the formal business plan and start with a simple elevator pitch to jot down the basic components of your idea.

Why are you doing this? A famous book by Simon Sinek called ‘Start With Why’, explains that great companies clearly communicate ‘why’ they exist (besides making money). They attract loyal followers through a common purpose, cause or mission. But most leaders are uninspiring because they focus too much on WHAT they do and how they do it. Why are you the best person to do this, what are your strengths and what do you hope to offer the world with your idea.

What problem are you solving? If you are offering accessible water but there are five other depots surrounding you then are you really solving a problem? Only by finding a real problem that exists in your world, can you create a solution that people will buy.

Who are you solving this problem for? You know the problem, but who is the solution for? Knowing your target customer helps to align your business to them specifically. Being open to cater to anyone pulls you in different directions and makes you unfocused.

Will it make money? If not, then consider ditching the idea. An idea is as good as its execution. No one expects full financial charts and predictions but a quick back-of-the-napkin calculations should show you how profitable you can be.

Success is measured in shillings, investors and customers.

It may be a bad idea if:

No one is buying what you are selling.

You’re not passionate about it. 

Your idea for a business is tied to passing trends. Some of the ideas may take off but you may be the rule not the exception. Things like organic, gluten-free living, 90s-inspired fashion, or food-ism may pass before you are able to make any money from it.

If your niche is too small, think again. If done right, a niche market can mean big sales growth but it is easier if your market it large enough.

How to spark new ideas

1. Good ideas start with bad ones

While sounding quite obvious, the only way to get ideas is to look for them. Listen to ideas from your partners, advertisers and all of the people on your team. Feedback from clients or online conversations about the industry you are in may spark an idea.

CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, explains how they once posted an ideas board on a wall at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. On a Friday night, an engineer went to the board and wrote down the details of a complicated problem they had with the ads system. A group of Googlers lacking exciting plans for the evening began re-writing the algorithm within hours and had solved the problem by Tuesday.

In addition, experts recommend writing 10 ideas daily to exercise your idea muscle. If you cannot come up with 10, write 20. Do not worry if they are awful, they are not meant to be great. By writing 10 ideas a day, in a year you will have come up with 3,650 ideas (no breaks on weekends if you want to get good at this). Now pick the one you are most excited about and write beside it only the first step.

2. Find people who think your idea sucks

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” These are famous words of Howard Aiken who was behind IBM’s Harvard Mark I computer, the first ever digital computer. If you talk only to friends and family and your loyal customers, you may have an overly optimistic response. Find people who don’t like your idea and get them to poke holes in it. Why do they think it’s going to fail? What do they see as your weak points? The weak points that these detractors find are not all for you to address. They work to help you figure out how you will deal with them in future and how to answer to these as you build your business.

3. Research

It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re too settled into a daily routine, potentially keeping you from finding creative solutions to your challenge. To spur that lightbulb moment, study successful entrepreneurs. Reading business magazines with articles like these, or web crawling to find origin stories and study successful business titans will give a roadmap to start with. Use social media and your smartphone. If you want to create an app, go on the app store and search in the category that interests you for what is missing or requires improvement. Social media is never lacking issues and problems that people have with current products, places, processes. Yet many lack solutions. That is where you come in.  

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