If you are looking for a suitable innovative start-up business idea to work on these tips can be a good starting point for you. These tips will be useful mainly for any new start-up founders but you can use many of them for solving any new real-world business problem in an innovative way.
Tip #1 – Know your passion first
Before jumping into creating a new start-up business, because others are doing it or any other reasons, discover your passion first. It takes time to realise your start-up ideas and make something great out of it. Unless the start-up idea is connected to your passion it would be very hard to go a long way with something that’s not your real passion.
You can find your passion by reflecting on your past study, work, background skill or any other project that you liked very much. You can have a chat with your close friends or colleagues to find out what their passions are. From that you can discover what you share with them or different from them.
Your passion doesn’t need to be something that currently exists in the market. It can be based on past, present or potentially future trends. You can live in the future and find the gaps from the present solutions. The main point is you need to find your true passion and relate that to the trends in the areas you are interested in.
You can always think big as it’s not essential to have all the skills at present to realise your passion. You can develop the necessary skills later but first be certain about the areas you are passionate about.
Tip #2 – Learn about the problem of the people you care
After you have discovered your area of passion broadly, see if you can discover any existing problem of the people you care most. This can start from your family and close relatives, friends and anyone from your social networks. Understanding the problem that you care to solve will give you the purpose of your future start-up.
There are frameworks for talking to your prospective customers or users. The Mom Test gives you many ideas on how to talk to users and find them useful to determine if your business idea is a good one. You can follow these three core principles:
- Talk about their life, not your idea
- Talk specifics, not hypotheticals
- Listen, don’t talk
After you have surveyed and come up with a list of potential problems you would like to solve now you need to have a close look at those problems. You can have a further set of questions to zoom into the problem.
- When was the last time they encountered that problem?
- What’s the hardest part of the problem they are trying to solve?
- Why was that hard in particular?
- What have they done so far to solve the problem?
- Which part of the tried solution they don’t like?
After you have talked to close your network, then talk to potential customers, competitors, and industry partners you don’t know personally to discover about the problem in greater depth. You can tweak the questions based on whom you are talking to. You can find more people from the following categories:
- Friends, coworkers, friends of friends
- Industry events, meetups, conferences
- Personal chat or drop by in person
You always take notes for later analysis, keep the conversation friendly casual and be careful with the length of the conversation. Don’t take too much time from them.
Tip #3 – Think about your solution: what differences can you make?
After you have found the problem in the area that you are passionate about and for the people you care about, you need to think about your solution and what unique values can you add on. Remember that you don’t want to make a me-too style product exactly copied from someone else. But at the same time remember that there’s always room to add a new product if the market has the potential to grow.
For example, Google wasn’t the first search engine; Altavista, Lycos existed before. Facebook came after Friendster, MySpace existed. Think about what additional values Google or Facebook added. Google made it easier to find things on the Internet. Facebook provides a better way to find and meet interesting people.
At the idea stage, you just need to find users for your chosen problem area. You can delay finding your best first customer at the prototyping stage when your unique selling points (USPs) will be much clearer. Using the following questions, you can find out more information about the problem and the customers.
- How frequent is the problem: daily, monthly? Think about the example of buying a car vs going out by cab or taxi.
- How severe is the problem or how much does the problem cost to the customers? This will give you an estimate on their return of investment (ROI) or savings from your solution
- Do they have the budget or authority to fix the problem? This is a very important part of your discovery as many people will usually say good about your idea but only the real customers will pay for your solution.
Tip #4 – Explore your innovation style
Now let’s explore more on what way you would like to innovate new solutions. Not everyone has the same way to innovate new solutions. Jeff Dyer has done detailed research on lots of tech companies and their founders including Apple, Amazon, Dell, etc and has summarised his findings in his book The Innovator’s DNA. According to him, there are five discovery skills:
- Style 1: Associating
Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Inc, put it simply: “Creativity is connecting things.” You can combine things that we would never naturally combine (forced association). Such as the idea of next-generation smartphones can come by combining an old mobile phone with many different technologies e.g. camera, wifi and so on. By utilizing your associational thinking you can take an idea from one context and apply it somewhere else to solve a problem and along the way you add a lot of value to the users.
To discover your ability of associational thinking, you can create a different persona by combining the strengths of two or more solutions provided by two or more companies. You can also create metaphors from combining existing solutions such as “watching TV like reading magazines”. If you collect many different things and put them together it can also spark your associational thinking. You can also try Alex Osborn and Bob Eberle’s acronym for insight, SCAMPER: substitute; combine; adapt; magnify, minimize, modify; put to other uses; eliminate; reverse, rearrange.
