Lots of articles, blogs, and other entrepreneurship resources can provide helpful templates for assessing whether or not an idea could be a viable and valuable business, but there are not as many helpful techniques for how to come up with ideas that meet the criteria. There seems to be a common misconception that all entrepreneurs have an “aha!” moment where a perfect idea hits them all at once. The truth is, there are some systematic ways to get the brainstorming process started that don’t rely on waiting around for inspiration to hit. To set up some brainstorming techniques that can lead to good business ideas, let’s first review a useful framework for assessing ideas.
Ideal business opportunities combine a market opportunity with the skills and passion of the founding team.
Market opportunity means that the idea solves a real customer need, there are customers whose needs are not currently being fully met, and the market is ready and willing to pay for the solution. The idea must either be cheaper, more convenient, or more effective at solving a problem over the current options. It also should have the opportunity to generate profit and have room for growth beyond a niche market.
Skills relevant to the idea are necessary to have the ability to execute. Ideally, the founders should have skills or resources that make them uniquely positioned to offer the product or service better than the competition. It is possible to complement the skills of the founding team through new hires and mentorship, but the skills relating to the core value proposition of the product should be addressable by the founding team.
Passion is an often overlooked but vitally important part of making an idea into a successful business. It fuels the dedication required to get the business through the rough times that are inevitable with any startup. This passion also proves useful when networking, marketing, and selling for the business, since genuine enthusiasm and belief in the value of the business shows through and gets others engaged and excited to be involved.
So how do you leverage the criteria for an ideal business opportunity into brainstorming techniques to come up with a good business idea? Set aside time to answer questions that pertain to each of the three categories for opportunity assessment. Brainstorm freely, including any and all things that come to mind. The answers to each of these questions can then be checked for overlaps across the categories to find the sweet spot that combines your passion and skills with opportunities in the marketplace.
- What industry and technology trends exist? How are people communicating, being entertained, and performing their everyday tasks more efficiently than in the past? What additional innovations does this lend itself towards?
- What types of companies have been most successful? What common trends of how they solve their customers’ problems can be leveraged in other industries?
- Where are there potential customers for a product or service category that are not being adequately addressed? How might the product or service be made more convenient, cheaper, or catered to one specific feature that better addresses those customer needs?
- In what areas are you an expert? What fields could benefit from this expertise?
- What aspects of business development is your personality most geared towards? What industries value personalities that match your own?
- Have people complimented your ability to do certain types of tasks? What types of problems do these tasks lend themselves towards being able to solve?
- What are your hobbies and interests? What issues do you face within these areas that could be solved more efficiently than they are today?
- What do you like to do in your free time? What aspects of those free time activities do you enjoy most? Is there a better way to get those aspects that you enjoy most?
- What frustrations do you face that you would be enthusiastic to solve? Are there enough other people that face this frustration to make it worth solving?
The objective here is to get the creative juices flowing and begin the brainstorming process. This is only the first step in developing a business idea, but often the hardest one. Be sure to take any promising ideas that come out of this process and review them against criteria for good business ideas, vet them within your network and with potential customers, and assess what it would take to bring the idea to life.
A blank sheet of paper can be intimidating, but hopefully, after reading this article, you have the start of some good ideas and the excitement to propel you to continue with those ideas.
Laurie Stach is a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and the co-founder and Executive Director of Education at Launch, an entrepreneurship summer program for high school students held at MIT. After obtaining her degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, Laurie worked as an engineer at BMW Designworks. She then supplemented her passion for innovation with business education through an MBA from Harvard Business School.
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