How to Come up with a Great Business Idea for a Start-up

The very first thing you want to do before you actually start building your start-up, is thinking about a great idea. Every company has started with an idea: you should have an idea too!

While almost everyone has at least one idea, this is the key item where people fall into a black hole. Some people have difficulties finding any idea at all, others at the other hand have too many ideas and can’t decide with which one to continue.

Whatever group you fall in: remember that a good idea doesn’t have to be groundbreaking for it to be a good idea. Here are a number of things to consider:

  • No company is really unique. Many companies are very similar: they offer the same products or services, but they are just that little bit different from each other. They can be cheaper, have higher quality or go faster.
  • The same problem can have many solutions. A problem we had 100 years ago, will likely be tackled differently today than back then. But at that time, nobody would have thought that the current way of doing things was ‘wrong’.
  • Be the second first idea. It is often interesting to follow what pioneers are doing, see how they work and then go for the same goal but do it differently: more efficiently, cheaper or faster. The person who was first has likely invested already too much time or money to even further enhance their idea. You at the other hand, you start with a great idea and you still have lots of money and time to launch your company as ‘second first’.
  • Copy others. It is okay to copy your competitors. When Snap introduced ‘Stories’ in their application Snapchat, they were copied by Facebook. In the end, Facebook convinced more people to use the function in their Instagram application. Because Facebook knew people were interested in the feature, they just had to copy this.
  • Go out there. If you are interested in starting your own company, you can always find inspiration by talking to people who are already active in the industry you are interested in. There are also podcasts, blogs, online news sites, book, magazines to gain insights.

Now you know some basic elements to keep in mind for this exercise, let get started with part 1 of how to get a profitable idea for your new business.

Start with listing your interests

It has many advantages to start a company about something you are interested in. It often means you know more about it than the average Joe. And since you are interested in it, it will likely not bore you soon when you will soon deal with this subject on a daily basis.

Start writing tings that interest or touch you. Take about 10 minutes timebox. This will help you to focus and don’t overthink the list.

Here is my list:

  • New technologies
  • Building websites
  • Men shaving
  • Ice cream
  • Smart home devices
  • Watching series
  • Design & architecture
  • Having breakfast
  • Reading or watching the news
  • Coffee in the morning
  • Self-learning & online courses
  • Cheap things that are doing a better job than the expensive counterpart
  • Tesla
  • Chocolate
  • Making things clean
  • Leather shoes

You’ll see, in 10 minutes you’ll have quite a big list already.

Make a shortlist

Out of your list, pick anywhere from 3 to 5 things that you think have some business value or potential. Or the things that really keep you busy every day, or you really enjoy doing.

Now for this shortlist, add why you are so attracted to them?

Here is my shortlist out of the longer list that I listed earlier:

  • Smart home devices: I love to automate the house with smart bulbs and other electronics in order to make my life easier and semi-automated.
  • Coffee in the morning: one or two coffees in the morning is something I look forward to every day and helps me stay focused in the morning while tackling the first tasks of the day. It also tastes and smells great. It is also fun to compare different tastes.
  • Making things clean: while I don’t actually enjoy cleaning every day, I get a satisfied feeling when I can clean something dirty. This can be clothes or my car: it gives me a smile when things are clean (and maybe also smell fresh).
  • Leather shoes: leather shoes look in my opinion nicer than shoes made of other materials. High-quality leather shoes intrigue me, because they are often hand-made and are more comfortable than cheaper pairs.

What are, according to you, the problems with your ideas?

Now you have your shortlist at hand, let’s continue the exercise.

If you have a certain problem with the subjects you choose (e.g. I like coffee in the morning, but coffee is too expensive at Starbucks), it is a given that other people will have the same problem as you do. So if you could solve that problem by paying something to have it solved, chances are that others will also be willing to pay for that.

