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Where do most entrepreneurs get their ideas from?

I understand that it is all about execution but the idea is still important. Looking forward to hearing your perspective.

12 Replies

Dimitry Rotstein
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Dimitry Rotstein Entrepreneur
Head of R&D at SafeZone
I don't know about most entrepreneurs, but here are some ways I've personally observed in fellow entrepreneurs:

1. Innovation: Talented technical specialists come up with a cool, innovative technology as part of their work/research, and decide to implement it, produce it, and sell it. The chances of commercial success are small, because using a product just for the sake of technological novelty can become a short-lived fad at best. But, a cool, innovative technology can be patented and sold as is to the industry - a small, but respectable exit. A couple of my friends became millionaires this way.

2. Cloning an existing idea. About 5 years ago 3 young guys returned from a trip to US and created a Groupon clone in their country because they liked the idea (Groupon was much more popular back then). They did it quickly and with a very small budget too. 10 months later Groupon decided to expand to that country and instead of trying to compete with these guys they just bought them out for $10-15M to get their hands on the existing customer network. That's $3-5M apiece. But you'd have to be in the right place at the right time and more often than not the big company may sue you for infringement rather than buy you out.

3. Automation: A highly qualified service provider, an undisputed authority in his/her field, suddenly realizes that this service, which has never been scalable, can be made scalable, usually by automating it partially or completely. One famous example - Uber. Also, that's the startup I'm in right now. We're building a software suit that replaces advisers (lawyers) in the field of export control regulations - it's more reliable, faster, and cheaper than hiring an adviser. Statistics says that this method has perhaps the highest success chances. But to succeed, you'd have to have the deepest understanding in the field (or be very very lucky).

4. Pain-centric: Starting with a problem. Look around you, think of the most significant pain you, or people around you, encounter in everyday life or in some specific situations. Then figure out how to solve this problem in a scalable way. Try many approaches, one by one, until you find something that works. Don't get fixed on some idea or principle, like "it has to be a mobile app" (no it doesn't - it can be many things). A friend of mine has a grandfather who forgets to take his medications, so he built a reminder app. This app now has millions of devoted users, it's profitable, and there was an acquisition offer for like $20M (which was declined). I believe that this is the best, and the most appropriate way of looking for ideas.

Michael Meinberg
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Michael Meinberg Entrepreneur
Teacher (iOS Development) at The Mobile Makers Academy (A Hack Reactor School)
Life! They stand on a street corner trying to get a taxi and think: Why aren't there enough Taxi's and why do they cost so much? Why can't those guys who just drove by pick me up??

Bingo! Uber is born.
Alejandro Cremades
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CoFounder & Executive Chairman at Onevest
Ideas come in any form. Some good sources that inspire entrepreneurs to build new ventures could be:

  • Books
  • Movies
  • Podcasts
  • Long walks
  • A problem they encounter
  • A frustration with a gap on a specific market or industry

Scott McGregor
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Scott McGregor Entrepreneur • Advisor
Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.
I get ideas (for problems) from customers. That way I know that at least I can make 1 sale. Then I look to see how many other people just like that customer I can find who resonate with the same problem. I generate many alternative solutions and check them out with those who resonated with the problem.
Nicolas Placide
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Nicolas Placide Entrepreneur
CEO at Skyvoice Telecom, Inc.
I can't talk for other guys but I usually create stuff based on my own needs.

For example, my phone rang during an important business meeting with a high level official of a foreign country. I have young kids and it's my wife. I have to answer. Luckily, it was nothing important but if my wife had known, she would have not disturbed me. I integrated my phone with my calendar and created priority groups. Now, when in a meeting, if my wife calls, she gets a warning that I am in a meeting and gets the approximate time at which I will be available but, if she absolutely needs me, she is instructed to press the # sign and my phone will ring. If one of my buddies or business contacts call, they get the same warning but they don't get the option to disturb my meeting. If the call is from someone not on my contact list, they are sent to my secretary or to my voicemail.

