Trouble Coming Up With A Startup Idea? Try this
by David Ortiz
Working with entrepreneurs over the years, I have heard and still regularly hear this: I'm ready to do a startup and I think I have what it takes, but I haven't come up with a great idea yet.
There's a lot that can be inferred from this statement, but for the purposes of this article, lets go with this -- these individuals do have what it takes, and great startup ideas do exist.
If so, we are leaving a lot of economic growth, job creation, and (maybe) world betterment unrealized; and many capable people are limited in pursuing and achieving their startup dream.
So how can this situation be improved?
Before answering that, let's first discuss how startup ideas are generated.
How Startup Ideas are Created
We believe there are two prevalent ways that great startup ideas are created: either from personal experience, or by systematically targeting an area and analyzing the top opportunities in that space.
Great startup ideas often come from personal experience. Paul Graham wrote a highly referenced article on this and it intuitively makes sense that with more personal experience one would likely have more knowledge, insight into the problems, and perspectives on game-changing solutions.
Some examples of successful startups from personal experience are:
- Salesforce - Marc Benioff came up with the idea for Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM while an executive at Oracle, which sold on-premise CRM solutions.
- Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at Harvard to address the need for a student directory.
- Workday - Dave Duffield started Workday as a SaaS Human Resources (HR) solution after he built and sold PeopleSoft, an enterprise Human Resources software solution.
Focusing on personal experience is great, but limiting. There is a high element of "being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time", and for most of us, it is unrealistic to change jobs and spend potentially years learning a new field.
Systematic targeting uses a more directed approach to understanding the customer and their critical problems. In this First Round article, Nat Turner of Flatiron Health laid out his approach of selecting an area of interest, looking for startup ideas within, networking and pitching the idea within the industry, and then finding trusted advisors to get more feedback and advance the solution.
Examples of successful startups that used a systematic type approach are:
- Spotify - Daniel Elk and Martin Lorentzon worked through a range of startup ideas before they settled on a distribution model for owned content (the original focus of their now music streaming service.)
- Warby Parker - Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider came up with manufacturing and selling eyewear direct to consumers while at Wharton Business School. None had previous operational experience in this field.
- Oscar Health Insurance - Mario Schlosser, Joshua Kushner and team selected health care based on the perceived market opportunity and had no previous health insurance experience.
So if these are the two prevalent approaches to startup ideas, then what is the solution to getting more startup ideas into the hands of capable startup founders-to-be?
Our Solution: A Startup Ideas Clearinghouse
We believe that a free Startup Ideas Clearinghouse is the best way to connect startup ideas with startup founders-to-be.
In effect, take unused quality startup ideas from people who are good at coming up with them (either through personal experience or systematically targeting) and share those ideas with people who are prepared to execute on them.
I think a fair number of people in the startup community have high quality ideas that they've come up with and decided not to pursue - either because they were too focused on their current startup, or it wasn't in an area of interest, etc.
Beyond the startup community, there are many individuals in industry with deep domain knowledge and great understanding of potential startup ideas (so we are reaching out there also).
Why let these ideas sit?
If you don't plan to pursue the idea in the future (and that is likely the case!), then why not provide it to the Clearinghouse so another startup can evaluate and decide if they want to pursue it.
The Clearinghouse is not only about the submitted startup ideas. We believe the sharing of these ideas and the discussions about them will spark new thinking and spawn additional ideas.
We see tremendous potential with this Clearinghouse approach and view our role as a) a facilitator in bringing forth quality ideas, and b) an enabler to help get those ideas vetted, built, and turned into great businesses.
How the Clearinghouse Works
1. Send your startup idea by email to email@example.com
We've set up the email address firstname.lastname@example.org so anyone can send in a startup idea that they aren't pursuing.
Write a short description of the startup idea that you want to share (and allow others to pursue) in the email subject area and more details about the idea in the email body.
Then send it...
We take care of everything else.
2. Select an idea with "No Owner" and create your own startup idea from it
The email with your startup idea will be posted to our Ideas Area with a "No Owner" sign so startup founders-to-be know it is available to pursue.
Anyone can branch the idea off as their own and begin working on it.
3. Get feedback on startup ideas
All ideas posted in our Ideas area receive comments and suggestions from experienced members of the Capabuild ecosystem.
This comments and suggestions may include other people potentially pursuing a similar idea, key challenges you should work through, suggestions on how to improve the value proposition, and more.
4. Use our startup environment to help build an idea into a successful startup
We offer a free build environment that includes the steps to move your company forward, with detailed help, examples and references. It is constantly enhanced with experiences from other startups.
Some Initial Startup Ideas
To seed the Startup Ideas Clearinghouse we have provided four initial startup ideas.
SaaS Software to Manage Corporate Social Good - Companies are taking a more integrated view of donations, sponsorships, community involvement, and other activity generally classified as corporate social good. Provide a tool to manage requests, prioritize efforts, and measure results against corporate goals and mission, return on investment (ROI), community impact, etc.
Artist / Craftsperson Marketing and Sales Optimizer - Artist and craftspeople have many marketplaces to sell their product in addition to their own website. The marketing and sales optimizer would allow them to see number and type of sales by channel, profitability, customer profile, and trends, and provide recommendations on how to optimize.
Open source marketplace software (for suppliers) - Provide open source marketplace software that a supplier can run to transact with their customers, removing any middle-man. Marketplace software provider makes money on value-add services such as hosting, managing the marketplace, enhancements, etc.
Startup "Admin / Ops" in a Box - New startups don't want to spend their time selecting and setting up an operations / administrative environment that includes HR, financials, communication, and project management. The startup in a box would have pre-selected components that are integrated so information is shared across the applications.
For these, and all ideas that get posted, it is less about whether the idea is "ready to build". It's more about spurring thinking and the creation of additional ideas, and ultimately coming up with ideas that startup teams would want to pursue.
There are a lot of people in the startup community and in industry who've come up with great startup ideas that they aren't pursuing. There are also a lot of capable founders-to-be who want to build a startup but haven't found their great idea.
We have set up the Startup Idea Clearinghouse so existing startup ideas can be shared with capable startup founders. A startup idea is sent to the Clearinghouse simply by emailing it to email@example.com (type the startup idea in the email subject line and a more detailed description in the email body).
Startup teams can look at these ideas (designated on the site with a "No Owner" sign) and modify them to be their own.
We also provide a free build environment to help the startup teams advance their ideas into successful businesses.
So, send a startup idea (it's great way to pay-it-forward!) to:
visit our clearinghouse of startup ideas