Want to come up with the next best business? Think about what frustrates you most and try to fix it.
Often times, the most successful entrepreneurs don’t necessarily “come up with ideas” so much as they feel a pain particularly acutely and think they can solve it. The very best can map that to overarching trends in the market. Some of the greatest businesses were started not by a vision to launch a game-changing business but rather to solve a simple personal frustration.
Many of the entrepreneurs we see at Webb Investment Network were similarly dissatisfied with something in their lvies. The founders of Hipmunk didn’t like the user interface on travel sites. The entrepreneurs behind Grubwithus moved to a new city and had no one to share a meal with. The list goes on and on, and this is exactly why we see so many new dating site ideas — people are trying to help solve for what’s missing in their lives.
Other entrepreneurs had an amazing vision for what could be better. They want to disrupt a traditional approach. Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce.com (where I am a board member), had been in the traditional enterprise software space for 13 years and thought that business software could be easier to use and less expensive if delivered over the Internet instead of on-premise. His model would flip focus to the customers instead of favoring the software companies.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs iterate on others’ ideas but do them in another way. For example, Tien Tzuo, an early hire at Salesforce.com, took the Salesforce vision and business model and extended it to billing for all subscription services companies when he founded Zuora, which handles billing for the “subscription economy.” Benioff’s idea for and adoption of a new software-as-a-service business model inspired other entrepreneurs and created an ecosystem and an industry. This happens in all industries: Consider the genesis of the Mac and the PC or Android and IOS.
There are other common denominators in how entrepreneurs find inspiration. If you are looking for the next big idea, here are a few suggestions:
Spend time in an industry. Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest, always wanted to be an entrepreneur but took a job at an IT consulting firm when he graduated college, and then went to Google where he learned everything he could from the company before striking out on his own. Similarly, Clara Shih, the founder of Hearsay Social, did not launch a business upon graduating but took posts at Google and Salesforce.com before pursuing her own idea. This will not only give you necessary experience, but you’ll also gain a better sense of the existing solutions and how they are insufficient.
Read a healthy amount and pay special attention to trends in the market and cutting-edge research.
Experience the world. Inspiration can come from anywhere — museums, history books, art, film — so be open to whatever is around you. As Benioff writes in “Behind the Cloud,” he had the idea for Salesforce.com while swimming with dolphins in Hawaii.
What’s much harder than generating ideas, though, is honestly assessing them. When considering a startup concept, you should ask yourself:
Is this an idea that I am passionate about? This is perhaps the most important question. If you pursue your idea, you will likely be waking up every morning of the next two to seven years touting its value not just to your employees, but also to your customers, friends, family and significant others. Even if you are the first to realize the concept, large entities and new startups will be quick on your heels. There are thousands of opportunities for new businesses — pick one that’s right for you.
Is this business in an industry that is growing or shrinking? Just because an industry is hurting doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation (think Spotify), but it does mean you’ll probably have a harder time gaining traction, and you should keep an eye focused on how you may need to adjust in the coming years.
Do I have the right team to take this on? The best teams often have spent much of their time working together before through good times and bad, with each member bringing something distinct to the table. Nothing highlights this better than the team at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, many of them who worked together at Netscape, Loudcloud and Opsware.
In reality, coming up with an idea is the easiest part. The hardest part is execution. Because in execution what really happens is taking that great idea, the unique one, the one you had passion for, and instead of blindly following it, being brave enough to pivot it or even rip it up and go in a new direction. Consider how Instagram started as Burbn, a mobile social check-in app with game features, but pivoted to photo sharing after realizing that was where the majority of user engagement was generated. Fab was a daily-deal site before it became a design-focused storefront.
Being a great entrepreneur is not about how to come up with one good idea; it’s about how to constantly change it into something better.
Maynard Webb is a 30-year veteran of the technology industry who served as chief operations officer at eBay. He is founder of the Webb Investment Network, a seed investment firm dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurs; chairman and former CEO of LiveOps, a cloud-based call center with a community of 20,000 agents; chairman of the board of Yahoo; and a board member at Salesforce.com. His book “Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work In the Age of Entrepreneurship” was published in January. For more information, visit MaynardWebb.com.