The aspiring entrepreneur in you is maybe driven by the ‘American Dream’.
A dream about :
- working hard towards your goal,
- never giving up and
- achieving anything you wish to seek.
If you have set on your entrepreneurial journey, you sure have bought into this dream infinite times. And have found yourself writing business plans to get going.
But there’s much more to being successful than what is being sold to you via this dream. Simply working hard and not giving up does not guarantee success. It is important to understand what is that one thing you are working hard for.
Does your business idea give you that kick? Does it solve a problem of a section of people?
We usually end up blaming people, government etc for the demise of our ongoing business or startup. But the reality is, many of us fail at the idea generation phase itself.
Considering examples of some of the successful business ventures, let’s understand how to come up with a business idea.
1) Identify The Need
An existing or upcoming need is where the business idea originates from. Your idea of a product or service must resolve a purpose. If it doesn’t cater to a pain area of a section of people, it is bound to go nowhere.
Coming Of The World Wide Web
Tim Berners Lee is the founder of the World Wide Web (WWW). He was working as a computer scientist at European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.
As he puts it at w3.org, “I found it frustrating that in those days, there was different information on different computers. But you had to log on to different computers to get at it. Also, sometimes you had to learn a different program on each computer. So finding out how things worked was really difficult.
So what came to Tim’s mind that changed the world forever?
People at CERN came from universities all over the world. So they brought with them all types of computers – Unix, Mac, PC etc.
I wrote some programs to take information from one system and convert it so it could be inserted into another system. More than once. And when you are a programmer you often think, “Can’t we just fix this problem for good?” That became “Can’t we convert every information system so that it looks like part of some imaginary information system which everyone can read?” And that became the WWW.
2) Understand Where Your Passion Lies
This relates to your drive in life, your passion with regards to your professional life. It’s something that guides your learning and search for ideas. It is what you want to be in life that makes you curious about various things, existing and upcoming, in your domain. Your interest combined with inquisitiveness drives you to learn. This further creates opportunity to identify the need or find better ways of doing things.
Warren Buffet And His Passion For Investing
Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, took to his passion for investing and created wealth not many could do. Where his peers just read the ticker tapes and evaluated stock behavior, Buffet, in addition to this, looked at numbers. He searched for undervalued stocks. He, along with his partner, Charlie Munger, believed that the only logical way to evaluating the relative attractiveness of investments is by estimating their intrinsic or true value.
A boy for whom:
- calculating numbers was as easy as a pie
- selling 6 packs of Cola at a profit at the age of six was no big deal
- and buying shares at the age of eleven to acquire his first investing lessons was a thing
Could he have been anyone apart from the Oracle Of Omaha?
3) Go Fishing For Ideas
You don’t need some supernatural powers to get some amazing business ideas your way. All you need to do is look for them. Know your interest, embrace new perspectives, observe existing things, experiment and go beyond your comfort zone. That’s what makes you vulnerable to ideas. You have to look for them. Sitting in a cubicle and thinking aimlessly about what business idea you could work on would never get you there.
Birth Of The ‘Internet’
Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa, now known as Darpa), US defense department’s research arm, in 1969 built a computer network called ‘Arpanet’. It basically linked mainframes deployed at government agencies, universities and defense agencies across US.
The agency wanted to come up with a network that could reach the forces deployed in enemy territories. Arpanet was good for researchers sitting at the mainframes. But it couldn’t be used to serve the soldiers in the field. For it to be of some help to the soldiers in the field, the network needed to be accessible from almost anywhere in the world.
And that’s when Bob Kahn, one of the Arpanet architect’s came to Vint Cerf.
Cerf was an assistant professor at Stanford University and had been involved with Arpanet since its earliest days. Kahn told Cerf that they now had Arpanet working. But he needed something that allowed different components to be interconnected so that they could connect one computer to another over different networks. And that’s when both of them realized that they needed a common language. They needed a set of rules that allowed data to be transferred from one machine to another across different networks. That’s how they came up with Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). These are the set of rules that made a global communication system possible called the internet.
4) Learning Creates Opportunity For Ideas
Well, you can’t go anywhere if you stop the process of learning. Some of the great idea seekers invest reasonable time in doing things that make them wiser each day. Reading, talking to smart people, taking up projects that add value to them is what creates the chance of some amazing ideas flowing in.
Google’s 20% Time Rule
Consider the famous 20% time rule at Google. Eric Schmidt, former CEO at Google too shared this in a conversation with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Google allows its employees to devote 20% of their work – week to any project that they like. Eric said that many of initiatives in the company have come out of this 20% time ideas. The host of products we know today – Gmail, Google News, Google Maps, Ad Sense are outcomes of Google employees learning, working and practicing in new areas in this 20% time.
5) Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal
Well, that’s a famous saying by one of the most influential artists of 20th century – Pablo Picasso. What he meant to say was in order to create something extraordinary, you don’t have to necessarily be the first one to create it. Rather, it’s all about how beautifully you use the existing things into your thing. And then do it so well that generations happen to remember you for the same.
Apple Stole From Xerox
Steve Jobs too believed in Picasso’s ideology. Remember, Job’s famous visit to Xerox PARC in 1979 as a part of the Macintosh project? He, along with a few computer scientists, went to Xerox PARC, to see what people at Xerox were secretly innovating. Job’s was left stunned when the team at Xerox showed him their computer, which used Graphical User Interface (GUI) driven by a mouse. He was amazed why the top brass at Xerox wasn’t doing anything with it. That’s when he understood that all computers would work this way one day. He thought it was revolutionary. And by fixing all the flaws that Xerox’s GUI had, Steve Jobs rolled out the original Macintosh.
What did Job’s say when he was questioned for stealing everything from Xerox?
Few days after its launch in 1984, Steve Jobs was questioned on Apple stealing the idea from Xerox PARC for GUI for the original Macintosh. He simply said “It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done. And trying to bring those things into what you are doing. Picasso said that good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have been shameless about stealing great ideas. I think what made Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, zoologists, poets and artists and at the same time great computer scientists of the world ”.
6) Connecting Follows Ideating
All great idea seekers around the world have this one trait in common. They are always up for connecting, striking conversations with all kinds of people. These can be people in their social circle, their company, outsiders, customers, people of authority belonging to various fields etc. And these conversations mark the origin of some path breaking ideas.
Founding Of Google
The coming together of Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, needs a mention here. Brin was already a second year student in computer science department at Stanford when they both met. Brin volunteered to introduce the potential first years, who were considering to join Stanford, to the campus. And Page happened to be in Brin’s group of the first years. The entire day went in a face off between the two and they talked a lot. That’s when they got that there was some connect building up.
What got Brin and Page together?
Later, when Page came to Stanford, he had to choose a project for thesis and got fascinated by the World Wide Web. He found that it was not a big deal to follow links from page to page. However, it was certainly a big thing to know the links that linked back to these pages. It would be great if he could know what all pages linked to a particular website. This needed him to understand the math behind the links of pages that made a particular website and the pages that linked back to it. And that’s what lead to collaborating with Brin, owing to his gifted mathematical skills.
7) Ideas Are Everywhere
Vulnerability to experiences creates the chances of some amazing ideas to come your way. Go places, meet people, know perspectives, observe existing things. Widen your search avenues, for ideas don’t caution you of their coming. They just flow in. They are present everywhere.
JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter, got the idea for the series while on a delayed train travelling from Manchester to London King Cross.
Coming Of QuickBooks
Back in 1982, Scott Cook, co – founder of Intuit, was sitting with his wife in the kitchen. She was paying the bills and complaining about the work being so tedious and boring. That’s when he got the idea of a personal finance software that could make the task easy and automatic. He left his job and found Intuit the following year. Since then, some amazing applications like QuickBooks and Turbotax by Intuit have helped people simplify their accounting tasks.
8) Charity Begins At Home – Observe Problems That You Are Facing
There are a number of problems that we encounter in the normal course of life. If we have an eye to identify them, these can become brilliant sources of our next business idea. What can you do to solve one of these problems, given your knowledge and skill set? How can particular things be done in a better way?
Sequencing On A Semi Conductor Chip
Back in 1999, Dr. Jonathan Rothberg was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital. His baby was taken to the ICU shortly after his birth as he was unable to breathe. Jonathan, a biologist and entrepreneur, was upset as the doctors couldn’t understand what was wrong. They did not have complete information on the child’s genome – the genetic material of the child.
So how did Jon Rothberg get the idea?
He thought, if they had the child’s genome, they could know what was wrong.
While sitting in the waiting room in the hospital, he somehow looked at the cover of a magazine lying nearby. It had the picture of Intel Pentium 4 processor. That’s when he had his wow moment. That’s when he came up with the idea of a chip that could sequence individual and personal genomes. He believed that DNA sequencing must be a standard part of the medical practice. That’s how he invented semiconductor sequencing, sequencing first on a semiconductor chip.
9) Don’t Let Failures Stop You from Thinking
Failure is an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey. Many a times, we often get scared to face the failure, which stops us from thinking great ideas. Fear of failure should not hold you back from seeking ideas, learning and experimenting. Rather, it should guide you towards doing things the right way. When fear of failure sinks in, remember what Thomas A. Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
10) Test Your Ideas By Creating Rough Mock Ups
Rough mock ups lend tangibility to your ideas. They help you see the flaws in your product or service and come up with necessary corrections. Putting your idea into a rough mock up provides details to users, who can then give you a proper feedback. Such a feedback helps you come up with necessary improvements at a very early stage of idea generation.
Therefore, seeking business ideas is an art that demands practice on part of the seeker.