Another example is a system I created after the son of a very close friend died in a car accident while he was texting. A concerned parent could potentially install this system in a car they give their teenager and it would prevent the teen from sending or receiving text messages while the car is in motion providing they are seating in the driver's seat. They are free to use the phone anywhere else in the car. Restrictions may also be set for phone calls if so desired. Since it's not software based, it's compatible with any GSM phone.

I could go on and on but you get the idea ;) To me, ideas or putting together a product from the resulting idea is not the problem. Execution is the problem.
Irwin Stein
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Irwin Stein Advisor
Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.
I know that my approach to many FD questions is a little bit different than other people but I always look at an entrepreneur as someone who is building a business. For me an idea starts with visualizing the advertisements that I will use to sell the product. There is no shortage of product ideas. I don't need to solve a problem or be the first to market. If I have a better way to sell the product, its a business.
Eyal Feingersch
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Eyal Feingersch Entrepreneur
Software Engineer
Try to solve, what is referred as, 'First world problems'.
These constantly come up in your face during the day.

I just got an idea from browsing a list of those, while already cultivating another one.

Just relax and let it come to you, and you will soon suffer from my problem ;)

Rob Gropper
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Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
start with a problem. Any time you experience a problem or challenge or someone expresses their frustration over a problem that's an opportunity. not all business ideas start from a problem, but i find that business models that spring from solving a problem are the easiest to execute - i.e. easier to identify target markets, quantify market size, find customers, design solutions, prove product/market fit, test, sell, etc. Once you get in the habit of identifying problems as opportunities your problem will be too many ideas and you will need to come up with a quick method to manage and triage them - i have resorted to sending myself emails with the subject line "idea" so i can later search my email and triage them. I have a 'short' list of triaged ideas that is still far too long to adequately address in my lifetime so on occasion i'll pitch one of my short-list ideas to a smart entrepreneur working in a related space in hopes that they will run with it and build it so i can use the product - no big winners yet :(
Rob Gropper
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Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
OK, so someone please go build this. I know an entrepreneur working on something very close to this, but i'm not sure they have the skills to pull it off. My 3 kids are all athletic and i love to watch their games, tryouts, practices. When they all lived with me, trying to be at 2 soccer games and a baseball game at the same time was obviously a challenge. When they moved 1,200 miles away it was impossible for me to watch any of their games. Getting them to shoot video or even still pics of each others games almost never worked and getting their mother to take, let alone send, video/stills was a nonstarter. There are at the very least dozens if not hundreds or thousands of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles at every game all of whom are shooting video and/or still pics. Build a system that allows me (and every other parent or grandparent who's children live far away) to access all that video and stills over the internet and i'm your first customer. a live feed would be best, but edited works too. At the high school level every high school coach will be a customer as well (Hudl.com comes close for football). If you can get this up and running before my kids graduate high school that would be much appreciated. Sports drives huge advertising revenue so i'm sure you can find a way to monetize this. Imagine 50 different camera angles on each play! ... and instant replay! imagine being at your kid's game and having access to instant replay from 20 different angles?
David Austin
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David Austin Entrepreneur
Entrepreneur
Invention is the product of experience, knowledge, creativity and necessity. Acquire those things and inventiveness will follow, and should get better as you get older. I'm far more innovative (with far better ideas) than I was when I graduated from college, short on 3 of those 4 things. Eventually you'll experience the challenge Eyal mentioned and Rob demonstrated ... how toinstinctively and quicklywhittle down 100's of ideas when it's like drinking from a fire hydrant. You'll want to whittle them down to 2 - 3 ideas at most.

Scott provides another way which is more likely to get traction and far more accessible to the average Joe. Start with the customer (who is not you), let them (by "them" I mean many dozens of decision makers in the same ecosystem ... preferably a very profitable one) ... let them define their major pain points.

That's actually the hard part but it' something ANYONE can do ... solving it is the fun part, and a lot of people do this part too quickly: Mull it over until your head hurts, come back to it again and again, keeping notes, jotting them down at 3am when one solution seems especially good, start working on it and be open to even a better solution ... eventually you'll have a disruptive solution that's a winner.

Then again ... sometimes such a solution doesn't exist yet ... so you move on to the next pain point (hopefully you took good notes during the customer interviews so that discovery process will already be done).
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