Ideation is the process of creating new ideas.
Coming up with an idea for your startup is one of two things; a blinding flash of inspiration or a painful teeth pulling exercise. Lots of people begin with the notion of wanting to have their own startup without a clue of what to actually do. Before we look at ways of coming up with an idea, let’s look at what types of ideas make a good startup and what ideas don’t.
Strength of an idea
The strength of an idea can be measured on this simple scale called the Startup Ouchometer. It measures the impact of the problem you’re solving (you are solving a problem right?) based on the number of people affected by the problem and the pain they feel from that problem.
As an example, an idea at the top right hand of the scale would be a drug that cures cancer. Cancer could affect anyone on the planet and therefore has global scale and the pain threshold is the highest it could be, because it could result in death (you don’t get a higher pain threshold). Therefore people will pay for a drug like that in their billions. You have a high pain threshold with a high scalability.
At the other end of the scale is a Ferrari car. It solves a problem in allowing you to get from A to B but so do lots of other cars. This is an aspirational sale which means you can solve your problem in lots of other ways and in a much more cost effective way, but you choose the Ferrari because you can afford it and you are a buying a piece of the brand association. The market for Ferraris is small and the pain is low.
The pain point is the middle point at which anything to the right causes pain and anything to the left does not.
Businesses who are left of the pain point spend millions a year on advertising and brand building and most have been around for a long time (Ferrari, Gucci, Rolex etc). Businesses that are right of the pain point solve a problem and acquire customers by demonstrating their ability to solve the problem.
If your startup idea is left of the pain point then your chance of success is very limited and it’s going to cost you millions to acquire customers. So when we evaluate an idea, we do a quick sanity check to see where it fits on the Ouchometer. The further to the top right, the better the chance the idea has of success.
How to come up with a good business idea
The best ideas come from three sources:
– A personal passion
– A personal experience of a problem
– An experience of a problem through your working life
First look at what your passions are (cooking, skydiving, cars, knitting, world peace, homelessness) and then look to see if there is a problem that needs solving in that space. If you pick an idea that you are already passionate about, chances are you’ll know a lot about the topic and potential customers already, and you’ll care enough about it to keep going when things get tough (and they will.)
Every day we encounter problems where we say, “I wish someone would just invent x to solve this.” We all experience things that are just waiting for someone to solve. Maybe you have just had a child and you realise there is a gap in the market for a baby monitor that mutes the TV if the baby cries. Or you tried to book a hairdressers’ appointment but you couldn’t get through on the phone and they had no online system, so they lost your business. The more you can tune in to every day problems that you notice around you, the more ideas you’ll be able to come up with.
We often spend more time working than we do on anything else in our week. In our jobs we have a unique and detailed insight into an industry or sector and some of the issues it faces. This is often the richest source of good ideas.
If all else fails
Failing an idea in these three categories, you can try the good old-fashioned idea brainstorm. Pull up a chair, a bunch of friends, a glass of wine or bottle of beer, a pack of post-it notes, a pen and let the creative juices flow.
Or have a good search around for existing lists of business ideas or startup ideas. Chances are, someone’s already attempted your idea, but don’t let that put you off. As a wise man once said, “Great artists steal.”