How To Find An Idea For A New Startup

Find your idea

An aspiring entrepreneur on Hacker News recently asked, “I want to start a startup, but have no ideas. What should I do?”

Here are some suggestions based on my interviews with entrepreneurs here on Mixergy.

Start by consulting

Mike Jones told us how he built a chat application for a consulting client and then turned it into userplane, a company that he sold to AOL.

Teach what you’re good at

Timothy Ferriss, Jeanne D’Arc and Lea Wood told us how they traveled the world as digital nomads. And now all 3 are making money by teaching others how to travel the world and still get work done.

Run some cheap tests

Chance Barnett, said before he even builds a product, he buys some cheap ads on Google to see if there’s a market for it.

Bring an existing idea to a different platform

Andrew Lee came to Mixergy to talk about how his company, JamLedgend, took the concept behind the Guitar Hero and made it into a game anyone can play on a computer.

Create a quick web site

Ted Rheingold said that dogster was just a fun web site he made while doing consulting work, and the idea was so much fun that it evolved into a business.

Get mad at something

If you listen to my interview with Adeo Ressi, you’ll see how upset he is with the way venture capitalists fund startups. That led him to create theFunded, a site that helps startups report on investors.

Do what you love

Keith and Chemda told us how they plugged a few mics into their computer and created a comedy podcast. Today, the show has a loyal following that tattoos itself with their logo.

Start networking

Peter Pham told us how he built relationships with entrepreneurs and those entrepreneurs helped him think through his idea for BillShrink.

Get a mission

Frank Warren showed us how his mission to help people release their secrets, helped him create PostSecret.

Do some people watching

Eric Stephens suggests that before you start a business, you watch people interact with existing companies to discover their pain points.

Buy an existing business

I asked Matt Mickiewicz for an interview after I read a New York Times article about how people were buying and selling companies on his site, In our interview, you’ll see how they do it.

Build a few smaller businesses

Rosalind Resnick talked about all the different companies she started before she hit on her big idea, Netcreations, a company she launched on her kitchen table and took to IPO.

Your turn. Do you have any suggestions?

These are just a few ideas that I happen to remember from past Mixergy programs. Do you have any suggestions for how to come up with an idea for a startup?

  • PaulMagee

    Taking a trip to somewhere with a totally different culture is always a great way to spot interesting ideas.

  • chiropractic

    I agree with Paul. Get out of your environment and open yourself up to other opportunities. Before I launched my 1st site I attended seminars all across the US and Canada. Nobody was organizing what was taught at the events, and there was little industry news coverage available online.

  • Jonas

    Figure out what annoys you. (or others)
    Then make it not.

  • Jamie

    Work with someone who does.

  • Ben Fremer

    Copy someone you can move faster than (MySpace)

    Bring a traditional/offline business process onto the latest, better technology (eBay, SaaS software, etc)

    Copy business-model ideas from another country that have yet to be imported (Starbucks)

    One of the most useful things I have learned from the Mixergy interviews is that business opportunities appear to you as a result of being in business…so don't get depressed even if you don't have an idea yet…it seems like a neat new idea or business line comes every year or so while you're doing the consulting thing…eventually in the course of solving client problems, you hit a problem and realize there's no solution, and then *poof*…you have a startup idea, and often a huge lead in acquiring the skills needed to execute on it by “productizing” your previously private solution.

  • Jacob

    just ask me, I got so many of them I don't know what to do… And, I need some money to get some of them started up…

  • Dejan Strbac

    You can start checking out ideas of people that are engaged in other stuff. This is the stuff they want someone to offer them… It's still new, but ideas are accumulating.

  • Jose Maria

    The one thing that I've learnt after one year an a half as an entrepreneur is that the idea is not very important. The most important thing is execution. A mediocre idea could be a great business if the execution is brilliant. Just solve one single problem better than the rest of the guys.

  • Jeff

    Read books and find problems to solve…

  • chris

    @Jose Maria: sorry, I have to oppose: the idea is the decisive thing. only thing even more important is the market you are in. if you execute a mediocre idea brillantly, what is the point? Successfully making many customers unhappy?

  • AndrewWarner

    Great point. I've heard it called “traveler's eye,” the way you look at the
    world as if for the first time when you're on vacation.

  • AndrewWarner

    I think a lot of us in the internet startup world need to do that. We're so
    deeply focused on news/conferences/ideas in our space that we keep creating
    web sites that only appeal to other internet entrepreneurs. (I think I have
    that issue here on Mixergy.)

  • AndrewWarner

    Yeah, lots of great examples of companies that were built on that drive.

  • AndrewWarner

    I have a few interviews on Mixergy of people who did that. Maybe I should
    have included that.

