There is no magic formula, but there are some guidelines to follow.
1. What's bothering you? According to David Cohen, Founder and CEO of Techstars, ideas for start-ups often begin with a problem that needs to be solved. They tend to reveal themselves when you are hard at work on something else, and not while you're sitting around sipping coffee, staring off into space. The idea for one of his companies called earFeeder came about because he wanted news on the music he loved and found it hard to get. So he created a service that checks your computer for the music you have stored and then feeds you news from the internet about those bands, along with deals on tickets etc.
2. Age isn't a factor. With such luminaries as Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs, one might think that big ideas are the province of younger people. But according to Vivek Wadhwa, Vice President of Academic and Innovation at Singularity University, the typical entrepreneur is a middle-aged professional who learns about a market and uses his or her own savings to start a business. A research report completed in 2009 determined the average age of an entrepreneur in high growth industries such as computers, healthcare and aerospace is 40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are aged over 50 under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20.
3. Pay attention to life. Angela Benton, Founder and CEO of NewMe Accelerator, observes that most businesspeople tend to ignore their creative side until they need it. Therefore, to make sure you stay engaged creatively, it's important that your life has a balance of the arts. In the world we live in, we're so preoccupied with the daily processes, the emails, the schedules, the meetings etc., it's easy to miss a piece of the innovative puzzle when it's right under your nose.
4. Ideas are everywhere. Drive isn't. Samer Kurdi, Chairman of the Global Board for Entrepreneurs' Organization, reminds us that "perhaps the greatest factor that determines whether or not an entrepreneur will be successful isn't the business idea itself, but rather the entrepreneur's willingness to try (and keep trying) to turn the idea into reality. "Great ideas are abundant, but it's what we decide to do with them that counts."
5. Let your subconscious mind work for you. When the mind is preoccupied with a monotonous task, it can stimulate the subconscious mind into a eureka moment. "That's what happened to me," says Ben Baldwin, Co-Founder and CEO, ClearFit. "The business model for my company, ClearFit, which provides an easy way for companies to find employees and predict job fit, hatched in the back of my mind while I was driving 80 miles per hour, not thinking about work at all. The subconscious mind runs in the background, silently affecting the outcome of many thoughts. So take a break and smell the flowers, because while you're out doing that, your mind may very well solve the problem you are trying to solve or spark a solution to a problem you hadn't considered before."
6. Attack practical problems. Ever have a customer experience that frustrated you? Make a note of it. Then ask yourself, is this a problem that I can solve? And how much time and money will it take to test my idea? According to Brian Spaly, Founder and CEO of Trunk Club, "That last point is crucial. As my sage Stanford professor Andy Rachleff encouraged me, 'Make sure you can fail fast but cheaply.'"
7. Seek the weird. Victor W. Hwang is the co-founder, CEO and Managing Director of T2 Venture Capital. He suggests that entrepreneurs push their creative side by watching and listening to weird things. He likes to watch obscure documentaries and listen to obscure podcasts. "It's thrilling to find cool ideas lurking just a few clicks away." He likes to walk in weird places like hidden suburban neighborhoods, department stores and community colleges. "When you're walking with no purpose but walking, you see things in fresh ways, because you have the luxury of being in the present." He also enjoys talking to different kinds of people. "Striking up conversations with people who are different from you can be powerful. I still remember random conversations with strangers from decades ago, and how they shaped me."
8. Find a better way. Liz Lange, a fashion designer, likes to ask herself the question, as she goes through life, "Is there a better way? You'd be surprised at how frequently the answer is yes."
9. Think big. Kevin Colleran, Venture Partner at General Catalyst Partners, has four pieces of advice:
"Go big or go home." One way is to have an idea that either builds or improves an existing product or service. But the real excitement happens when you pursue an idea that's not only big but slightly crazy.
"Make the world a better place." He feels the best ideas are those that consider how the world works and how the status quo could be improved.
"Fail fast." As overall startup costs decrease and markets move quickly, it's easier than ever to test your concept without devastating results.
"Pivot quickly." He says that many of the successful companies today bear little resemblance to what they were when they started. Good entrepreneurs recognize when a company is either moving in the wrong direction or missing a huge opportunity.
10. Taking it to market. "An idea is only an idea until you do something with it," says Ellen Rudnick, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "Great entrepreneurs also discover the strategies to deliver the new innovative solution to the market."
11. Listen to people who know. Dave Lavinsky is Co-founder and President of Growthink, Inc. He says three of the best ways entrepreneurs come up with ideas are: (1) Get customer feedback. Listen to what they have to say and give them something that solves the problem or give them more of what they want. (2) Listen to front line employees. The workers who make the parts can tell you what's efficient to construct and what isn't. (3) Reverse assumptions. He says many great entrepreneurs come up with ideas by reversing assumptions. For example, if the assumption was that banks needed to have tellers and branch locations, the concept for the ATM asked, "How can we offer banking services without tellers and branch locations?"
12. Let history inspire you. We often hear about pursuing the newest of the new when it comes to business ideas. Sam Calagione, Founder and President of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Inc., believes there is much to learn from history. In the 80's, traditional brewers thought the craft brew industry was a bunch of heretics since they used ingredients that weren't traditional. Calagione did some research and learned that ancient brewing cultures made beer from "whatever is beautiful and natural and grew beneath the ground they lived on." Today, they have a whole series of Ancient Ales.
13. Be open to change. The first idea an entrepreneur has is not always the best. Perhaps there are good aspects to it, but be prepared to shift your thinking and admit that the idea may not be working as well as it should. If it stinks, find out why. "Even if their idea has problems, there's oftentimes a good opportunity buried within it," says Donna Kelley, an associate professor at Babson College. "They need to talk to people and continue to tweak and transform. In the process, they encounter setbacks, rethink their approach, try again and redefine what they are doing."
14. Your brain is in charge. There's no hurrying the process. No one really knows where ideas come from or how people have them. But one thing is certain, according to Saras D. Sarasvathy, an associate professor at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. "While you are waiting for the brain to get its act together, do what you can do. Meet with people, schmooze, have a laugh or two. Build mock-ups and prototypes...the thinking here is that action has a creative aspect distinct from thinking. And thinking need not come first. Mostly it doesn't."
15. Don't do this. Guy Kawasaki is an author and former Chief Evangelist of Apple. He says one thing to avoid is this: reading a market forecast from a big-name consulting firm and deciding to create a product to serve that need.
MDB's DC Cool Campaign Helps DC to Break Record Tourism Numbers Again
The Washington Post recently wrote a great piece on the continuing increase in tourism in DC, focusing mainly on the perception that DC "is acquiring a reputation as a hip destination. No longer is it a place just for monuments, museums and other patriotic buildings."
This was the main driving idea behind the DC Cool campaign.