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Try this method if you need a business idea
This article teaches you a method to generate a viable business idea. One of my greatest challenges when I started my company was coming up with the actual business concept. I knew I wanted to start a business but did not have a specific concept in mind. So I looked for a business concept.
To be honest, this task was a bit daunting since I had no clear idea of how to do this. At the time, brainstorming was popular, so I gave it a try. I failed miserably at it. I tried a few things and eventually I found something that interested me. However, the process was draining and took a while. In retrospect, I wish I had a better method when I was looking for business ideas ten years ago.
I’d like to start by discussing two very important concepts.
Businesses exist to solve problems
Businesses have a single purpose – they solve problems. The bigger the audience of those affected by a problem, the bigger the opportunity and the higher the revenues.
Every successful business solves problems. Here are some simple examples. Google allows individuals to search the Internet and find information. Google also allow companies to deliver hyper-targeted advertising. Pharmaceutical companies provide treatments for disease. Dry cleaners handle dirty clothes. Taxi companies provide transportation.
This lesson is important. All good businesses solve problems.
The challenge of creativity
One mental block for many entrepreneurs is the belief that you have to be creative – like Steve Jobs – to come up with a business idea. Here is a simple fact: you don’t.
If you consider most great business ideas, you’ll realize that they were not purely creative in and of themselves. Instead, they merely added a creative improvement to an existing concept. This last point is important. That is a more manageable task.
Let’s look at two examples. Most people would agree that the Apple IPod is a work of pure creative genius. In reality, it is an improvement on an existing concept. Digital music players, called “MP3 players” at the time, had already existed for many years. Apple just improved the concept, created a beautiful device, a viable music marketplace, and took it to a new level.
One of the most creative companies in the market is Google, best known for its search engine. In fact, search engines have existed for a very long time – way before Google. However, Sergei Brin and Larry Page improved the concept and added the use citations as a measure of relevance. That improvement created a vastly superior product and it is why Google is the leading search engine. However, Google is just an improvement on existing concepts.
The lesson is simple. You don’t need to invent anything new. You can develop a great business idea by improving something that already exists.
Step #1: Gather ideas
Generating a business idea can be as simple as finding a problem and improving the current solution. The process is simple but not easy. For the next few weeks (or months), write down the personal and business problems that you encounter in everyday life. Live your life normally, but become an active observer.
Ask your friends and colleagues about their problems. Most will be happy to tell you. Before long, you should have a long list of problems.
Step #2: Evaluate ideas
After you have gathered enough ideas, examine them carefully. In most cases, you’ll be able to discard most ideas due to lack of interest or practical concerns. If you are lucky, you will narrow the list to one or two ideas that interest you. If this is the case, move on to the next step. Otherwise, go back to gathering ideas.
Step #3: Select a winner
Selecting a winner can be difficult if you have more than one idea that you like. The best way to handle this is to invest some time in fleshing out all the ideas that interest you.
Gather facts and develop a business case. If your idea is product-based, work on simple designs or prototypes. As you learn more about your concepts, the winner will become clear.
The method in action
I am always using the method, looking for prospective business opportunities. Here’s an example to give you a feel for the process.
Recently, a family member was hospitalized. In most hospital settings, the attending physician does rounds and sees the patient once (or more) per day. Usually, that is when family members get to ask the doctor questions.
Because of doctors’ heavy workloads, their visits are never predictable. Unless you stay the whole day, you could miss your chance to speak to the doctor. This problem affects patient care and health outcomes. I actually spoke to many other families who had similar problems. This is clearly a problem in the healthcare industry. So I thought about solutions, including:
- 1. A secure messaging app to allow communication with doctors
- 2. A secure conference call system
- 3. A patient visit scheduling system that adapts to doctors’ schedules
- 4. A notification system that alerts family members that the doctor is making rounds
These ideas are not necessarily going to become blockbuster concepts. But you get the gist of the process. And it all starts with identifying a problem.
By the way, I have given examples of the method in action in previous articles. This example discusses using the method in the consumer retail space.