The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you come up with a new startup idea?” is written by Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative.
There’s a misconception that every startup founder wakes up in the middle of the night to an idea striking like a bolt of lightning. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t happen that way. Most startup ideas can’t be traced back to a single “Eureka” moment. Instead, most ideas evolve gradually and in stages.
Rather than waiting for a lightning bolt to strike, here are three ways to come up with a new startup idea:
1. Look for a problem in your day-to-day life
Rather than searching for an idea, search for real-world problems. As students, Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru, all 2007 graduates of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, noticed a shortage of healthy food options near campus. It was a personal problem for them. Three months after graduation, Sweetgreen was born. Nearly a decade later, Sweetgreen has 40 locations across the country and has garnered national media attention.
If you hear yourself or someone else complaining about something, it might be a problem worth solving. An industry or hobby in which you have expertise is a great place to start.
If you haven’t yet found a problem in your daily life, be more analytical and methodical about the process:
2. Look for fundamental changes and trends in industry, regulation, or consumer behavior
Industries and markets are constantly changing in small and incremental ways, but there will sometimes be a major shift. Whenever that shift occurs, it opens up opportunities for entrepreneurs. For example, the Affordable Care Act has created disruptions in both technology regulation and consumer behavior, which provides amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs to serve the needs of a changing marketplace. Other industries experiencing fundamental shifts include aviation (drones), financial systems (fintech, blockchain, bitcoin), and personal transportation (autonomous cars and ride sharing). Think carefully how new regulations, new technologies, and new consumer behaviors will open up entrepreneurial opportunities in these industries.
3. Transport ideas
Identify something that works in one sector or situation and apply it to a different one. Imagine how it might work in a totally different space, from one industry to another or from one geography to another. Along those lines, look for the unintended consequences of big changes. The popularity of wearable devices like FitBits (fit), for example, which are collecting data on people’s health and activity, could have implications for health insurers and employers, too. With any idea, be sure to take a step back and think about it in a different way. Always take a global view.
Regardless of how you develop an idea for a startup, the most important next step is to seek feedback. Talk to potential customers and industry experts. It’s a mistake when people cling to their ideas and don’t share them for fear that someone else will steal them. Ideas happen all the time. The ability to execute and build a business is where the real value lies.
I often tell my students at Georgetown University: “The idea is the first step. Now it is time to get to work.”