Startup inspiration: How to have your big idea in 5 steps
Author: secure urban travel backpack designer Sarah Giblin
You want to start a company but you don’t have a idea yet. It’s a difficult spot to be in. Whether it’s frustration at your current job, you need more flexibility in your life or you need a challenge, starting your own company can be an amazing path. But without an idea, there won’t be much to start.
I created my company with one simple idea, based on a product I had used my whole life but had no expertise in designing. I'd never run a company before. Here’s my simple 5 step method for how to find an idea to start your company.
1 What annoys you in life?
It might sound odd, but whenever you find yourself thinking “that’s annoying”, it’s time to take note. Your annoyance is the best sensor for things that need fixing. And things that need fixing are what startups - mine and yours in the future - are made of.
Something’s uncomfortable, it’s too fast, too far, too slow, too late, too dark, too light, too loud, too anything. When you are on your way to work, making your way through your daily routine or on holiday and you find something that is just a bit annoying, you may well have stumbled across your next big idea.
2 Look around you
You don’t need a degree or work experience in your new startup field. But the problem you’re about to solve should be something you have some experience with as customer, perhaps, or a user in some way.
Your big idea may well based on something in your home, in your bedroom, kitchen or garage, in the clothes you wear, the way your travel, live, shop or eat every day. The next big thing may come from the simplest items around you that just need an update - making life better for everyone.
If you really want to solve a problem you don’t understand well, that’s OK. But starting with something you think is cool but know little about may well mean you never get started. So open your eyes to things close to home in a new light.
3 What’s on your mind?
You’ve got your problem-solving game on: you’re searching for annoying stuff and making a mental note. Within a few months you’ll have plenty of rubbish ideas floating around in your head. That’s a good thing. But which ones are actually sticking? Which ones are you finding yourself actually thinking through further and further?
Your brain is going to have to understand this thing inside out if you’re going to do this. And not just for 30 minutes or so. If you do this, you may well spend the next 10 years working out the intricacies of making your idea happen and then improving it without end. For that reason, it’s a good sign if you’ve found a problem your brain enjoys thinking about. Why? This is going to be your company. The idea you have has to be one you really, really want to think about.
4 Listen to your friends
I've had 100s of dreadful ideas over the years. You know, the ones you talk to your friends about and they all throw stuff at you and say “not another one! No, it’s dreadful. Please don’t do it.”
There’s this myth out there that you have to ignore everyone and believe in yourself - even when no one else does. Once you get started, and you starting making mistakes, it’s true - you do need to believe in yourself and keep going. But when you tell people your big idea for the first time, you need to listen. If they say: “hmmmm, that’s a good idea. I’d never thought of that” that’s good. If the people who care about you most tell you it’s rubbish, that's a meaningful thing.
On a side note, I was 27 when I left my job to start my company. My friends liked the idea of the RiutBag. My parents liked the RiutBag. But my parents didn't like the idea of me leaving a secure job to go and start my own company. They've come round to it now, but you have to have a sense for when people are criticising your idea and when they are scared of you doing risky stuff.
5 Make phone calls
Once you’ve looked at the things around you, found the things that are rubbish, let your brain get interested in one of them and tested the idea on your friends - that’s a good start. If it’s a thumbs up on all those fronts, it seems you’ve got an idea that might be worth running with.
Now, start calling people. Call potential suppliers, manufacturers, freight companies, delivery companies and get costs. How? just Google people you think might be the right kind of people. They’ll tell you if they aren’t; but if they aren’t, they’ll most often want to have a conversation with you because you might be their future client. Get the real, larger than life, more than you anticipate real actual costs and stick them in a spreadsheet.
In the process of calling all these people you’ll find there are 1,000 things you had never considered that need to be thought about. That’s good. You’ll learn so much in just one afternoon of calls, because you’re faced with the reality of speaking to the kind of people you’re going to have to work with if you’re really going to do this idea.
Look at the numbers. Presume it’s going to be 10% more expensive than they say. Look at your target price for your product. Take off 20% for sales tax. How much is left? Take off 20% corporation tax. Is there’s anything left, you think you can live a good enough life from it, and you still want to do it, go go go.
Real life, one-person startup story
Here’s the story of how I stumbled across my big idea: how I didn’t realise I’d actually had an idea, then went on to leave my job, prototype, crowd fund and manufacture my product. I call my philosophy about having ideas "Revolution in user thinking" or Riut, for short. That's also the name of my company. Here's my story told on the Brighton TEDx stage:
I’m Sarah. I left my job in March 2014 to start this company and create my first ever product: the RiutBag, a secure backwards backpack. There are people out there, like you, who want to start a company but can't see how. It's important to me to show you how simple it can be and to let you know you can do it. My company is called Riut - that stands for Revolution in user thinking. I don't want to only share my design with you, but the thinking and behaviours which mean that more people around the world will try to come up with new ideas which will benefit everyone today and in the future.
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