Most people believe that the first step to starting a new company is to have a great idea. Back in business school, there were countless “idea brainstorming” sessions where groups of students would try to come up with the next billion dollar idea. None of them ever turned into anything.
Great businesses are not built on ideas for marginal improvements or incremental features, they solve real problems and require a deep understanding of what those problems are. So the absolute worst thing to do is to come up with an idea for a product while sitting around a table for 30 minutes.
So how do you find a great business idea?
Find a big market: Look for big industries, because ultimately all businesses are a lot of hard work and wouldn’t you rather spend the effort and time on something with the potential to be a big company. For bonus points, try to find a space that is unsexy and therefore has few competitors.
For my first startup (Emerging Demographics), I was really interested in the Hispanic market. In 2005 it was growing at a rapid rate, had tremendous buying power, and was completely ignored by the tech circles. Plus, being originally from Mexico I knew Spanish and had a familiarity with the market that few others in the tech circles did. I decided this was my opportunity.
Look for a problem or a pain point: Study the chosen market really well and find the problems in it. Understand the intricacies of the chosen space by talking to experts, customers, users. Read books on it. Maybe even work in it for a couple of years.
When I was starting Emerging Demographics, I spent a few months talking to every Hispanic person I knew. I asked them about their jobs and about their consumption patterns. I subscribed to all of the relevant magazines and newspapers and read up on my market. I quickly realized that while Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com had revolutionized the job market for most American jobseekers and recruiters it had completely failed the low-wage labor market and the many Hispanics looking for work. Many did not have regular access to the Internet and so were still using classifieds and agencies to find work. I had found the HUGE problem.
Think of a quick and dirty solution: Ultimately, the “how” you solve it doesn’t really matter because your first version will definitely be wrong. However, once you go out there and start trying to solve the problem you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.
My first idea was to create a job board which fed a weekly printed newsletter that I distributed in Hispanic neighborhoods. Very quickly I realized this idea was flawed because it was too expensive, it took too long to get candidates for a job, and every job had a huge volume of responses that could not be turned off. So I looked for another medium to distribute the jobs and quickly found the phone to be the perfect channel. So I built an automated telephone based system that allowed jobseekers to receive calls with appropriate jobs as soon as they were posted. If a jobseeker wanted to apply they could press the number 1 and be connected for a live interview.
So, if you are looking for the next great idea start with a big market, study it and find the problem areas, and only then start trying to come up with solutions.
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Gestión y Dirección de Empresas Familiares http://gestiondeempresasfamiliares.blogspot.com
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