The best startup ideas typically come into focus as you study your target market, your industry, technological innovations, and market trends. The process of discovering startup ideas involves matching the pain points you've identified within your market or industry with innovations happening on a larger scale.
Here's how other entrepreneurs search for profitable new startup ideas.
1. Stick with what you know—or interests you
Oleg Donets, founder and CMO of Real Estate Bees, a marketing platform for the real estate industry, recommends that you "look for startup ideas within the area that interests you."
Finding a need in an industry that's not of interest is unlikely to capture your attention for long.
To uncover "untapped startup ideas," Donets advises finding online communities where your target audience hangs out. That could mean groups on Facebook or LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Slack, or Tumblr, to name a few.
Then, find forums related to your industry, as well as Reddit boards and websites where people can post questions, he says. If you're in the fitness industry, "Go to Amazon and start reading reviews of customers who purchased fitness-related products and read their questions," Donets says. Those are potential business opportunities.
3. Watch for patterns
According to Donets, "After a while of consistently scanning messages of the users on the above-mentioned platforms and taking notes, you will start seeing patterns of either something that is being done well or something that is being done poorly.
Your goal is to look for patterns [of what is] being done poorly." Then you can jump in and ask follow-up questions within the community to zero in on how you might translate this information into a startup idea.
4. Listen for inspiration
Alec Dobbie, CEO and co-founder of FanFinders, a performance marketing and consumer insight company, says, "I'm an avid podcast listener (This Week in Startups, My First Million, etc.) where clever people discuss things that are going on, how new businesses are formed, and what doesn't work." Dobbie also listens to Audible audiobooks, "namely the biographies of interesting people who have overcome things to move to greatness."
"If you pick an interesting book on a subject you don't understand, it can spark ideas," Dobbie says. "I often find listening to autobiographies gets my business creative juices flowing in nonlinear paths."
As an example of how this information can be applied, he says, "Listening to how a tennis player overcame a training injury by looking outside the normal Dr/Physio route might help me to look at a recruitment issue in a different way. I don't listen to a book and grab an idea directly from it, but they can help me think about issues and problems differently, and to see another [point of] view."
5. Look for complaints
Josh Steimle, founder of Published Author, a startup that helps entrepreneurs write books, zeros in on problems people have that they've shared on social media. "I learned when I was a young entrepreneur that if you want to start a successful business, you need to find a problem to solve."
To do that, Steimle suggests you search on social media for keywords related to your area of expertise "along with complaining words, like 'hate,' 'problem,' 'struggle,' and 'Argh!'" Although he relies mainly on LinkedIn and Twitter, the basic principle can be applied broadly. He does say that, "Twitter is where people are more likely to share gripes, complaints, etc."
6. Invent solutions
In fact, Sukhi Jutla, co-founder and COO of MarketOrders, leveraged the complaints she heard from her customers to launch her business. As a wholesaler of fine gold jewelry items, she "used to listen to her customers complain about how long it took to source products and the poor quality of images sent to them when choosing stock for their stores." That feedback led Jutla to create an online marketplace "which digitized the customer journey and led to faster order completion and a place where I could stock high-quality photography of stock customers wanted," she says.
7. Let ideas percolate
Sarah Riegelhuth, CEO and founder of Grow My Team, a company that helps recruit and manage remote teams, finds that "business ideas come often to me, usually in my day-to-day life when I'm faced with some kind of problem or challenge that doesn't seem to have a solution." But she doesn't rush to act on those ideas.
"To help me determine how excited an idea gets me, I make myself sit with it for several months," she explains. "Many ideas I've forgotten about a week later, and the ones I keep coming back to are the ones I ultimately get to work on," Riegelhuth says.
The important thing to remember is that starting a business is hard work and finding a viable idea takes time and effort. But if you keep at it and don't give up, you will find a great startup idea when you least expect it.
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