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How to Have Good Startup Ideas?

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“I want to become an entrepreneur, but I don’t have a good startup idea.” I can’t stress enough how many times we’re hearing that from aspiring entrepreneurs. The typical advice people receive in such situations is the enthusiastic and supposedly inspiring “Good startup ideas are everywhere. Just look around!” OK, well… but what if you have already looked around and still don’t see them? Does this mean you are not enough and you are not cut out to be an entrepreneur? Hell no! You can be an entrepreneur. You just need practical and systematic guidance leading you to predictable success rather than just waiting to strike it lucky and have your gut feeling kick in accidentally. You already know our view that this is not how we believe entrepreneurship should be practiced. In this article I will share with you a simple concept that will boost your ability to spot good startup ideas.

A Story About Milkshakes

One of the most popular burger chains in the world had the goal to increase the sales of their milkshakes. Obviously for them, the competition they had to outperform were the milkshakes offered in other burger chains. As a good customer-centric company they reached out to a number of their best customers and invited them to participate in focus groups where they were asked what they want to see improved in milkshakes before they start buying more. As you can expect, a lot of great ideas started to emerge - “how about these new flavors - this other burger chain has them”, “how about these new colors”, “how about these new sizes”. These group sessions were so inspiring! Right away, the company picked the top-ranked ideas, implemented them and brought them to market. And what happened with milkshake sales? Well… Nothing!

Then a second approach by another group of researchers was applied. They randomly picked a restaurant in the chain, went there very early in the morning and stayed until midnight. They observed customers for the full day and started to see different and unexpected patterns. One of these patterns was that early in the morning there were a bunch of people who were in a hurry getting in the restaurant and going out only with a milkshake. Actually half of all milkshakes were sold before 8AM. The day passed and the researchers came on the next day again early in the morning. This time when there was someone in the morning coming out of the restaurant with only a milkshake they approached them with the question “Excuse me, we are working on a research on our milkshakes and would like to know what job were you trying to do for yourself that caused you to come here and hire that milkshake?” After a few seconds of processing, customers started sharing similar stories. They had to drive 40+ minutes to work where their breakfast was waiting for them. And while driving they needed something to keep them from starving while at the same time they liked the fact the milkshake was keeping them busy for their long, early morning drive. Additionally the researchers asked “What else have you tried hiring to get that job done?” People mentioned things like bananas which didn’t get the job well as it was not keeping them engaged during their boring commute and at the same time they were still starving. Another alternative was bagels where the problem was that it was hard to spread it while driving and that also there was a pile of crumbs to clean up. A third one was a candy bar - it was not only too quick to finish, but also there was the guilt of eating so many calories on top of the real breakfast. What a bunch of great insights!

As a result the burger chain made a few changes. First, it created a vending machine for milkshakes so that people in a hurry in the morning could skip the big waiting lines and just get their milkshake. Second, the company started to use thinner straws and pieces of fruit so that the experience of drinking the milkshake takes longer while at the same time becomes more entertaining. Just think about these randomly popping pieces of fruit! Last but not least the company realized what the real competition of their milkshakes was and stopped being so obsessed with milkshakes in other burger chains.

As you might have already guessed this alternative strategy worked extremely well and sales went up!

OK Vesko! A nice little story! But how does it help me to have better startup ideas?” you might be thinking. Fair enough. Here is how.

The Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory

I want to introduce you briefly to the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory of innovation. It is a simple and powerful concept made popular by Clayton Christensen, a former professor at Harvard Business School. Here is the essence of that concept.

Every day stuff happens to us. Jobs arise in our lives that we need to get done. Some jobs are little (“pass the time while waiting in line”), some are big (“find a more fulfilling career and become an entrepreneur”). Some surface unpredictably (“how to unlock my car when I lose my keys”), some regularly (“take notes while in a meeting”). When we realize we have a job to do, we “look around”, reach out to pull something into our lives and “hire it” to get the job done. We actually hire products to do things for us! Understanding what job we have to do and what outcomes we want to achieve in our lives for which we need to hire a product is really the key to cracking the problem of “motivating” customers to buy our products. Well, we are not actually motivating customers. Their motivation comes from the circumstances that created the need to get that specific job done.

How to Use JTBD Theory to Uncover Good Startup Ideas?

Every time when people need to get a job done but are unable to find an obvious or good enough solution to “hire”, they struggle and are frustrated. When the need to “get the job done” is so important, people start “stitching together” different pieces and figuring out their own custom solutions. Having that in mind, starting now you should do three simple things to start uncovering good startup idea candidates:

  • Pay attention when you struggle - every time you feel frustrated that you cannot do something easily or at all, or especially when you have stitched together dispersed pieces to solve a problem, then this is a good candidate for a potential startup idea. Funnily enough, all these moments of struggle and frustration that we experience and usually try to forget as soon as possible turn out to be one of the most valuable insights that can inspire our potential startup ideas.
  • Pay attention when others struggle - pay attention to the struggles of other people. Are there constant complaints about how hard it is to get something done? Are there custom, home-made solutions, stitched together out of desperate necessity? A good place to dig deeper.
  • Capture the job-to-be-done in writing - when you discover a new job that people (be it you or others) need, but struggle to get done, put it down in writing. Aim to capture the context in which the job arises, that triggered the need. Then ask them what outcomes they want to achieve. Then dig deeper to understand why they struggle to get this job done and what are the solutions that they tried to “hire” unsuccessfully.
How to Choose Which Startup Idea to Pursue?

An additional and very important characteristic of a good startup idea is whether you are passionate about it and why. Caring about the impact that your potential startup idea can have on the world will be one of the most important ingredients of your success - in times of hardship it will help you persevere. What if you are not sure what you are passionate about? Then my advice is to start somewhere and don’t wait for the “perfect idea”. It is your initial idea and you should think of it as a figure made with a playdough - over time its shape will change as you learn more about your target customers.

One More Thing

At Icanpreneur we are focused on building the guided journey that helps aspiring and early entrepreneurs systematically go from idea, through investment, to product/market fit without relying on luck. Once you have chosen your initial startup idea you are more than welcome to join our Insiders Program.

The Insiders Program is for you if:

  1. You see entrepreneurship as the next natural step of your career
  2. You are an aspiring tech entrepreneur that don’t want to rely predominantly on gut-feeling and luck
  3. You are eager to get exclusive access to the Icanpreneur platform before its general availability and be in close collaboration with us on shaping the platform

Be among the first 100 icanpreneurs and let’s make history together! Sign up here.

Vesko Kolev
Founder & CEO of icanpreneur. Passionate about connecting people with their purpose of becoming successful entrepreneurs.