How and Where to Hunt for Startup Ideas?

Very often I get emails from startup enthusiasts who are looking for a business idea and need suggestions on finding ‘one damn great idea that can change the world’. These enthusiasts have already made up their mind to startup, but do not know which is the right business idea that will click.

Sometimes there is a willingness to jump, but you don’t even know why are you jumping (to a certain extent, you are romancing entrepreneurship – but that’s all right in the initial days).

First of all, do not hunt for ideas. Hunt for a problem.

Let me share two great insights on the ideation process that will bring certain perspective to help you find your startup idea.

Advice from Matt Cutts

Matt shares great tip (link) on finding a startup idea, i.e. scratch your own itch.

Here’s another way to come up with startup ideas: walk around your house or apartment, and look for “hot spots.” A hotspot can be an area of high information density, clutter, stress, disorganization, or any place that has a suboptimal solution. Then think about a web or cloud solution to that hot spot.

Ideas are sitting all around where you live. If you have a small snag, irritation, or hotspot in your life, probably a lot of other people do too. You can make it easier to organize something (can you convert something physical to digital and store it in the cloud?). You can sell niche versions of a product (e.g. Threadless for T-shirts), you can let people make something that they couldn’t make before (CafePress for T-shirts, LuLu for books), you can pool people with similar interests (a blog like Craftzine, or a forum for book lovers or body builders), you can review products in a particular space, you can teach someone to do something.

Advice from Seth Godin

Seth Godin talks about a very fundamental part of an idea:

seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command…

This method challenges the fear and announces that you’ve abandoned the resistance and instead prepared to ship. Your first idea might not be good, or even your second or your tenth, but once you dedicate yourself to this cycle, yes, in fact, you will ship and make a difference.

Simple example: start a blog and post once a day on how your favorite company can improve its products or its service. Do it every day for a month, one new, actionable idea each and every day. Within a few weeks, you’ll notice the change in the way you find, process and ship ideas. [read]

What Seth offers is probably the most difficult-yet-practical approach to forming an idea. You will go through multiple iterations before you come across ‘that idea’ – but then you gotta try, you gotta fail.  You have to iterate – and that’s the most difficult part before you hit the ‘bulls eye’.

Curious Dude - Lateral Thinking

Curious Dude - Lateral Thinking

My sincere suggestion – give it some timeline. A timeline not to ‘find an idea’, but a timeline to get into action. I have seen enough startup enthusiasts waiting at the shore, reading ‘how to sail’ and after a point, get cynical about sailing (and other sailors).

Don’t do that.

Here are a few suggestions to keep the ‘curiousity alive’:

  • Start observing people – travel in buses, trains and other ‘normal’ modes of transportation. You will come across great discussions, great conversations.
  • Start Listening. Meet people, listen to their ideas. Meet VCs – listen to their industry observations. Sometimes, VC firms desperately want to invest in some particular industry and will share their in-depth analysis/observations. Talk to as many people as you can, in order to undersand/validate your idea.
  • Say No to naysayers. There will be people who will call your ideas ridiculous and weird names – don’t give in.
  • Stop reading magazines/sites/blogs for a change. If you read too much and act on nothing, you are simply becoming an analyst (and not a doer).
  • Share your observations here : Startup Ideas group. Write it down. The moment you start writing down your observations, you will see creation of an idea, a ‘hypothesis’. If your mind (and heart) keeps coming back to the idea, time for it to give certain shape.
  • Do not be cynical. Be open to crazy ideas. Most of the successful consumer companies in technology space started off with a crazy idea.

Also, what one needs to realize is that ideas grow only when you share, i.e. you get certain perspective/insights from others. And by keeping the idea to yourself, you are just letting it die a slow death.

When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them.  Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time.  Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.  ~Michael Leboeuf

What’s your take? Where exactly did you find your startup idea?

Next Article: Ideas: Whom to share & How much to share?

Recommended Read: Myths About Entrepreneurship – I will be my Boss