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Does the idea of creating a startup business may seem daunting? It doesn’t have to. Billion-dollar businesses, such as Apple, Google, and Amazon and even small, local startups all began the same way: as an idea embedded in someone’s mind.
If other entrepreneurs have built their dream brick by brick from an idea, you can too. The truth is that the starting line for a startup business is an idea.
That idea can come from many different sources: your passions, your strengths, something challenging that you’ve faced, or a void that you see in the marketplace.
In a culture already saturated in a startup business, how do you come up with a startup idea?
In this article, we’ll break down specific ways to do just that, and provide multiple industries and opportunities for you to explore further.
What Is A Start-up?
Before we explain how to create a start-up idea, let's set the foundation by briefly defining what a startup is.
Simply put, a startup is a company usually in its beginning stages of operation. It’s a business structure that lends itself to disruptive innovation and seeks to solve specific problems by delivering a service or product.
Unlike other forms of businesses, startups are unique because they are agile: they keep improving their business models with innovative approaches.
How To Come Up With A Startup Idea
Startup ideas typically don’t happen from a lightning bolt of inspiration. Sitting inside hoping for an idea out of the blue isn’t the best bet. Instead, ideas come from experiencing different work environments and jobs, unique lifestyles and cultures, and getting out of your comfort zone.
Because of this, there is one sentence answer to create an idea. But there is a powerful and effective framework to guide that process.
Step 1: Identify Your Passions and Strengths.
Ask yourself: what do I enjoy doing?
The answer will guide you through this step by step process.
A startup requires a lot of work, and we mean a lot. Working at something you love will make the necessary sacrifices easier. Imagine staying late at the office on a Friday night or coming into work on a Saturday morning — you’re only going to want to do those things if you love and are passionate about your idea. You’re also likely to be good at things you’re passionate about.
In addition, consider your personal strengths. This requires some personal honesty because sometimes we would like to have a particular strength even though we don’t.
What do you believe you are good at? Creativity? Numbers?
Yes, passions and strengths are closely related, but they’re not identical.
To understand the difference, say that you’re just starting out in your career. You love finance, and you’re good at it. If you are a “people person,” good at establishing rapport and building relationships, that strength might lead you toward investment banking or financial advising. On the other hand, if you’re not very comfortable with people but good with numbers and complex tasks, financial analysis or writing trading algorithms might be more for you.
Ensure that you have your passions and goals either written down or in mind before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Establish Your Goal
Clearly identifying your goal for your startup is crucial since it can affect your industry, your choice of business, and how you approach the startup process.
Here are a few questions to answer:
- Are you looking to build a business that you can sell to a larger company (typically in under 10 years)?
- Do you want a company that you can run for the rest of your working life and then hand off to your heirs? If so, do you intend to manage hands-on the entire time, or do you want to eventually be able to put a management team in place and step back?
- What are some roadblocks to reaching your goal, and how will you overcome them?
Write out your goal in one sentence. Once you have your goal clearly defined, you can move to the next step.
Step 3: Identify A Need
Identifying a need — the core of a successful startup — is both beautiful in its simplicity and vexing in its complexity.
Ask yourself this: what void are you trying to fill? Find a need that is either not being met at all in the marketplace or is not being met as well as it could be.
Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, predicted in the mid-1960s that as computers became more common, companies would need a logistics system capable of keeping them running by supplying parts on short notice. Returning home from service in Vietnam in 1971, he found that his prediction had come true. He jumped into action and conceived a hub-and-spoke network that could move packages far more efficiently than traditional point-to-point delivery and built that network from the ground up. Today, FedEx is a globally known way to ship and receive packages.
Don’t believe that every good idea is already taken. The ever-increasing speed with which our world changes — thanks to technology — constantly creates opportunities for completely new business concepts. Less than 40 years ago, the concept of the “search engine” did not exist; today it is the foundation of Google, which has over $135 billion in revenue.
Write out the need you’re trying to fill before moving on to step 4.
Step 4: Do Your Research
As you identify potential needs that align with your passions, do the legwork to see what solutions exist in the marketplace.
Realistically, steps 3 and 4 will become a cycle as you discard nonviable startup ideas and develop new ones, but the research process will also lead you to new ideas as your knowledge deepens.
The internet is obviously the best tool for research, but don’t neglect other avenues. Talking to people in the relevant sector, conducting interviews, attending trade shows, and even just talking (and listening) to family and friends can reveal unresolved pain points.
Train your ears to listen for phrases like:
- “Why doesn’t somebody . . .”
- “I wish you could just . . .”
- “I wish I didn’t have to . . .”
Take a minute and write down your top 3 takeaways from your research. This can include competitors who are dominating the industry you’d like to inject your startup into, advice you’ve received, or other pain points from customers that you didn’t anticipate finding.
After this exercise, you should have the following written down:
- Your passions
- Your strengths
- The goal of the startup idea
- The need your idea is seeking to fill
- Research about your idea
This foundational work will go a long way in helping you see the validity and need of your idea. It’s also a start on a business plan if you decide to pursue this idea further.
