List of 9 ideas sources for startup businesses

I've never struggled with ideas.

Sometimes, I struggled with implementing my ideas or bringing them to the end. Therefore, I stopped being a solopreneur, some of whose projects were successful and others weren’t. Instead, I slowly moved into launching businesses within existing companies.

It became easier for me to achieve results. Delegation is the key. However, the demand for ideas didn’t decrease.

My new mission is to come up with not just a good abstract business idea – but something within the framework set by the company.

Besides, we worked for 5 years in the format of a venture fund and a startup studio. In such circumstances, our task was only partly to come up with ideas ourselves. Predominantly, we searched for already shaped ones and filtered the best of them.

My 20-year-long journey enables me to formulate more or less clearly where to get business ideas from, how to handle them, and what to pay attention to. I’d like to share this information with you.

Hopefully, it can come in handy for someone!

Disclaimer: What’s the Purpose of All of This?

Hardly anyone will argue with the fact that building a business on a good idea is much better than on a bad one. It’s impossible to create anything new without an idea. The idea is at the heart of everything. You need to fine-tune it, finish it off – and then, implement it, either successfully or not.
Companies cultivate the importance of ideas. Approaches to classifying ideas as good or bad can vary. There can be no consensus and no universal truth here. However, there is a factor that most industry experts agree with, namely:
  • There should be a multitude of ideas.
It’s also a matter of choice – but the very essence and human physiology are more important.
People don't know how to generate only good ideas. Yes, someone will have 10 good ideas out of 100 ones. Others will have 5 good ones. However, normally, people are not able to generate at least 10 ideas in one stroke. It's easy to overcome this obstacle with the help of different methods and tools, so it's not considered a major issue.
There have been many examples in history when managers tried to optimize the process. They stopped spending money on “bad ideas” — and switched to doing less but delivering only “good” ones.
Here is an example from the history of the USSR – namely, the film industry of one of the republics. 100 films used to be released per year, 10 of which were good. The management decided to change the approach. They switched to releasing 10 movies per year, all of them good ones.
It wasn’t a big deal to reduce production and release 10 movies instead of 100. They quickly coped with it.
However, time showed the real outcomes of the reform. Out of 10 movies released every year, 0-1 were good. The managers tried to roll back the situation and failed. Things became much worse than before the reform.
Many more similar examples can be found. No one managed to overcome the conditional ratio of 1 to 10 when conquering the unknown.
If your product contains 10 ideas/hypotheses, 1-2 of them will take off.
If you’re an investor, 0-2 out of your 10 investments will work out.
Edison conducted hundreds of experiments before his light bulb turned out well.
There are multiple lifehacks on how to hedge these mechanisms and cushion the blow. However, today, we’ll focus on the concept of business ideas, where to get them, and how to handle them.
For now, let’s just keep our task in mind. There should be a multitude of ideas so that there would be competition between them to make them work.
And if so, then, most likely there should be more sources from where to get ideas – as well as sources for inspiration and rethinking.

Part 1. Sources of Ideas

Below, I’ll list the roles or fields from which to get ideas. Then, according to your situation, you should be able to develop these ideas in different ways.
If you are a solopreneur, you can perform all these roles alone.
If you represent a large corporation, there may be a whole team of specialists for each source of ideas – or at least one individual analyst.
There are no rules here. Your actions should be based on your resources, the scale of your further tasks, and the extent to which you use them.
It’s enough for a solopreneur to pick only one from the list of ideas that hooks them. They should be ready to spend 10 years studying it.
In the case of a large company, the task may be to launch 10 products annually and implement another 100 ideas into already existing products.

List of Sources of Ideas

1) Niche Analyst

Their task is to constantly study the existing players in your market. What do they do, how do they do it, which novelties do they launch, and what do they give up?

2) Venture Analyst

The task of this professional is similar to their niche counterpart. The difference is that the whole focus is on screening new players in the market/niche. Who completed the initial investment rounds, and who completed the repeated large ones? Who showed up in accelerators and incubators?