Let’s go ahead and list the problems that exist around your chosen topics:

  • Smart home devices (example: smart bulb)
  • Still quite new so more expensive than regular bulbs
  • In many cases, the customer needs a separate device (hub) that connects to the router in order to control the bulbs
  • A smartphone is often the only way to control bulbs
  • Smart bulbs use energy in stand-by mode
  • Coffee in the morning
  • There is very good coffee, but some places really serve bad coffee
  • Coffee is more expensive than thee on average
  • There are different types of pads or capsules from different vendors and they don’t work interchangeably: a Senseo pad does not work in a Nespresso coffee machine
  • Coffee-to-go is served in a cup that is thrown away and it bad for the environment
  • Making things clean
  • There are many products in the supermarket for each type of stain, so it becomes hard to quickly find the right product
  • Cleaning takes time and effort
  • Many products or cleaning companies promise to clean things (advertisement on television), but don’t always deliver on that promise
  • Some days, I am in the mood to make things clean, but other days I don’t have much energy to start cleaning the car, my house, my shoes, …
  • Leather shoes
  • Many leather shoes are low quality and quickly have scratches on them
  • Leather shoes are often more expensive than synthetic counterparts
  • Leather shoes don’t always have leather on the inside of the shoe as well

Don’t have enough inspiration to come up with problems? Talk to your girlfriend/boyfriend, neighbours, teacher, boss, … and ask them their opinion. Or, use it to confirm they have the same problems as you have.

Find potential solutions for your problems

You have now a shortlist of your favourite things or things that really touch you. You also have identified the problems there are with those things.

I will continue with just one idea for sake of keeping this article short.

  • Making things clean
  • Problem A: There are many products in the supermarket for each type of stain, so it becomes hard to quickly find the right product
  • Solution A1: Start a store with cleaning products. Only offer the very best product for each type of stain.
  • Solution A2: Create a website that clearly explains cleaning products and ranks them according to user votes.
  • Problem B: Cleaning takes time and effort
  • Solution B1: Start a subscription service for the home or car to have it cleaned by a professional every month/week for a fixed fee.
  • Solution B2: Team up with a product designer and come up with a tool that allows to clean faster.
  • Solution B3: Automation of car cleaning, start a car wash service
  • Problem C: Many products or cleaning companies promise to clean things (advertisement on television), but don’t always deliver on that promise
  • Solution C1: Create a cleaning product and test it thoroughly together with other people to make sure it really delivers on the promise, then sell it online with their testimonial.
  • Solution C2: Start a specialised cleaning company. Allow people to drop off their dirty jacket or car they are not able to clean themselves, the item is cleaned by me or someone else. If it is clean again, the person pays – if not, the person doesn’t have to pay anything.
  • Solution C3: Start a reviewing website where people can rate the cleaning products.
  • Problem D: Some days, I am in the mood to make things clean, but other days I don’t have much energy to start cleaning the car, my house, my shoes, …
  • Solution D1: Allow people to subscribe to a newsletter which gives them tips and tricks to start cleaning a certain item in their home, so that the receiver of the newsletter is well-prepared and motivated to start cleaning.
  • Solution D2: Start membership site where people can sign up to find a cleaning buddy. The buddies clean x hours together for each of their homes.

Explore your solutions

It is clear that some solutions I have written in the previous chapter are total garbage and it is unlikely going to be a good idea to pursue this as a real business. Be critical when looking at your solutions and don’t be afraid to cross-check with people around you. Would they pay for your solution?

Starting a reviewing website for cleaning products seems like a great solution and start of a business, as I already have some experience in building websites. Creating a cleaning product myself seems like hard to do, as it requires some knowledge about biology and so I would need someone to help me with that part. Starting a specialised cleaning company seems fun to do. I like to experiment with products that work great in removing certain stains, or that would help restore the colour of a shoe or car seat.

Choose the solution/idea that really sticks out, follow your gut feeling and don’t forget to listen to others. Here is a checklist that will assist you in identifying a good idea:

  • Are you interested in the product/service/idea yourself? Would you give money to have it?
  • Can you do something better/faster/cheaper than the competition?
  • Can you explain your idea to your grandmother, and will she understand?
  • Do you have enough expertise/insights about your own idea?

For each of these questions, formulate an honest answer. Check? You are onto great business idea to launch your start-up business!

Don’t think too long about your idea. It is great to let it grow and adapt it if needed. But in the end, it is often better to try and see for yourself if it is indeed a great idea that people need it in their lives, or not at all.

Your next steps can include:

  • Talk with a (potential) client
  • Research how other companies with the same or similar solution doing. At what price are they selling their product, with which materials are the products made, what is the average age of their buyers …
  • Check how your competitors’ price their product/service and calculate what is feasible for your product or service in order to cover all costs.
  • Talk to many people about your idea. Use it to improve your idea.

Good luck! Share your own story here below in the comments.

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