- Style 2: Questioning
Questioning is a great tool to discover great innovative ideas. If you are a kind of introverted person it’s time to go outside your comfort zone and ask questions that can challenge the status quo. There are some characteristics of good questions, for example good questions actually often impose or lift up constraints on your thinking. For example, ask yourself something like this: how do the birds fly return to their nests if there is no light to see. Or you can ask like Steve Jobs: if money isn’t a problem what can be a perfect smartphone. By imposing or lifting up constraints on your thinking you can think outside the box.
There are many different styles of questioning. Here are a few of them:
- To describe the problem/solution or the territory: Ask “What is” and “What caused” questions.
- To disrupt the solution territory: Ask “Why”, “Why not”, “What if” questions.
- Style 3: Observing:
New innovative ideas can sometimes come out of just observing with your eyes and figuring out something that’s not figured out by others yet. But what will you be observing? It’s usually the way customers or users are trying to solve their problems. They can be a functional, social or emotional job.
You can watch your customers, suppliers or other companies solving the problem by any existing product or solution. By just observing, you can come up with an idea of how this solution can be improved. You can observe this in your country or in a different country or locality. Research shows that if you’ve lived in two or more countries for six months or longer, you’re twice as likely to be an innovator.
It is important to note down your observations (sights, smells, sounds, touches, and tastes) in your idea journal and review them from time to time to discover new insights and foster your innovative ideas.
You can also observe the current trends of any particular industry events. This can be as simple as looking at data on Google trends or reading magazines, newspapers or journals from other industries or countries.
- Style 4: Networking
Any networking event can give you the opportunity to get new ideas and insights by talking to people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. This is important that you talk to people with different backgrounds and perhaps you might share a common problem to solve by leveraging each other’s skills and strengths. Different perspectives can be created from the interactions of people from a different age, different educational backgrounds, different ethnic background or different countries.
In an idea networking event, you can talk to as many people from different backgrounds as you can. You can even test ideas that are “in-process” and learn new perspectives from many different people. You can also find people who are cross-trained in different areas. If you can organise an event, always try to invite an outsider from a different function, profession, company, industry, country, age, ethnic group, or socioeconomic group.
- Style 5: Experimenting
You can experiment and experience new ideas in many different ways:
- You can learn new skills that might not be directly relevant to your current job. Steve Jobs learned calligraphy in college and thought to have no practical application in his life. But 10 years later while designing the Macintosh computer he decided to design it all into the Mac. And, it was the first computer with beautiful typography, and was an important differentiator for the Macintosh versus IBM.
- You can experiment by disassembling a product, process or any existing idea and putting them back as well. Michael Dell’s story can serve as a great example. He got the idea for the Dell business model, by taking apart his computer, putting it back together, figuring out what all those components cost, and realizing that customized computers can be created for much lower costs than what IBM was producing.
- You can always test ideas by prototypes and pilots. In many cases, you can just start with launching a single-page website or a landing page and invite people to subscribe to your mailing list or give feedback. Some people even add payments to their landing page to see if they can find real customers who are ready to pay for the advertised product or service (but of course, you have to refund the money if you don’t ship the product or provide the service).
One of the famous cases of launching a prototype without actually creating a solution was the example of Dropbox. They just created a video walk-through of their desired online file sharing solution to see how many people show their interest. After getting overwhelming responses from the potential users it was very clear that they are on track to create something that people actually want.
Tip #5 – Play on own strengths
As Albert Einstein said profoundly that everyone’s a genius. Each of us has been given some special genius to innovate new things and help others. After knowing 4Ps – passion, people, problem and product (solution) and exploring your innovation style now it’s time to play on your own strength. You build upon your own strength whether it’s questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, try to come up with new ideas that will make a difference.
UK Startup Lab can help you to discover your next startup idea
At UK Startup Lab, we have been creating our Startup Idea Bank, a database of high potential business ideas backed by expert professionals from different industry sectors. Using our proven tools and techniques, we can support you to discover your business idea, and validate it against your background or any set of criteria such as one required by the UK start-up visa application.
We connect start-up founders to innovative business ideas that can be turned into viable and scalable businesses. If you’d like to join in email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or upload your CV by filling in the contact form.