Where Do The Best Startup Ideas Come From?
Some businesses are born of a spontaneous idea. Some are created solely to make their founders wealthy. But others are created to simply solve a recurring problem.
A common rule of thumb is that a startup’s product needs to be 10 times better than the competition’s to get people to switch. If you’re facing a problem on a daily basis and nobody else has come up with a good solution, you might have an opportunity to make something that much better.
Kayak, Expedia, and other flight comparison sites emerged because it was incredibly difficult to compare airfare rates, and travel agents were expensive. People without cars found it difficult to borrow them for short periods of time, so Zipcar was born. Accepting credit cards at any location was a huge pain; Square made it simple and affordable. These successful companies were created to solve problems in a way that punched through the status quo.
Creating a business for other reasons is not wrong by any means, but I especially admire companies founded to solve a particular problem. Many companies fail because they don’t actually provide something that brings value to a person’s life. The idea of the product or service might be great, but you will find few loyal followers of a “nice-to-have” service.
Turn a Problem into Profits
In order to create a problem-solving business, you have to recognize the issue, and then determine if the business is a legitimate venture or not. Pinpoint the issue by simply having a conversation with others who might have experienced the same problem. You can do more advanced things, such as looking at Google AdWords tools, to determine how many searches are done for keywords relating to your idea. If it’s a large enough problem, though, chances are you can recognize it without hunting around too much.
In order to find out if your idea is a viable and potentially profitable product or service, take these three steps:
1. Understand your audience
If you have an idea that would help moms and their busy lifestyles, ask your friends who are moms about their experiences. If you’re in sales and have an idea for something that can benefit salespeople, talk to other sales professionals. Talk to people who would benefit from your solution, and get different perspectives in order to understand the true value of the product.
2. Ask the right way
Don’t begin the conversation by asking a person’s opinion of your idea. Instead, try to understand the person’s problems, challenges, and experiences surrounding the issue. See if you can help them. They will provide much more honest and insightful information, without feeling like they need to compliment your idea.
3. Test your idea
Experiment in customer acquisition before you spend time building the product. Create a website for the product to spur interest. If you want to get even better feedback, create a signup form for the product, even if it doesn’t actually exist. When people sign up, let them know that you’ll contact them when the product is ready to be purchased. This way, you see how many people are actually interested in buying! If you’re selling to bigger companies, find out if any would commit money upfront for you to build the product. This will give you a good gauge of your product’s or business’s success.
Be Prepared to Fail
As any entrepreneur knows, not every venture is going to be successful. Decide beforehand the signs of failure so you can cut your losses quickly. It’s easy to get caught up in your idea and think that success is just around the corner. So give yourself milestones and deadlines. Get an experienced mentor or a hands-on investor who will help you know when it’s time to call it quits. Most importantly, always keep talking to your customers. Your first idea might fail, but if you keep talking to them, you might discover that there’s a similar idea you could pursue instead.
I created my own company because I was tired of dialing phone numbers by hand. I was not the first person to build a dialing solution, but I was the first to create a solution specifically tailored to work in political campaigns. I had used several competing solutions in previous work, but they all had major shortcomings. In this case, I was experiencing the problem firsthand. I talked to others in politics and heard that they had the same frustrations I did. Our competition was there, which was a great indicator that the problem definitely existed. They were profitable businesses as well, which showed that there was a market. But the products didn’t address my market well, and that gave me an opportunity to compete.
Don’t Wait for Perfection
Realizing a problem and researching how it affects consumers are two steps toward building a business. But you can’t stop there. You must focus on your customers, their individual problems, and how you plan to provide a solution as soon as possible. Aim to build something great, but don’t forget that perfection isn’t possible. Many innovators are tempted to put off the release of a product until it’s the perfect solution. Instead, build a minimum viable product to help your customers now, and then continue to improve upon the solution through more research and feedback.
Building a service or creating a business that solves consumers’ problems isn’t just a means to financial success; it can also be personally fulfilling for the founder who created a solution to a previous problem of her own. Take a look around you for problem-causing issues. The next snag you have in the workplace, or the next complaint you hear about specific software, could turn into your next big business venture.