Original question from Quora:
What are the best ways to think of ideas for a startup?
How do you think of an idea to execute?
Most startup ideas are stupid. In fact, 99% of all business ideas are horrible ideas. It doesn’t matter if you are a startup, a franchise, or a traditional business idea, your idea probably sucks.
I don’t say that in anger, I say that as someone who has an exceptional ability to come up with bad startup ideas. I’ve had so many bad ideas that it would be impossible to count them all. On any given day, I might have 10+ business ideas that are mostly terrible.
I promise you I know more than I should about startup ideas, especially bad ones.
Here’s the thing, the only way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas. Something like 1% of all ideas are really good ideas, 10% are sort of decent ideas, and the other 89% are pretty much awful ideas that you should do nothing with.
I repeat, the vast majority of ideas you should do nothing with.
Even more than that, you need to get comfortable with the idea that your business ideas suck. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you are somehow better able to pick a good idea out of a crowd of bad ideas or that you are better than average at coming up with good ideas.
You aren’t. Nobody is better at having good ideas.
Some people are better at having more ideas. The more ideas you have, the easier it is to see patterns in good ideas (and bad ideas). You don’t see these patterns until you have enough ideas, and you try enough ideas (that is the hard part btw…)
It’s really simple, the people who have a lot of good ideas usually have a lot of ideas, and only selectively pursue a few of them.
The truth is…
Most people aren’t honest about just how many bad ideas they have. However, I promise you that the most successful people have the most bad ideas (and often the most good ideas too).
Now, I bet after all that you still want me to tell you how to have a good startup idea. I learned this idea from Gary Halbert’s “The Boron Letters”, which should be required reading before you start any business.
Alright, I’ll tell you how I’d approach it, but to do it, I need to tell you a story about a highly successful hot dog business.
Have you ever ate a hot dog? I’m sure you have. Great!
Now, have you ever thought about how to make a million dollars selling hot dogs? There are many companies that do it and in reality the hot dog market is worth millions or maybe billions of dollars annually.
In fact, up until a few years ago the big hot dog companies made more money selling hot dogs than Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat made selling ads on their social networks with over a billion users.
How is that possible? Well I’m glad you asked.
Have you ever gone to a sporting event? You know, a football, soccer, baseball, or basketball game?
What happens two or three (or nine) times a game? A break! Like halftime, a timeout, rest between quarters, and so on. Let’s focus on football.
Football has halftime. What happens at halftime? If you’re watching on TV it’s a lot of beer commercials and some announcers dissecting the meaning of life in the form of offensive and defensive statistics.
But what happens at the game?
Imagine you are at a college football game where there are 85,000 fans packed into the stadium. At halftime, something like 50,000 of those fans get up to go to the bathroom and go to the concessions stand to buy….
Seriously, have you ever thought about what happens when 50,000 people are hungry all at once? It’s a literal stampede toward the food.
Now, at $5 per hot dog, when 50,000 people show up to buy a couple hot dogs per person, that turns into $500,000 in hot dog sales in about 10 minutes. That’s just hot dogs. I’m not taking into account soda, popcorn, candy, beer, water, pizza slices, cheeseburgers and so on.
I bet you in one halftime of one major team football game, over $1,000,000 is spent on food.
Oh and that doesn’t even include the vendors who walk up and down the aisles selling pop, popcorn, peanuts, foam fingers, and HOT DOGS throughout the event.
That is the power of a starving crowd.
Wait, so am I saying you should go into the hot dog business and sell hot dogs at football games? YES!
Well, not literally.
Trying to be a vendor at major events might not be the best business. I’m not really sure.
However, if you want a good startup idea you need to be good at finding starving crowds and observing their behavior.
It is so much easier to sell to a starving crowd it’s not even funny. Think about it, those hot dog vendors are so much better at selling their product than your average startup CEO it’s not funny.
Why? Because people are showing up hungry and pleading for food!
It’s ridiculous how much easier it is to sell to hungry people.
If you were stuck in the desert without water, how easy would it be to sell you a bottle of water? Anybody with bottles of water and a sign that said “Water For Sale” would make sales. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
In business, there is no prize for making it harder on yourself. As Gary Halbert used to say, “You’ve got to be tough if you’re going to be stupid.”
In other words, if your startup idea isn’t selling to a hungry crowd, your startup idea is like most startup ideas - it sucks. Go and find a starving crowd and feed them.
Oh, and if you want to know if you’ve found a starving crowd, try and sell them a hot dog. If they are hungry, they’ll buy. When you have hungry buyers, you’ve found a starving crowd.
Once you feed a starving crowd, your idea looks a lot better.
P.S. I unpack more ideas in Creative Genius.