Idea Generation for a Business

Coming up With Business Ideas. Why it’s so Hard.

And Why it Makes no Sense to Worry About Your Idea Being Stolen

If there’s one simple thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship, it’s that much of what’s true about it is counterintuitive. So many people, myself included, struggle with how to come up with an idea for a business. What we all don’t realize is that coming up with business ideas is really the easiest part.

The reason it’s so easy, relatively speaking, is businesses succeed because they to solve problems worth solving. That’s all there is to coming up with business ideas. Just figure out what problems you and/or others have, and solving it becomes your business idea.

The hard part is everything else; execution, timing, determining product/market fit, determining feasibility, and so much more. Hate job searching? Make it easier. Business idea! Dating app experience driving you crazy, make a better one! There are business ideas waiting to be thought of everywhere.

It’s easy to fall prey to a certain kind of thinking that narrows people’s conception of what a business idea is. Those ideas I mentioned, someone’s already had them and made businesses out of them. New recruiting firms pop up all the time. There have been a plethora of new dating apps since Tinder launched. This scares people into thinking these can’t be business ideas, because there’s so much preexisting competition. The counterintuitive truth here is twofold. A) Market saturation, outside of commodities at least, is a myth, and B) Preexisting competition is a good thing.

Market Saturation

For starters, the existence of companies attempting to solve the problem you want to solve is a good thing. It is proof what you want to do is viable. It does not mean you cannot create another company doing something similar. Facebook was far from the first social media platform. Anyone old enough (and you don’t need to be that old) remembers Myspace.

Social media platforms go all the way back to a website called SixDegrees.com in 1997. Basically, back to the Mesozoic era of technology when 56K modems roamed the earth.

Similarly, Google wasn’t the first search engine, it was the twentieth if I’m not mistaken. The first was called Archie.

So, how did Facebook and Google not only succeed as viable businesses, but basically become synonymous with social media and search engines respectively?

By being better.

Again, counterintuitively, the later entrants to markets have something of an advantage, because they can learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and avoid paying the cost of making those mistakes.

So, How Did the Earlier Market Entrants Screw this up?

Myspace is a great case study in how to squander an enormous advantage over new challengers. I remember Myspace becoming a free for all, which only ruined the experience. Everyone covered their pages with garish designs and autoloaded loud, jarring music, which could cause a heart attack and compound your misery by causing your computer to freeze. The last straw for me was all the hacking and bot profiles. When I got messages from girls I knew telling me how great the newest dick pills were, I decided I had enough.

Facebook, on the other hand, tightly controlled not only the growth of its user base, it first was only open to Harvard students, then college students, then the general public and foreign countries, and highly regulated what its users could do. Mark Zuckerberg “focused on the network, not the user” as Paul Buchheit, an early employee at Facebook and creator of Gmail put it, which was unlike Myspace, who gave users whatever they wanted and let the whole thing descend into anarchy.

Google’s another great example. AOL and Yahoo! centered their business models around being portals to the internet. Search engine was just a part of that, along with email and news, and much more. They focused on a breadth of services.

Google, on the other hand decided, again according to Paul Buchheit, to focus on depth of service as opposed to breadth, by making a better search engine and eschewing all the other bells and whistles of web portals.

Google and its competitors were both trying to do the same thing, connect people with the information on the internet they needed in a timely fashion, but Google correctly identified a strong search engine, rather than an okay search engine with a host of other features, was the best way to do so. The rest, as they say, is history.

Existing Competition

That brings me to my next point. Preexisting competitors are a good thing for any aspiring entrepreneur. The reason why? They prove there is a need, one people will pay for, for the solution the aspiring entrepreneur seeks to create. Like with Google and Facebook, the most important thing is doing it better, not necessarily differently.

Lastly, as I said at the beginning of this post, there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to people “stealing” your ideas, if an idea can be said to be stolen, but I digress.

Since executing, and figuring out how to better solve problems is the real challenge, ideas, in and of themselves, aren’t really worth anything.

No one is possessed of everything to make a business successful except for the easiest part. Someone with all of the resources, skills, and good sense of timing to beat the odds and build a business isn’t dependent on you to come along and give them a problem you or other people face to catalyze their journey to entrepreneurial success. People like that shouldn’t have trouble with ideas. And if for some reason they do, you’ve got another competitor, which we know isn’t a problem. 

The Main Takeaway About Coming up With Business Ideas

The reality of sharing your idea with people, including those you don’t know, is contrary to most people’s expectations. And that’s because, rather than keep your cards close to your chest, you need to be as open to as many people as you can about what you’re thinking. There’s no way to really know your idea is a good one, that there’s a problem worth solving on someone else’s behalf, unless they confirm that for you.

Plenty of founders have been stunned to find their baby wasn’t as beautiful as they thought it was because they waited until they had spent so much time and money building something to find out it was in fact, ugly. These are the startups that form the scary statistics you hear about startup failure rates. 

Don’t take my word for it. I learned all this from places like YC and from the writings of successful entrepreneurs. When you see a common theme emerge from the cautionary tales of the brightest minds in entrepreneurship, it’s probably true. What does everyone else think? Would love to hear any opinions about ideas, sharing ideas, competition, and of course, any experiences with anything I covered here.

3 thoughts on “Coming up With Business Ideas. Why it’s so Hard.”

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