Begin by searching for places where you can solve a problem or improve an existing idea. You always want to start by completely solving a market need, which is just a fancier way of saying you want to come up with a better mousetrap. Notice the way that is worded. A better mousetrap. The assumption is the concept of a mousetrap already exists.
For a lot of people the idea of starting with a customer need is counter-intuitive. They ask: “Shouldn’t you begin by coming up with a terrific idea, ideallly one that is unique?”
The answer is no. Let’ spend a minute on why.
First, I have absolutely no doubt that if you took off the shackles on your imagination, you could think up literally dozens of concepts for terrific products or services within five minutes. Cups and plates that get themselves off the kitchen table and into the dishwasher; robots that are masters of Excel spreadsheets and the like.
Creativity is wonderful. But creativity that isn’t linked to making money is just a hobby. It isn’t a viable business concept. And the reason you are trying to come with a new idea is, ultimately, to make money.
And that leads us to point two. Starting with a new idea is remarkably inefficient because you can’t do much with most of those wonderful ideas. Some are not yet feasible. (We don’t know yet how to get those dishes to enter the dishwasher on their own.) And others are going to take much more money than you can easily lay your hands on. (The cost of buidling robots who can master Excel is beyond the resources of most of us.)
Problem three, if you start with a blank piece of paper, once you end up with your new idea you have to go and search for people who may need it. That is costly and time consuming.
All this explains why you don’t want to start with a new idea. You want to begin by trying to solve an existing need.
There are three specific reasons why.
For one thing, you won’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what you have. The Polaroid camera was eventually a huge success. But it took a while. They needed to educate the market. Everyone knew what a camera was, and they could imagine a better one (one that took sharper pictures; or was easier to focus, or whatever.) But trying to sell a camera that developed its own film took a lot of explaining. People needed to understand what it was and be convinced that it actually worked. If they have a need, there isn’t a lot of explaining to do. Your pitch? You have a need for a product/service that does X? Here it is.
For another, you have a ready-made market. You are creating a product or service for people who have told you they need it. There is not a whole lot of time wasted looking for customers.
And finally, you can move substantially faster. The scope of what you are trying to do is remarkably clear. You are trying to solve a specific need. Everything else is irrelevant.
The takeaway: Make your life dramatically easier. Start with trying to solve a customer need, not with a new idea.
Paul B. Brown, Contributor
9/15/2013 @ 7:00AM