Startup ideas — where do they come from?

Startup ideas, Big Red Car? Huh?

Big Red Car here on a sunny Texas day. On Earth as it is in Texas and it’s going to be 105F today, y’all. Hell, that’s not even hot anymore, is it? Hey, Mother Nature, bring it. Take your best shot.

The Big Red car will be taking some quiet pool time this afternoon.

So where do business ideas come from, you ask? [I know you didn’t ask, but I have to bang out a blog post, so go along with it, please?]

Every startup has to come up with a hypothesis to justify their existence. How does one do that?

Today, the Big Red Car works its mojo with you and helps ‘splain a framework for you to think about.

The nature of the hypothesis of startup ideas

Almost every good idea has been taken, right? Haha, no, of course not. A lot of them have, but not all of them.

In general, good ideas fit into the following classifications:

 1. A good idea (business, hypothesis, startup — your pick of words, dear reader) solves some weighty problem of mankind — WebMD?

 2. A good idea eliminates the pain of living — Expedia, Priceline, Rent-the-Runway?

 3. A good idea provides a service to mankind which did not exist — Twitter, Facebook? [Twitter changed the way politics is played while electing a very unusual POTUS.]

 4. A good idea dramatically reduces the cost of living — eCommerce anything.

The adjunct to this is the creation of highly focused, branded silos which become product killers in a single product — Harry’s, Warby-Parker, Tempe Rowe, RevZilla.

[What the world really needs is a great monogram towel company, no? Organic cotton, y’all.]

 5. A good idea breathes organization and efficiency into life — Amazon — often at a lower price point. [You will, shortly, be able to buy your own opinion on Amazon.]

I love being able to research everything I have ever bought from Amazon when I want to refer back to it. I love their order entry (One Click this!), order admin, shipping, package tracking, delivery, return policy — I WANT AMAZON TO RUN THE GOVERNMENT. Not Bezos’ politics, the efficiency of Amazon.

 6. A good idea surrounds the world in other good ideas, communication, information — Bustle, Romper, Drudge Report, Bleacher Report?

 7. A good idea breaks down geographical barriers, makes the world smaller, and presents the best economic opportunity to access it — Canada Drug Center (buying medicine in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India at 22% of US prices)?

 8. A good idea modernizes a methodology of doing something — Quizlet? Blue Apron, grocery delivery?

This list could go on a few more steps, but the point is there are a lot of different ways to view YOUR STARTUP IDEA.

Now, Big Red Car, this is all well and good, but how do I actually find my idea? Give me a methodology that works every time. Now. Damn it!

Thinking your way through to your startup ideas

Brainstorming  about a startup idea is easy if you are willing to acknowledge it is not just a second of revelatory inspiration and it will take some time to refine and finalize your idea. All the easy stuff got done in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sorry.

Approach the formulation of your idea the way a writer thinks through a book idea. To help yourself, go read the following book: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction. <<< hyperlink, y’all!

This book is the Holy Grail for serious writers and its beginning chapters are essential in realizing there is no magic bullet that allows you to nail your idea. It is a process.

In much the same way that a writer finds their idea for a book, you will find yours.

Startup Ideas, the basics

Ideas do not come fully formed. They come as bits of grit about which you provide layers of thought, work, and inspiration to blossom forth as a pearl of an idea which the whole world will tell you is stupid, has been done, is nuts. That is how you will know it is a good idea. Ideation — haha, I really used that word — is not for sissies.

Here is the methodology I want you to consider, grasshopper:

 1. Try to isolate an industry you are interested in. Might as well do something interests you. A flight of fancy which you can do, redo, and do yet again.

 2. Write down the first three things that jump into your brain after you identify the industry.

Put them on index cards and then go for a run, a walk, a swim. Let them sit for a couple of days. [Total investment so far, three index cards. If you get in a pinch, call me, I bought a big box of them recently, the real thick ones.]

 3. Consider what the opportunity might be — refer to the eight point list above.

See if there is some pain to be quashed, some new mouse trap to be built, some silo to be built.

Figure out what the strategic thrust of it might be. Figure out exactly how you fit into the industry or how you are going to make a new one. Do this in bed, in the pool, on the beach, on a mountain top. This is one of the hardest things about the process.

SUFFER. Yes, dear reader, I said SUFFER.

