The Entrepreneur Insider 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 Andy Lark, CMO of Xero.
“Develop a painkiller—not a vitamin” is an old startup mantra advisors give budding entrepreneurs when they’re in the ideation phase. It means that your startup idea should solve a real problem and be something people need—not just a nice-to-have. When in pain, people don’t forget to take painkillers, but despite all good intentions, they more often forget to take their vitamins.
When it comes to startups, you don’t want your customers to forget to use you. Here are six strategies every budding startup founder can use to guide themselves toward developing a painkiller that solves a real problem:
- Avoid the startup idea burden
Too many founders get stuck in a state of analysis paralysis. They end up not moving forward with any ideas because they’re caught up in searching for the big one—something so innovative and edgy that it’ll be a sure thing. While it’s great if you get there, you shouldn’t let it hold you back. Plenty of businesses are built off the back of other ideas and still solve everyday pain points.
As a team tests product-market fit, they pivot and iterate to come up with a better solution. It’s all part of the process. Often their edge and differentiation comes from the service experience, pricing, or location.
So don't let the idea of the “big idea” hold you back. Little ideas, everyday ideas, or borrowed ideas can all work just as well.
- Keep a running list of ideas
Think about problems you face in everyday life or industries that seem clunky or disconnected from the modern needs of the mobile customer. There is still ample opportunity to build out cloud-based offerings, which cut out paper trails and nix the need to show up to a physical location.
I use Evernote to keep track of different things I've been inspired by, borrowed, or experienced that could make for great businesses. When you look to get going, this acts as your go-to list.
- Focus on the MODS
The moments of doubt, desire, and dissatisfaction are where some of the best business opportunities come from. MODs aren't just things you see potential customers experiencing. They’re the things you experience every single day, and they’re powerful feelings.
If you come up with the right solution, those feelings have the power to connect with a tuned-in audience. Look at Uber. The moment of desire is, “I need a taxi now, with the push of a button.” The moment of doubt comes from knowing that the current solution often results in no car showing up. Uber answers both simply and elegantly.
- Set aside time to think
To generate ideas and spot the MODs, set aside time to generate ideas. Most of us don't dedicate any time to thinking and ideating. To think well, you need to be willing to fail well.
By blocking out an hour a week to build your running list, collect stories, articles that inspire you, photos, or brands and products that interest you, the ideas will start to flow. And you’ll laugh at those you discard.
Keep all of your inspiration and ideas in a folder, come back to it quarterly, and look at what you’ve collected through the lens of, “Would I rather do that than anything else I am currently pursuing?” If the answer is yes, you may have a winner. Passion is one of the most critical elements a founder needs to push through the tough times startups can face. If you’re still not sure, keep documenting your inspiration.
- Look hard at your context
Ideas exist in the context of our life purpose. If your context currently, for example, is lifestyle-driven, you will be drawn to ideas that reflect that. This is perhaps the most important aspect of starting your startup.
Don't start what doesn't align with your life. At the same time, your life's intent will lead you to great ideas. I recently met a Xero customer who had grown tired of the rat race that was the big city. Working for someone else, battling traffic, and skyrocketing property prices just wasn’t how she wanted her life to be. Now she runs her own bookkeeping and accounting service—in the Cloud with Xero—from the beaches of Bali. Her life purpose was clear and she matched new technology to make it a reality.
The journey to startup glory isn’t an easy one. However, sometimes you’ve just got to take the first step to see if it’s what you and the market you’re targeting really wants.