The strongest ideas always begin with “why.”
I know, a lot of people will probably roll their eyes at the whole start-with-why concept because they’ve heard it over and over again, but it simply can’t be overstated. It will be extremely difficult to be successful if there’s not a clear purpose driving your idea. Too many would-be entrepreneurs pursue ideas that they think will get them rich quick, or whatever the latest trend is, but they have no real belief in or purpose backing up that pursuit.
First, if you’re looking to get rich quick, then running a startup probably isn’t for you. That’s because when things get tough or you hit your first roadblock, if you don’t have a why pushing you forward, you end up calling it quits, and all you’ve done is waste your own time and money in the process.
Second, you’ll often find that your purpose is connected to a problem that needs to be solved. But even if you don’t know what problem you want to solve yet, having a clear picture of what really motivates you, what excites you, and what gets you up in the morning – or even what keeps you up at night – is never a bad place to start.
Be on the lookout for opportunities
One day my son found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground and told me he was lucky. I responded, “But you were also smart enough to be observant.”
Ideas are ad hoc in nature – they come when they come, and forced ideas rarely come with a built-in purpose. As my friend and podcast co-host, Michele Van Tilborg, once said, “It’s almost impossible to force yourself to come up with a new idea. More likely, you’ll stumble across it, but take the time to develop it and find solutions.”
In other words, you need to practice the following action steps:
- When you have an idea, write it down;
- Create mini business plans for your ideas;
- Start proving the concept by vetting your ideas with others
We all have friends and family we might trust, but we’re also surrounded by a lot of naysayers whose negativity can hold us back from moving forward. It’s also dangerous to share with the yea-sayers in your life who will only tell you what they think you want to hear. Instead, surround yourself with the right people you can trust to vet your idea. This won’t just help your business but also your mental health. Entrepreneurship has its challenges, and we don’t need the extra stress that comes from those who always want to shut us down.
It may seem like some people come up with business ideas more easily than others, but from what I’ve experienced, it’s not because they have any magical ability but because they consciously look for them. As another colleague of mine, Jeff Sass, puts it: “Be aware of what’s happening in the world.” By doing so, you not only see available opportunities but also can start filtering which ideas have an audience (a.k.a. potential customers) and which ones don’t.
Ideas come from your own experiences
One of our Startup Club members, Marcia Reece, once said, “Ideas come from an unfilled need in our lives.” In the 1970s, her daughter loved doing arts and crafts and enjoyed drawing with chalk, but Marcia didn’t want her daughter using regular chalk because of the toxic ingredients, not to mention there was a creativity limit with having only one color option.
So Marcia decided to create something called sidewalk chalk. You might have heard of it. She figured out how to make nontoxic chalk in different colors. Eventually, she started selling it at craft fairs, which became her focus groups. She learned what the right pricing was, what colors people wanted, how many should come in a package, and so on.
Fast-forward a bit, and Walmart came knocking on her door, eventually carrying her product in all 66 stores they had at the time. The rest is history.
Ideas come from solving problems
When looking at a problem, instead of complaining about it, find a solution to it. And because problems are everywhere, it means that ideas can be everywhere, too.
Take Cindy Santa Cruz, who won the P&G Ventures Innovation Challenge in 2022. She founded her company, Lady Patch, around the idea of helping women find a safe and effective way to solve the all too common problem of accidental urination that couldn’t be comfortably addressed with existing personal care products.
In fact, it all started with her desire to help her mother, who was struggling with incontinence but was embarrassed to discuss it with others. By looking for solutions to this problem, she not only started a business but also created an incredible product that could help restore dignity and confidence for women – including her mother.
Determining whether your idea has a future
Not every good idea is a slam dunk, and not all ideas are equal. Since the idea itself has a huge impact on whether or not you will be successful, it’s not simply a matter of whether the idea is good. If you want it to really take off as a business, it must answer the following questions:
- Does it solve a real problem?
- Is it scalable? That is, does it solve a problem for enough people to grow the business?
- Is it protectable? Can you create a moat that defends your idea long enough for the business to grow?
You need to love your idea
There’s a lot to be said about loving your idea. Startups tend to be a roller coaster, so when you are weighing different ideas, my advice is to go with the one you love most, because love is what will sustain you through the low periods and give you the motivation to keep going.
As long as it’s an idea you love, you will be committed to see it through when you might otherwise be tempted to quit too soon. In my experience, loving your idea is also key in leading others to love your idea too. It can also help you know when you need to move on from an idea or to prioritize one over another.
Ideas are everywhere if you’re looking for solutions. Once you have an idea you love, one that solves a problem or improves upon a solution, don’t stop there. Because the next step is to start taking actions that transform your idea into a reality.
Colin C. Campbell (www.colinccampbell.com) has been a serial entrepreneur for over 30 years and is the author of Start. Scale. Exit. Repeat.: Serial Entrepreneurs’ Secrets Revealed! He has founded and scaled various internet companies that collectively have reached a valuation of almost $1 billion. Having successfully navigated the exits of companies like Tucows Interactive, Internet Direct Canada, Hostopia, GeeksForLess, and .CLUB Domains, Campbell has not only cemented his name as a start-up expert but has also collected an array of accolades – including spots on the Inc. 500 and Inc. 5000 rosters for several years in a row.