The idea, post #2 of “Startup Briefs”

How do you come up with the next big idea? How do you come up with an idea that is worth risking your time, expertise and talent? Your career?

Where do ideas come from anyway? Let’s take a look at a few ways that I have seen entrepreneurs come up with the ideas that form the basis of a startup.

Ideas generally come from three ways:
1. Personal experience
2. Research into a particular domain or market
3. The blinding flash

1. Personal experience. Often folks come up with an idea that is based on an experience that they have. They need something and can’t find it – fast forward, this could be the basis of a startup. They have a negative experience – fast forward, they find a solution and that is their startup. A good example the story that Robb Meyer told recently to our accelerator cohort at Thrill Mill. He talked about going to a restaurant where he was told that thNoWait logoe wait was over an hour. This might have become merely another pet peeve of Robb’s but, no, he decided to solve the problem and came up with the concept behind the successful company, NoWait, the first and only mobile network for casual dining restaurants which has seated more than 50 million diners.

2. Research. Scientists at universities come up with more than ideas. They come up with inventions. Those inventions can turn into innovations if there is a market opportunity. Across the nation, every research university is trying to get from the benchtop to the market. At the University of Pittsburgh, where I work inside of the Innovation Institute, we try to turn the more than $750 million of research funding into actual solutions that can help mankind. Researchers who take my “Benchtop to Bedside” course each year learn the ins and outs of new technology commercialization from a university base.

Angela Lansbury as Madame Acarti in Blithe Spirit3. Blinding flash. To quote Madame Arcati from Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, “It came to me in a blinding flash.” Yes, it can happen this way. You can have a dream about an idea, wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, come to it while in the shower, or walking the dog. All are possible.

Here’s the dirty little secret about your idea. It’s not that important. The idea is not worth very much. Entrepreneurship is not about ideas. People think that is the case but they are naïve and wrong. Entrepreneurship is about executing on ideas that have been validated. An idea that hasn’t been tested and validated that is solves some huge problem will likely never make it to market.

First-time entrepreneurs tend to be in love with their idea. I work with these folks all the time. The ones that get past their idea, that do real customer discovery and validation are the ones that I put my money on.

Of course, to start you HAVE to have an idea. Go ahead, come up with an idea. Then test it to make sure that it relates to a problem, that it can solve it. That it is worth you spending your time (and my time) on. Make sure that it is not just an idea, but an opportunity.

Entrepreneurs – get past your idea and focus on customers. If you really listen and observe your customers you may end up with a different idea for your startup. But that idea will be based in marketplace reality – not just a blinding flash!

Robots mean business
David Chen: Duostack
What’s hot at Pitt?