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The Ultimate Guide: 10 Unique Ways To Generate Great Business Ideas (For Start-Ups)

Learn from the masters


There is one quote that I have never stopped marveling at and it comes from the American Billionaire oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller, a man often considered to be the richest American of all time and the richest man in modern history with net a worth of over $340 billion upon his death – more than 4 times the wealth of Bill Gates.

Here is what he said “If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it”. This statement would appear ironic in the sense that it somehow contradicts mainstream belief that you could dream yourself to unending wealth through clever goal setting. We are often told that if we want to have a certain amount of money at the end of the year, all we have to do is incorporate that goal into our new year resolutions and bang, it’s attained. And while there is nothing wrong with this approach to wealth creation, it rarely always yields to financial independence – you’d have to do more than just goal-set to become truly rich. You’d have to become a creator, an inventor, or in a broader sense an entrepreneur or business person.

If you doubt me, just take a look at the list of the richest people in the world today. Their fortunes were mostly realized from creating their own businesses. Bill Gates, the richest, co-founded Microsoft, Amancio Ortega, the second richest, founded the first Zara fashion shop in the 70s which has grown globally with over 7,000 shops. Warren Buffet made his fortune running his firm Berkshire Hathaway and this nearly the case with every billionaire on list of the world’s richest.

So a lot of us have already figured it out that to become truly wealthy, one must conceive a great idea with business relevance. But there is however one stumbling block and that is the seeming inability to get our creative juices flowing to come up with a great idea for our ideal start-up. As an already established entrepreneur, I can tell you, idea generation was one of the most difficult challenges I had ever faced. Most of my start up ideas were the product of countless sessions of deep thinking and brainstorming at the expense of my sweet sleep – sometimes my mind went literally blank and the sessions yielded no fruits.

So I can understand the difficulty you are probably going through now, your mind going blank each time you try to come up with a unique business idea you truly can call yours. So in the next few paragraphs, I’ll be sharing with you the many ways you can generate great business ideas for any desired start up.

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(1) Find a problem and solve it

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Our mindsets differ in the way we look at “problems” when we encounter them. For anyone who doesn’t have a flair for business, the natural response would be to complain. Imagine that time in civilization when we had no umbrellas to shield us from the driving rain. I’m sure a lot of people would have cursed the weather. But no, that wasn’t the response of one opportunist man who instead saw an opportunity, seized it and then decided the time for the umbrella was long overdue.

In the same way, most businesses you see today were the responses to a need, a lingering problem. Someone saw this problem and took it upon themselves to solve it. So I’d advise you to take this same approach, keep your eyes to the ground and listen up for “complains”. Yes I mean, when people are not satisfied with what’s on offer, it’s natural to hear them moan or whine about it. So as a prospective entrepreneur those are the kind of filters you’ll need to point you in the right direction on what people actually want. You have to spend time listening to people whine about their problems and then come up with something that addresses it. You can conduct a thorough research or survey on your industry of interest, to find out the situation of things out there. Find out if consumers are satisfied with existing products in the market and then use the feedback to discover exciting ideas to fix these problems.

Here is how you can do this;

Pick customers in an industry that interests you

Ask them what their problems are: You could ask them questions like, what unmet needs do you have? What product do you wish you had but doesn’t exist yet?

(2) Copy and Improve on what’s working in your industry

At a time when so many internet entrepreneurs are running around Silicon Valley trying to do something no one else has ever done, [Evan] Williams believes that the real trick is to find something that’s tried and true – Twitter co-founder via wired.

On a personal note, I’m a big fan of “uniqueness” and I would rather do something that stands me out than create what consolidates the already existing. But for the sake of business efficacy it is better swimming with the tide than going against it – go with the flow. Most successful business ideas today are more evolutionary that revolutionary. As an entrepreneur you’d have a higher success rate complementing an existing business model that has succeeded than trying to create something totally different. If you should discover that electric cars are selling today, that is an indication of a shift in consumer behavior. When something sells it means consumers love it and want more of it. So that means you can create similar products along those lines.

These days I hear a lot of people of ask “what if someone has already started my business idea, is it still worth it to go on with it?” Yes you absolutely can and should. If someone else has started your idea, it means you can extrapolate from its performance to tell whether yours, would be such a hit. You could also learn from failures of those existing before you to come up with something that addresses whatever lose ends and mistakes their products might have left behind.

We can draw examples from other existing businesses here. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but they learnt from the mistakes of the others and created a search engine with better results and now they are a hit. The founder of Dropbox was pitching in front of an investor one day and the investor asked him: “there are similar companies out there doing the same thing as dropbox, why should I invest in just another similar company?”

His reply was: “Yes, there are similar companies out there doing the same thing as dropbox. But do you use any of them?” “No” was the reply of the investor and “why” queried the founder of dropbox. “Because they are bad” replied the investor. And guess what was the response of dropbox’ founder? “Ok. That’s what dropbox wants to solve”. Watch, the guy didn’t say he wanted to create a revolutionary cloud storage or file hosting service, instead he said his invention was meant to take care of the loose ends left behind by his predecessors. That is exactly how great business ideas are conceived. You create something similar to the existing and infuse it with your own uniqueness to distinguish it from the rest. By copying someone else’s work, you can improve on a key element while giving it a fresh outlook. Sometimes in business, there’s great wisdom in re-inventing the wheel.

