October 1, 2020

5 Unexpected Places To Find Your Next Great Business Idea

Recently, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $2 trillion. This is all the more striking considering just two years ago Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $1 trillion. 

All of this got me thinking: what makes for a trillion-dollar business idea? What will the next one be? What’s the secret sauce shared by today’s rocket-ship companies? 

And, on a much more basic level, what goes into a winning business idea, to begin with? 

To find out, I put out an open call to friends and colleagues on social media — a cross section of millions of amazing entrepreneurs, innovators and just plain brilliant people from tech, media retail and more — and asked what inspires their business ideas. 

This list is by no means comprehensive. But I hope their insights (edited below) can provide a little inspiration to help accelerate your next big thing, whether that’s a trillion-dollar valuation or just your next side hustle: 

Prioritize pain 

I’m constantly researching and studying people in person and online. I’m always asking them questions about what their biggest challenge and pain is and asking them why it’s so painful for them. I look for the simple answer in the pain.” — Lewis Howes, New York Times Bestselling Author | Top 100 Podcast in the World with The School of Greatness | Former Pro Athlete

I love Lewis’ emphasis on pain here. Not “pain points,” but pain. He’s talking about real physical frustration and angst. The stuff that bothers you deep down, that keeps you up at night, that makes your life harder and that’s begging for relief. It’s that kind of urgency and immediacy that’s behind some of the best business ideas. 

Seek un-balance 

I look for business model disruptions caused by technology. How does technology shift power from one group to another, and what are the scenarios for the incumbent to restore balance?  I’ve done this a few times in my career, first in the e-commerce phase, then with the social media era, then with the sharing/collaborative economy, then with the autonomous world. —  Jeremiah Owyang, Entrepreneur, speaker, analyst

Instability and change always create opportunities. Net new markets and needs emerge. Existing business models can’t fill the gap. People are desperate for solutions that help them restore balance. In my experience, entrepreneurs with the energy, vision and risk-tolerance to plunge in early can be rewarded with big upsides.   

Find frustration. Add tech

For me, it’s the intersection of frustration and technology. Idea-wise, it starts with a problem. Something I am trying to do is difficult. The process is poor or the service is bad. The inspiration comes from everywhere. Great tech is all around us but people often view it in a narrow fashion. — Terry Hogan, Managing Director at Flow Car Finance 

What I love about this is the recognition that great business ideas aren’t about reinventing the wheel. Frustrations exist. Tools exist. Some of the best entrepreneurs out there just find creative approaches to bring those two elements together in ways that were overlooked before. Plus, apart from solving problems, tech also enables scaling solutions and reaching markets in ways unthinkable before.     

Ask yourself, “What’s not here?”

Well, in my current operation in Mexico I couldn’t find a good cup of coffee … So I bought a Probat roaster and the game was on. — Alec Tidey, Owner, Baja Beans Roasting Co.

Alec makes this sound easy, but it’s not. Some of the best entrepreneurs out there have a knack for sensing what’s absent, and filling that gap. Being a boundary-crosser helps; jumping between different geographies, disciplines or demographics makes it easier to spot what’s missing. (Alec fits the bill nicely, a Canadian hockey play turned Mexican coffee roaster!) 

Listen to hearts, not lips

When I truly listen to what people are saying and hear what they’re truly needing — not what they “think” they need — that’s where the magic happens. — Jill Sinclair, International Keynote & TEDx Speaker | Executive Coach | Author

This reminds me of what Steve Jobs said about customers in the context of the iPhone: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” Great entrepreneurs sense the problems (and solutions) people don’t even know they have. Their businesses are less about giving customers what they explicitly ask for than intuiting and serving deeper, underlying needs.  

Thanks so much to everyone who shared their brilliant ideas. Startup success is hardly an exact science — and execution obviously plays a central role. But great ideas, so often dismissed as “napkin sketches,” really do matter. My own company started with a simple question: Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage all your social networks from one place? Twelve years later, we wouldn’t be here without that lightbulb moment.

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