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  • TalentBasket

    Look into Google Patent or MIT technology license office

  • jas1383

    Search Google Patent or MIT Technology License office

  • Charlie Osmond

    Great businesses don't need to be built on new ideas. I spend a lot of time reading about other companies, looking at what other people are doing to get sparks of inspiration for my industry. I find the most useful thing I can do being a UK based entrepreneur, is read and subscribe to American business magazines to get a different perspective on things.

    The Inc.500 issue has long been one of my favourites.

    The other thing to remember is that if you wait for the right idea, it will never come along. You're better off taking something half-decent and having a go. By doing so you're more likely to turn an average idea into a great one than by sitting on the sidelines waiting for the great one

  • Geoff H

    For me, B2B is about solving problems. Find a problem businesses have that effect their ability to make money or ability to operate efficiently (so they can make money), and then sell the solution or service.

  • Franchise Whale

    Licensing your idea to someone is a fast cheap way to protect your idea and make some money using someone else money, brains and talents. Equally it is a great investment from a licensee's stand point to have use of trademarks, know how, distribution, products…by paying a %5-10% royalty without any front money in some cases.

    win/win. Attorneys don't talk about it much because all the money is in franchising not licensing but franchising is the wrong place to start in most cases for a really green start up, licensing fits better.

    Can't believe I just found this site! Love it! Keep up the good work, all the best Chad.

  • roberto

    I got one of my ideas (hasn't made much money yet) through working for a B2B company and saw big gaps between what the customers (the businesses) needed to grow more and market their products better. If I never worked there I wouldn't have seen the big gap.

  • JasonJennings

    I have found that for me, the ideas I get from needs I have for my business. I like solving my own problems and making it available as a product. Just need to get this first one out the door!

  • Mark "Johnny Optimist"

    Everytime you read an article think about what is missing. Ask yourself if you can do it better, or if it is something you want to try out. Is there a hole in the market that you can fill?

    I started creating T-shirt designs, doing animations, and created a website all after reading one article in the WSJ. This process lead me to many other and far more interesting ideas & concepts. It also built my knowledge base which has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities that I see.

    By doing little things and trying different ideas out you can amass a lot of tools that could be useful down the road. It is much more difficult to start the next Google if you don't have basic math or programming skills.

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  • the_infonaut

    Check out Inc's guide to The Best Industries for Starting a Business

  • AndrewWarner

    Inc magazine has been delivering really interesting, quick content about business. Thanks for the tip.

  • AndrewWarner

    I got into the email business after reading a cover story in Business Week and a column in the Wall Street Journal.

    The BW article profiled online businesses that actually made money. I noticed that every one of them was in a niche business.

    And the Wall Street Journal had a story about an email marketing company that did well. I figured I could beat them.

  • AndrewWarner

    That's how started, right? The founders built something they needed to use in their company and realized others needed it too.

    Great comment Jason.

  • AndrewWarner

    I've heard of lots of companies that started that way. Guys who worked at a company and had their eyes opened to a new way. Thanks.

  • AndrewWarner

    Thanks for the great point.

    I should do some interviews on that.

  • AndrewWarner

    It really is about finding problems. Thanks.

  • AndrewWarner

    I wish I'd said that in the original post.

    I see that all the time. Companies start doing one thing and end up in a completely different area.

    I'm going to interview David Sacks who was at PayPal when they switched their whole business around.

    They used to be about the PalmPilot and now, of course, they're about sending money anywhere.

  • AndrewWarner

    Great suggestion for inspiration. Thanks.

  • AndrewWarner

    Looks like you and Jas1383 are thinking along the same lines. Cool. Thanks.

  • AndrewWarner

    I like how the site calls itself a “public idea garden.”

  • AndrewWarner

    That's a good point. If anyone really needs an idea, they should partner up with someone who has one.

    When I interviewed Mark Jeffrey on Mixergy, he told me that he teamed up with Jason Calacanis to create Mahalo because Jason had a great idea for a business.

  • AndrewWarner

    eUniverse, the parent company of MySpace is a great example of a company that stole ideas well. After I sold my greeting card business to them, I got to hang out in their office a lot and see all the different businesses they got into.

    They were doing MLM.

    They had some kind of exercise ball that they sold by infomercial.

    They had skin cream.


    Anything others did well, they wanted to copy.

    That's how they got into my business.

  • Franchise Whale

    Andrew: let's do a 7 minute podcast on “license versus franchise” I can arrange the Attorney who did the licensing for Terminator, Rambo and Star Wars. He also has franchise experience. I could fill in some “Now the license agreement is done, now what?” stuff for 2-3 minutes and I think we would have a tight show. If you are game let me know where to drop an outline and best times for you. Thx Chad

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  • Cosmin

    Don't quit your day job!
    If your business does not work (for a certain period of time) you can use your salary to sustain your business.

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  • Natural Pet food

    Do you build a few smaller businesses to find what you are good at? Or to if what you are good at will take off?

  • Natural Pet food

    Do you build a few smaller businesses to find what you are good at? Or to if what you are good at will take off?

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