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How Do Entrepreneurs Develop Their Innovative Ideas?


Marketing guru, best-selling author and serial entrepreneur Seth Godin famously ran his own six-month MBA school and asked his students to develop a list of ideas to prove ideas, by themselves, are a dime a dozen — and that the money is truly in the execution. The result was a running list of 998 business ideas, published online, for anyone to use.

Good news: There isn’t merely one idea out there you can turn into a profitable business. Finding that perfect idea, however, is only the first step in launching your next business or invention. But you can increase your odds of success by focusing on a profitable idea in which to start. Let’s take a look at what types of ideas successful entrepreneurs ran with and what made them work.

Pay Attention to Pain Points

Figuring out how to solve a problem is common advice given to aspiring entrepreneurs. But what no one tells you is how to find a problem to solve and dig into the solution. Jason Bolt, founder of Revant Optics, was once violently thrown off his bike and discovered his favorite sunglasses had been damaged in the fall.

When trying to find replacement parts for his sunglasses, Bolt found they were exorbitantly priced and that there was a lack of support or interest for older shades. Jaded with the experience, Bolt managed to cobble together a deal manufacturing his own lenses. As demand grew, he started creating lenses based on individuals’ preferences and sold them directly to the people requesting them. Bolt effectively revolutionized an industry that was known for middlemen, few replacement options and high prices.

Let History Inspire You

Sam Calagione did the opposite of what most entrepreneurs do. Instead of looking ahead for new innovations and the next big thing, he looked back instead. His brewery, Dogfish Head, got flack for deviating outside of traditional ingredients, like hops and barley. He decided to take a look at what ancient brewers did and discovered they used whatever was beautiful and growing around them. True to form, the unconventional microbrewer eventually launched a popular Ancient ale series.

Indeed, you don’t need to be a beer brewer or food artisan to tap into historical inspirations. Instead, get back to the basics and offer people the products, convenience or customer service they’re missing. Poll your customers and find out how you can blend old-world nostalgia and charm into a modern business model.

Innovate Old Ideas

There are plenty of industries and products that haven’t seen a face lift in decades, if ever. Todd Basche could never remember the combination on his padlocks, including at a pool party, where he resorted to climbing the fence and tore his trunks and exposed himself in the process. After the incident, Basche had an inspiration to turn an industry on its head by using letters instead of numbers on combination locks. Today, Basche’s invention, WordLock, features short words instead of forgettable numbers.

What’s going on around you? Take a look at everyday products, or systems and processes you’re using in your business. Combine the idea of solving a pain point with updating an old, tired idea to make peoples’ lives easier.

Crowdsource Ideas

Adi Bittan of OwnerListens polled more than 100 businesses to find out what types of problems they were facing. She cross-referenced that information with feedback on sites like Yelp and other similar online forums, and assigned points to create a top-10 list. The end result was OwnerListens, where consumers can send an anonymous text to any business. Customers can make suggestions, including complaints that the music is too loud, or make an anonymous complaint without dealing with confrontation. Meanwhile, businesses can address issues before they spiral out of control, while helping to manage their online reputation in the process.

Crowdsource your target market to find out what they’re struggling with and make a similar point model to narrow down your most profitable ideas. You can also visit relevant forums on Reddit or Quora to discover what people are talking about and ask for more information. The more detailed feedback you receive, the better chance you have at delivering a product people truly want and desire.

Posted on May 12th, 2016 by Rachel Braam, Office Manager

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