How to Generate Valuable Ideas.

Getting ideas is easy. Getting ideas other people want to spend money or time on is something quite different.

Even if you get an amazing idea, the chances of it being a good business are small. In fact, some of the best businesses didn’t start out with good ideas. Instead, they started out being considered stupid, wrong, childish, irrational, useless, too easy, too hard, impossible, unethical, unsustainable and we could go on.

If you get an idea that turns out to be a great business, chances are that others would have told you it’s a bad idea you might even yourself at times think it’s a bad idea and almost give up.

The difference between an idea that looks to be a complete failure and one that is wildly successful is often a matter of months. On top of that, most businesses fail even if you have a stellar team and for many not-so-obvious reasons (more about that in the next essay) It’s just hard to know if your idea is great or not or if it just sounds great. So how do you make sure your idea even has a chance of making it?

Having worked with hundreds of startups, investors, and founders over the years, we decided to put together a list of principles that can be used to come up with ideas that others want to pay for.

  • Ideas for a solution to a problem
  • Ideas for fulfilling a need
  • Ideas that create new demand.

The safest business ideas are solutions to problems. The world is filled with problems. Finding the right problem to solve is often harder than the actual solution. The questions become more important than the answer.

The next safest business idea category fulfills an existing need but in a better/cheaper way. Whether a dating service, an email client or a new type of insurance. Finding an underserved market is normally the way in.

The riskiest, but potentially most fruitful of them all are ideas that create new demand. These are products or services no one knew they needed before they tried them. Computer games, songs, movies, fart apps, and most social networks belong to this group.

Make sure you know which category you are in.

“What problem in your industry would you pay for someone to solve?”
“What annoys me that I would be ready to pay for?”
“What in my life feels like it could be better?”
“What are my friends complaining about?”
“What are my friends excited about?”
“What has changed over the last 3–5 years?”

Ask questions that are open-ended and don’t come with an obvious solution.

“Are there any existing solutions out there?”
“How big is the problem/need?”
“Why hasn’t this been solved so far?”
“What kind of problem/need is it? (i.e. Legislative, technical, financial, etc)”
“Do I have the skills or knowledge or intuition or perseverance to pursue this?”

Keep asking questions and don’t be afraid of the answer. The right questions asked today can save you months or years of work down a path that leads nowhere.

You will often be asked, “Are there other companies out there doing what you are doing?” The answer most of the time will be yes.

If you don’t find anyone, you most likely aren’t defining competitors wide enough. Oftentimes competitors aren’t doing exactly what you are doing but are perceived by customers as if they were.

If you define competition too narrow you risk missing what might be inhibiting your growth. If you define too wide then you might find potential market places you weren’t even thinking about.

In the beginning, most great ideas don’t look different than bad ones. Chances are that even if your idea turns out to be a unicorn, no one will notice. In fact, if you are on to something, chances are you will often have to pay people to work on it for you.

Reversely if you get an idea that sounds great and everyone loves it, chances are it most likely already exists or it just that, a great idea, not a great business.

So unless you’ve found the cure for cancer and then probably instead should patent it, don’t be afraid to share ideas.

Ideas are like newborn babies. Extremely fragile in the beginning but with great care and nurturing they can turn into amazing mature businesses. Make sure you give your idea enough time to grow but not enough to turn into a bad teenager.

Many early-stage startup founders make the mistake of just looking for a good idea rather than something they care about.

Most ideas aren’t going to work out, so for most of us, a higher goal is needed. Something that makes you want this idea to exist and be successful. Something to keep us going when thing’s are looking the least likely to succeed.

A lot can be done with perseverance and grit, make sure your idea is worth it.

There is a lot more to this than what we’ve covered here but as you can see there is a lot more going into ideas than just getting them. So make sure you’ve spent enough time on your idea before you move into Product Creation which we will cover in the next essay.

Investor, designer, tinkerer. First Principle founder. Square, 80/20, MetaDesign alumni. Hello co-founder, Dotcom survivor