3) Market Analyst for China and India

To round off our trilogy of analysts, we should single out a separate niche/venture analyst in the markets of China and India. These countries are facing impressive large-scale changes. Meanwhile, very little information is coming out from them. It often requires a separate set of skills and a pool of contacts to figure out what’s going on there.

4) Crowdsourcing. People

People from outside your social circle/company can often bring ideas to you. For example, you can create a form to collect ideas in your niche. Then, your task will be to advertise this form – for instance, with the help of a competition as well as through PR and marketing activities. The primary result is that people from outside your company should notice this form, fill it out, and share their ideas in exchange for the motivation that you offer them. The motivation can be monetary, social (first place in something), or even gratuitous (people like to give advice and share ideas, so it’s important to give them such an opportunity and it’s highly desirable to take their feedback into account).

5) Interviews with External Experts

These are top managers and senior specialists from companies in your or related niches. Some of them can be ready to communicate with you for money, which is called consulting. Others might prefer to do it for free – because people typically enjoy teaching others how to live their lives. Besides, there is the conditionally free option. An external expert can share their vision with you in exchange for the opportunity to become a participant or an adviser for your project and get a share in it. It definitely makes sense to talk to such people because they’re experts in their respective fields.

6) Brainstorms within the Company

There are multiple frameworks and ways for organizing brainstorms. Pick any that you fancy. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel or avoid using any technique at all. Brainstorming is a tried and tested matter.
Here are the names of the techniques to start with: GIST, Silent Storm, 6-3-5, Walt Disney Method, and Duel. If it’s not enough for you, you’ll be able to google around a dozen other ones in five minutes.

7) Idea Matrix

You can find this template online for free or make it yourself. You should list well-known startups horizontally, and niches or sub-niches vertically. For example, there will be Airbnb and Uber at the top of the grid – and Dogs and Cats on its side. At the intersection of the cells, you’ll see the ideas: Airbnb for dogs or cats, Uber for dogs or cats, and so on.
It’s a simple example. But try to replace the niches with better-targeted ones. They should be close to the domain that you’re interested in. Then, you’ll get genuinely exciting ideas.
There is a good quote that the future has already arrived, it's just not evenly distributed. It means that cool business models and mechanics already exist – but they haven’t penetrated all areas yet.

8) Data Analyst. Sociologist. Sales Professionals

The method is complicated but of high quality. It can be a great source of ideas for you if you run a company, have access to its internal data of existing products, or can reach its target audience. You should notice where people are behaving unusually, or the data shows some kind of deviation from the norm. Besides, your sales managers can tell you what customers are complaining or talking about.

9) Ideas of Your Top Managers and Internal Entrepreneurs

They say there is no prophet in his homeland – but great ideas still can be born inside your business. The main thing is to treat them carefully. Instead of criticizing them, put them down.
Let’s go on with the example of an existing company. It’s not always necessary for the author of the idea to implement it. However, it would be wise to award them for the idea and appoint them an adviser. Entrust the implementation of the idea to those who know how to launch new businesses.
I will go on updating this list over time and based on your comments. What we already have here should be enough to fill your backlog with huge arrays of ideas and concepts.

Part 2. Tips on Managing and Structuring Your List of Ideas. How to Organize It All?

From a dozen sources of ideas, a certain number of concepts and suggestions can come to you daily/weekly. How should you deal with them? Where to keep them and how to prevent getting lost after a couple of months of such work?
Ideally, you should have a dedicated assistant. Otherwise, it can be one of the roles of the person who assists you with something else. In general, this is an important stage. It’s worth treating it as a separate product or process within the company.
It’s essential to collect, store, and rate your ideas.
Ideas will come in varied forms. In some cases, there will be more information and context – and in others, less. Some ideas will be very tactical – and others, those of direction. It’s desirable to categorize them all and bring them to a common structure. Try to highlight the scope of application of each idea and what’s missing in it. Don’t forget to mention its author and source.
If you’re a solopreneur or represent a small company, one Google Sheets list should be enough for you. For a large company, it makes sense to think about using a specialized tool, such as CRM.

