I know exactly what I’m trying to do: I’m trying to come up with a business idea that’s exciting enough that I’m willing to invest significant amounts of time and money to pursue it. That’s a nice, clear goal. But, as is presumably clear from previous posts, I’m not exactly sure how to do it.
Thus far, I’ve made myself notes on vaguely plausible ideas for businesses that would offer products to educate children, improve restaurant efficiency, help people decide where (or even whether) to go to college, and garden better. I’ve been all over the map and, as a result, I’m starting to feel lost. I’m sure that reading interesting things, talking to interesting people, and thinking hard is necessary — but I doubt those acts alone are sufficient. I know that some random event will provide the insight I seek, but I need a better-structured process to create enough of the right kind of random events. What should I be doing — and how do I know if I’m doing it?
I love flowers, but I don’t care much for pollen. Pollen makes my eyes water, it makes my nose run, and it makes me sneeze. Right now, the acacia trees down the street are in bloom, and, as a result, I can barely breathe. Nasty stuff, pollen, if you’re prone to hay fever. But, if we didn’t have pollen, we wouldn’t have flowers. It’s the mixing of genes that happens when the pollen from one flower reaches the ovary of another that provides us with our floral bounty.
Acacia Aneura Blossom. Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr.
We often use floral metaphors in business. When a business does well, we say that it is “flowering.” When some initiative starts to work out we say that it is “bearing fruit.” And, just as all fruiting plants begin as seeds, all businesses begin with a concept in the mind of a business artist. (See my earlier posts about the artistry of business and the elements of a business idea.) The founder (or founders) have a vision — perhaps a foggy vision, but a vision none-the-less — of a product. From that starting point, they go on to design the product, build a sales channel, develop a go-to-market strategy, raise capital, and file tax returns. In other words, they execute. And, along the way, the vision becomes clearer, or perhaps the entrepreneurs pivot to a new vision, or, perhaps, tragically, the vision proves completely untenable. But, without an initial concept there is no business. The concept is the seed from which the business grows.
But, where does the seed come from?
Coming up with ideas for new businesses is fun and easy. As you go through your day, you run into all manner of minor annoyances; every time you think “I wish that …,”, can probably turn that thought into a business idea. For example, as I write this, I’m at Kelly’s French Bakery, and it’s cold in here. I wish I were warmer. And therein lies a business idea: a sweatshirt “sharing economy” service where warm people who have sweatshirts can rent them on a short-term basis to cold people nearby. Call it ShirtShare.Com. With a smartphone app, of course.
Oh, were you expecting a good idea? That’s harder.