Allow me to digress — Twitter arbitrarily selected 140 characters as a communication limit. They did not start out with the idea it would become the political driver of the 2016 US Presidential election. They started with a nugget and built from there.

 4. Check out the competitive landscape. Do not be the seventh person to decide to make men’s socks. Not unless you think the other six have underwhelmed the opportunity. [See what the Big Red Car did there? There is almost always a way to justify a good idea, even if you break a few rules in the process.]

 5. Begin to sketch out the idea. Use traditional who, what, when, why, where, how, how much kind of thinking.

Is the idea taking shape? Take a tentative stab at the product and identify it — eCommerce, SaaS, publishing, fintech?

Pro tip: read a lot of stuff about new companies. Monkey see, monkey do is a legit strategy to develop ideas. Copy the thought process, not the idea.

 6. Go talk to people you trust who have been down the road before.

Do not talk to a venture capitalist. Talk to a serial entrepreneur.

[Let me tell you a hard truth, dear entrepreneur. You have to be CRAZY to be an entrepreneur. It is part of the skill set, the DNA, the mojo, the juju. You have to be able to take a lot of criticism on the way to your own company, and then the paywindow. Do not be dissuaded in the early stages when people tell you, “You’re nuts. The world does not need this.” Now, you know.]

[Remember, we put things in [xxxxx] because only you and I can see them. Your mother cannot. Your significant other cannot. Your dog cannot. This way they don’t know what we know — YOU’RE NUTS. But, hey, in a really, really, really good way.]

 7. Once the idea begins to germinate and sprout roots, then begin to sketch out some stuff about how the idea gets delivered to the marketplace: Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, Culture, Business Engine Canvas, Business Process Graphic, Pitches (elevator, taxicab, board room, onboarding), Dollar Weighted Org Charts. Do not fret that some of this stuff is pie in the sky at this stage of your development. Just spitball it and see if any of it begins to make sense.

As you can see, this is hard stuff, but nobody ever told you it would be easy. Nobody.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Hey, hot temps? We got this. Have a great weekend, y’all. Bit of brainstorming?






  • sigmaalgebra

    Sounds find.

    Maybe in addition entertain:

    (1) Buffett Moat

    That’s Warren Buffett, the investor and friend of Bill Gates. So a Buffett moat is another term for a barrier to entry or how to keep out competition.

    Likely the US and world, unchallenged grand champion is a geographical barrier to entry: So, a local pizza carryout is not in competition with any other pizza shop more than, say, 50 miles away since nearly no one wants to drive more than 25 miles for a pizza. That moat also works for auto repair shops, auto body shops, dentists, nearly all restaurants, car dealerships, grocery stores, and much more. E.g., no way can China complete with a NY auto body shop!

    Other moats can be high switching costs (e.g., users of Microsoft Word, customers of Oracle, organizations making use of the more advanced features of Cisco’s switches and routers), network of users (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat), own a standard (Intel’s x86), technological (Intel’s 14 nm process, on the way to 7 nm or so, the software of James Simons), trade secrets (e.g., how Rolls-Royce makes the turbine blades in their high end jet engines).

    (2) Must Have

    There are lots of products and services that some people will find nice to have, but for a startup it can be safer to have a product/service that is a must have and for enough people to make a good business.

    (3) Technology

    At one time, open ocean sailing was a new thing. Then the claim goes that could take a ship from England to the Far East, return with a load of silks and spices, do this just once, and retire rich for life. Well, don’t expect to get rich moving silk, pepper, and cinnamon across the oceans now. So open ocean sailing became an old thing.

    Similarly for copper, bronze, iron, steel, railroads, steamships, electric power, telephones, radio, TV, plastics, aluminum, transistors, anti-biotics, more in electronics, etc.

    Just now the big opportunities for such new things to take advantage of seem to be (A) digital computing, especially with the Internet, and (B) pharmaceuticals, especially aided by analyses of DNA.

    • Andrew Cashion

      Rolls Royce turbine blade is a single crystal.

      One of their secrets is the allowable angle a crack can have from some reference point.

  • JLM

    How does one create a startup idea? Maybe you have to beat it out of a plowshare or a sword? Here’s a way to approach the problem.


    #startup #founder #entrepreneur #ceo #startupideas