Key Point

Ideas should be collected in one database or list, and they should be prioritized. It’s not necessary to make them overly detailed. Any simple method will do. The main thing is that, in principle, the ideas should be rated – and not just saved in a common cluster in various repositories. Otherwise, the lack of order might nip your initiatives in the bud.
I recommend using the simple product prioritization framework ICE/Rice.
Within this framework, you put down your ideas in a column. On the right, you put ratings on one of the 3-4 parameters that are important to you. For example, it can be the ease of implementation, the potential and size of the market, faith in the success of the team, and so on.
Rate your ideas intuitively, and sort them by average. As a result, you no longer have a pile of ideas – but a rating where the most promising, large-scale, and quick-to-implement ideas compete with each other for the championship. It becomes clear which ones you should try to implement faster and which ones can wait.
Here is the rule that is not strict but works fairly well. If you find idea #7 in your rating more appealing than #1-3, consider implementing it. In any case, idea #7 in this format has better odds of being noticed than if it were just #374 in one of your five lists.
I also highly recommend using tags.
There can be ideas about new businesses, marketing tricks, ways to retain customers, or new product features.
It’s convenient to use tags to view part of your database of ideas on a particular issue.

Part 3. Are Ideas That Important for Success? How Hard Do You Have to Try to Detect the Best One?

You can't create anything without an idea, that's right. It's a vital ingredient. But how important is it to have an outstanding idea and not just any worthy one?
In fact, this is a highly overrated stage. People spend too many resources choosing that very idea. However, it’s much more important to get started, even if the idea is not too staggering. Here are at least 3 reasons why.
  • Your initial idea is unlikely to last even for a year. Think of several companies whose products you like, and read their histories of creation. The odds are very high that the company initially started with a completely different idea from what made it famous. This is true for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and so on. We can assume in advance that the original idea of the project will change 3-4 times along the way. Then, is it worth worrying so much about which idea you’ll try to implement first?
  • The idea costs nothing – or rather, it costs 100,000-500,000 USD. After all, that's how much it will take you to verify it. The odds that it will work and you’ll get a successful business are 1-2 out of 10. If the idea doesn’t cost anything, then, all the expenses account for its implementation. A strong team that knows how to do things properly can finish off even a bad idea, improve it, and make it good in one year. Meanwhile, a weak team can ruin even the most brilliant idea.
  • Think about the products that you like. There was no brilliant idea at their core. Typically, they were not the pioneers of their respective ideas in the market. It's unlikely that the idea of “selling the opportunity to sleep on an inflatable bed with strangers” can be called ingenious – but that's how Airbnb started. Or, the final version of Instagram is to make a news feed only from photos. There is nothing ingenious or unique in it – there have already been dozens of such apps on the market.
More often, the “secret sauce” gets formed already when the work on the project is underway. For instance, you find out where to find an audience cheaply, how to provide support without delay, and how to increase the app’s speed by 10 times.
In the end, you get a landmark product. However, it’s impossible to foresee all these improvements at the start of the project.

To Sum It Up

It’s important to collect ideas. They come in handy for business indeed. However, you should avoid working your fingers to the bone when dealing with complex processes. The simpler, the better. The main thing is to stick to the key principles. There should be a multitude of ideas, and you should record and sort them for ease of use.
Next, what you seriously need to think about is choosing a market or a field where you’ll be accumulating expertise for the next 3-10 years. Think of what kind of team you’ll have and with whom you’ll get involved in this path. Everything else will change many times along the way, and that's OK.
A good idea contributes to success but doesn’t define it. Here are the components that will greatly affect your odds of taking off: a strong team, the right choice of the market, and an understanding of why and what for you’re making this particular product.
If you don’t agree, get in touch with me! I’ll be glad to discuss and supplement the article if I failed to include any important aspects in it. If I can help you with advice, I will be happy to do so.
Good luck on your way! ;)
Author content Strategy & Investments