Every startup journey begins with an idea. This is why, according to the Startup Genome Project, the first phase of the process of creating a startup is called the discovery phase. This is the phase where you find a problem worth solving and a solution that fits the task.
In this article, we’ll look at how to effectively come up with useful and viable startup ideas.
1. Ideas are discovered, not generated
It’s not a widely known fact, but many of the innovative inventions in history have been made independently by two or more inventors (or groups of people) at the same time. A study by Ogburn and Thomas in 1922 succeeded in producing a list of 148 inventions for which this was the case.
For example, at least 23 other people built light bulb prototypes before Thomas Edison, and some of them fought a legal battle against him for patent rights. Another example is the case of Newton and Leibniz, who invented calculus independently of each other. Ogburn and Thomas’ list includes inventions like the telescope (invented independently by 9 people), the telegraph (5 people), the steamboat (5 people), the conservation of energy (4 people), and many others.
It’s no coincidence – ideas grow in people’s heads, but they require fertile soil – an environment with the right conditions. The reason for the phenomenon of simultaneous invention is that similar conditions give rise to similar ideas.
For this reason, the most important practical advice if you want to generate worthwhile ideas is to find a fertile environment (ideally a new area of technology) and get your hands dirty.
Generating ideas in a vacuum is dangerous. According to Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator), “It doesn’t just give some good ideas; it gives bad ideas that seem plausible enough to make you work on them”.
So, instead of trying to think of startup ideas, you should get involved in active communities. Communicating and creating there is what would expose you to valuable information leading to the discovery of valuable ideas.
2. Focus on utility rather than novelty
Anything new has no value.
According to Wikipedia, “Innovation is the practical implementation of ideas that result in the introduction of new goods or services or the improvement in the supply of goods or services.”
This is important because, in the context of business, innovation is not synonymous with novelty. This requires that you have something new and original on the supply side, but also some form of adoption on the demand side.
Innovation is at the heart of startups – it’s what makes them valuable. Merely new ideas are not innovation.
Ideas only become innovative once they have proven viable and useful. That’s why the most important thing you need to do for your idea is validate it.
Before committing to an idea, try talking to potential customers, or even try to pre-sell it. This will help you get rid of your less viable ideas quickly. Killing bad ideas before you’ve put a lot of time and resources into them is one of the best ways to find the idea worthy of your time, effort, and resources.
In summary, to come up with great startup ideas, you need to step into fertile ground for innovation, get your hands dirty, and test all your ideas against reality in order to weed out the bad ones.