11 Startup Ideas
If you are struggling with thinking of a new idea, even after that exercise or you’d like to see concrete examples of industries where there are areas of opportunities, keep reading.
The following list of startup ideas provides more specific examples that may help you develop your own concept, although most are still generic enough that they can provide a jumping-off point for a specialized business.
The internet is well suited to delivering instructional content, and online training is one area that has enjoyed explosive growth recently.
Online Training provides a chance for you to offer your hard-won expertise with a modest investment in the delivery platform.
With this industry opportunity, there are two things to remember:
- Highly specialized training will have a smaller audience but can command a higher price.
- Offering content with broader appeal expands your potential customer base but requires setting yourself apart from a crowded competitive field.
The good news is that you can contract with experts in other subject areas to develop additional content outside your own field.
If you’re interested in learning more about creating and selling courses, read a step by step guide right here.
Mobile apps are so prevalent today that it’s sometimes hard to remember what a recent technology they are.
As that old phrase “There’s an app for that” indicates, the range of potential functions is so broad that your imagination is just about the only practical limit.
Not sure what to create an app about? The various app stores are a great research tool and source of startup ideas, because you can see what needs are being met as well as read user reviews and comments on existing apps to see what frustrations exist with current products and what needs aren’t being met.
You don’t even need any coding skills, as that piece of the business can easily be contracted to a developer.
Meal Prep & Delivery Service
The number of competitors already populating the segment is a testament to the popularity of meal kits.
That means a successful startup will need to address a specific niche (think gluten-free, for example) or otherwise differentiate itself.
With today’s smartphone technology, delivery service businesses are also on the rise. While some big markets are already saturated by companies such as Uber Eats and Postmates, there continue to be opportunities in local and regional markets.
Virtual reality (VR) is arguably the next major frontier in the personal experience arena of technology.
VR games are getting most of the consumer attention right now, but VR has tremendous potential — think of what could be done in training, research, and design, just to offer three examples.
Since the segment is relatively new, there remain plenty of opportunities to create the next product that people don’t even realize they need yet.
The main three places startup ideas will be found in the VR marketplace are:
- physical device accessories
- content (for example, games or virtual tours)
Niche website with premium content
If you can offer plenty of high quality, authoritative information on a specialized topic, you can place the bulk of that content behind a paywall and offer it by subscription.
The beauty of subscription-based businesses is recurring revenue that reduces reliance on constantly converting new customers.
As with online training, the more specialized the niche, the smaller the customer base, so scaling a startup may require multiple specialized sites or sites with very broad appeal.
This concept is a great variation on eCommerce that eliminates the need to stock a large inventory and allows products to be purchased in larger lots for better pricing.
It is also another example of a recurring revenue model. The category covers both specific product lines, such as personal care products that have an expendable component (think Harry’s, Dollar Shave Club, or Quip), along with true subscription boxes like Birchbox or Bespoke Post.
Yet again, startup ideas in this segment need to focus on niche appeal.
The conversation for taking care of the environment has never been bigger. This trend is an outgrowth of environmental consciousness, a consumer trend embodied in the multiple online petitions asking Amazon for example to reduce its use of packaging.
The greatest potential in this segment is clearly in business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer when it comes to new forms of packaging, but another option is to sell common products with zero-waste packaging options.
The key to finding workable startup ideas is to see what needs related to this trend are unmet.
Along with creating products, you can also create events and community events based around the all-important trend of conservation.
This segment capitalizes on fashion trends, which can certainly be capricious and therefore a hazardous foundation for a business, but vintage goods have the advantage of representing a form of recycling, which is an additional (or even primary) appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
Most people think of clothing when they hear “vintage,” but furniture and other household goods fall into the category as well.
The main challenge with scaling such a business is a consistent and reliable source of the saleable products since by definition you can’t manufacture vintage goods.
Because smartphones can do so much today, many startups have developed accessories around them, including cases, headphone wear, chargeable stations and more.
SEO and Website Content Review
The internet has been going strong for a good 30 years now, and millions of websites have been created in that time. With so much focus on growth and publishing new content, a surprising number of businesses have not reviewed their site content recently.
Aside from basic problems such as stale copy, dated information, and broken links, more significant problems like mobile platform compatibility and accessible versions have recently become potential issues for site owners.
These days a website is a necessity for just about any business, and the concept includes the potential for a paid review, cleanup work based on that review, and even recurring periodic maintenance. This might seem like an unlikely candidate for a large-scale business, but automating the process could be a game-changer.
Develop A Coworking Space
One downside to working for yourself as an entrepreneur is a lack of community. That’s where coworking spaces come in. They provide office space and other needs for entrepreneurs, creating a community as well as a physical location to focus on work instead of a noisy coffee shop. Aside from obtaining fees from entrepreneurs, coworking spaces can also hold events and become community centers.
Applying your attention and creativity in identifying needs in the marketplace can generate a wealth of startup ideas, and even one idea that becomes a successful startup can make all the difference.
Once you have the idea, you can then create a business plan, address funding, and launch your startup business. If your idea fails at any point, learn from your mistake(s), and try again.