Lessons Learned – Moving to Your “Short List” of Business Startup Ideas

We identified two criteria for our new business idea in the last post. Those are that:

  1. we must have passion for whatever business idea we come up with; and
  2. running this business must give us personal satisfaction

We also got started with the process of generating ideas or opportunities we are interested in exploring and adding to our short list of potential businesses to start. Since your starting vector (on the journey to find the best concept or opportunity for your new venture), will often be a factor in how quickly you reach your goal, if at all, we’re going to spend a little more time on that issue in this post.

In an attempt to be “fair and balanced,” I must admit that Paul Graham’s article, Ideas for startups, seems to place less value on the initial business idea.

The fact is, most startups end up nothing like the initial idea. It would be closer to the truth to say the main value of your initial idea is that, in the process of discovering it’s broken, you’ll come up with your real idea.

The initial idea is just a starting point– not a blueprint, but a question. It might help if they were expressed that way. Instead of saying that your idea is to make a collaborative, web-based spreadsheet, say: could one make a collaborative, web-based spreadsheet? A few grammatical tweaks, and a woefully incomplete idea becomes a promising question to explore.

Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there’s no market for startup ideas suggests there’s no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless.

Despite Graham’s apparently pessimistic view of the value of initial business ideas and concepts, his article presents several strategies to generate good business concepts, and is worth reading as we move along on our journey to a startup.

I posted an article today on the Applied Entrepreneurship group site on LinkedIn, Saras Sarasvathy Explains the Entrepreneurial Method, by, of course, Saras Sarasvathy. She says:

So it’s not really a question of this is better than that, it is just that the way entrepreneurs do it, they work with what they have and they look around and say, “What can I do with this?” And then, “What else can I do with it?” So it goes back to the idea of doing the doable and then pushing it.  So they just look around at the resources that are available to them and by resources I don’t even mean money.  A lot of the entrepreneurs I study started with things like who I am, what I know and whom I know.  So they are looking at what kind of a person am I, what kinds of things turn me on, what kind of things that I just will not do because it goes against my values. So, they have a sense of self. They know what they know and very often they are very good at knowing what they don’t know.

I posted another article today on the Applied Entrepreneurship group site, from the Idea Sandbox blog, which also seems on point for our present stage in the process: How To Create The Perfect (Brain) Storm. This particular post sets out three elements necessary or at least helpful for brainstorming. Here’s a snippet from the post:

Have you ever been in a brainstorming or strategy meeting where all the elements seemed just right and ideas just kept flowing and flowing? You and your team were able to hit ideas “out of the park?”

Chances are you had…

  1. a. the right people assembled,
  2. b. the right process and tools, and were,
  3. c. in the right place… where people felt safe to think big ideas and were free from distraction.

I call these conditions the Perfect (Brain) Storm… When all the elements come together just so, and ideas just seem to flow.

Despite what the last article says, some feel the quest for ideas shouldn’t be all that hard.  Finding the Real Opportunities starts out as follows:

Business ideas are all around you.

They are lurking in your garage, in your basement, in your kitchen, and in your children’s room. You’ll find them in magazine ads, at your neighbor’s house, and at work. They are right there in the vegetables you brought in from the yard . . . in the stack of papers next to your laser printer . . . in the back of your truck . . . and at the back of your mind.

You don’t need to be a genius or an MBA to spot those ideas and turn them into profits, either. Identifying business opportunities is often as easy as identifying problems many people share and finding a way to solve them

The article goes on to suggest that one reason it is so easy to find ideas for your new business is because you can simply:

  • Do what you live to do
  • Turn old standbys into new products
  • Look for marketing avalanches
  • Look for mundane moneymakers
  • Spin off a more lucrative business (not relevant to us since we’re presumably starting from scratch)

There are certainly many more ways to consider when trying to come up with the initial core idea or concept for a new business. I will be posting an article tomorrow on the LinkedIn site, which at least raises one worth mentioning here. The article by Paula Pollock, is Ego Keeping You From Your Dreams?

The bulk of the verbiage in the article is not necessarily germane to our process at this point. It does raise the significant specter of ego,  which is germane. When working through the process of finding an appropriate business idea for further study, ego can certainly get in the way. This may be particularly true if working in a group, since we all want to impress our peers with our value in such situations. It could, however, be an even more dangerous factor when working alone, since there are no others to question our energy, experience, or available resources.

I often suggest a little exercise to clients embarking on a new venture. I recommend that, after they create their initial draft of a business plan or business case, they lock themselves in a room alone with a mirror. I suggest they then say out loud to themselves, while looking in the mirror at themselves, each of the essential things to which they plan to commit themselves in the prospective endeavor, and that they next repeat, in the same fashion, each of their qualifications enabling them to have a reasonable chance of accomplishing these goals.

Granted, I expect very few of these clients actually go through this exercise. Some have done it, have thanked me, and have then moved back into the real world. The exercise works just as well when each member of a startup group does this, individually, of course. If you get through it with a straight face, you are either a really good liar, or better able to do the same thing when you look for your first employees, investors, etc.

In the next post, we’ll try to get to our short list of potential business ideas, and then move on to the start of the research and testing phase.

This is the third post in the business startup series. For others in the series, check the series index.

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Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

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Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, business, Business life cycle, entrepreneur, Innovation, Personal happiness, Planning for a business, Starting a business, Thinking about a new business
2 comments on “Lessons Learned – Moving to Your “Short List” of Business Startup Ideas
  1. […] Lessons Learned – Moving to Your “Short List” of Business Startup Ideas […]

  2. Stuart Adams says:

    There is a nice article posted in Martin Zwilling’s blog, the Startup Professionals Musings. The title is How To Pick A Lifestyle Consistent With Your Passion and offers links to some popular assessment tools a prospective entrepreneur might want to explore early on so as to have a better chance of making things happen based upon their own personal passions, skills, and interests, rather than those of others. Here’s the link to the article: http://blog.startupprofessionals.com/2014/09/how-to-pick-lifestyle-consistent-with.html

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