(3) Build on your passions

The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world’s need of that work. With this, life is heaven or as near heaven as you can get. Without this, with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need – this life is hell. – William Du Bois

There was once a time when people’s passions and hobbies were fleeting activities that were done to either pass or kill time. People tended to put a lot of time into pursuing their passions for no monetary reward. But today things are a world away from what they had been a few years ago. At the moment, anyone could successfully build a business monetizing their passions. Take a look at the internet today, we now have YouTube channels run by teenagers who earn millions of dollars recording themselves doing what they love. PewDiePie the 25-year-old Youtube sensation was reported to have racked in $7.4million dollars in advertising revenue in 2014 alone doing what he loves. In this same way, you can generate business ideas right from under your own nose – from your own acres of diamond.

(4) Become more social

Who would have thought anyone could generate a business idea just by becoming more social. But you’d be dead wrong ignoring this tip. Given the rise of social media and other online communities, it has become easier to schmooze with people from different backgrounds to learn about the problems they encounter every day and develop business models to solve them – it’s a way of asking your potential customers of their problems, how they are solving it and whether they would be willing to pay to have it solved. You might find it worthwhile monitoring discussions at some of these communities for intriguing business ideas. You can sign up at Reddit and follow topics like business ideas and other similar topics.

(5) Read Great books

I’m sure you have heard the quote that “today’s readers are tomorrow’s leaders” and this is true in business as it is in life. Doyens of industries are avid readers who read books of other successful business owners to expand their knowledge base, stimulate their brains and spark their creative powers to generate new ideas for future start-ups. Recently when I went by the book store, I couldn’t resist taking a little sneak preview into one of Bill Gates best – Business at the Speed of Thought. Anyone would buy a book like that just for its title. The point I’m making is, you need to start reading great business books to ignite your own creative spark. In an earlier article on the 25 amazing ways to become smarter, we spoke of how Elon Musk developed most of his businesses today, reading the encyclopedia at a very young age to build his own knowledge base which he drew on to develop business as solutions to problems.

Photo Credits: Pixabay

(6) Exercise for Idea generation

I read a quote of Kemmons Wilson one of Americas foremost business gurus and that impressed on me, the value of looking within – “A successful person realizes his personal responsibility for self-motivation. He starts with himself because he possesses the key to his own ignition switch”. I still remember reading about the narrative of a certain California rancher in 1847 who on hearing that gold had been discovered in Southern California sold his ranch to a certain Colonel Sutter, never to return and went on a wild gold chase of searching for gold (which he never did till his death) only for the buyer of the ranch to discover that the ranch was a gold mine. In the same vein prospective start-up founders make this same mistake when in a bid to generate ideas, they focus so much on external sources that they miss out on their own acres of diamonds lying right within them. Nothing exemplifies this more than the one of the most important books on practical living – the Book of Proverbs. In its chapter 20:5, it says “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out”. Right within you now lies your own well of creativity which you have to harness to come up with brilliant and original ideas. One of the ways I do this is that I wake up on certain days and decide to brainstorm for new ideas and do this for writing great blog articles. In a space of 5 minutes, I just think and scribble whatever comes to mind, the good, bad, terrible, horrific, exciting, amazing and terrific. At the end of this short exercise and write down my takeaways in a diary and that’s it. Locate your own well of creativity by posing yourself a “5 minute startup” challenge each day and brainstorm for new startup ideas, think of the where your industry might be heading 5 years from now and that will also give you ideas of what business to start now. One more thing, when brainstorming for new ideas, consider inviting others to join you as this give you multiple viewpoints and better ideas.

(7) Be always on the look-out for new ideas

Read the news where new markets and opportunities bubble up all the time. This can be a good way to get your brain firing on new connections, novel businesses while also discovering new ways to apply new technology to old problems. You can subscribe to Google alerts to be updated on emerging discoveries and trends in your industry of interest.

(8) Network with founders

I came up with the idea of running my first blog in a chat with another blog founder. In the course of our conversation, he got to know I was curious, loved writing and the next thing, he suggested I start a blog. Such an experience typifies the benefits of networking with other startup founders in your relevant industry. At some point during a conversation someone might mention or suggest something that piques your interest.

(9) Check Online Reviews

Go out there on the internet and read online reviews of products related to your interests. They can be an invaluable source for idea generation. In this way you get to find out about the different bugs users experience using certain products and then create similar products offering bug fixes to those problems.

(10) Take advantage of experience sampling

Experience sampling is an interesting technique where you ask a large group of people the same question over and over again about what their last annoyances were and how they solved it. You can generate business ideas using this technique.

Bonus: Study the emerging trends in your industry and develop ideas that fit in well with them. Take the case of the tech industry where the trends are moving towards drones and Ai/robotics.

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