15 Actionable Frameworks to Come Up With Startup Ideas
The success of a business in much lies in the core idea behind the product or service. And just as the stars emerge from cosmic cloud depths in the night sky, startup ideas can also be born out of our creative minds. But where do you start?
The entrepreneurial universe is vast, with lots of potential to deliver truly innovative products. Yet, generating great ideas is harder than it seems.
If you feel puzzled and don't know how to come up with an idea for a business, you're in the right place. We've put together a compilation of proven techniques to help you find startup ideas and let you make the most of your brainstorming sessions.
How to Get Startup Ideas: 15+ Frameworks
The ideation stage is the first one in the product development life cycle. In case you're unsure how to come up with startup ideas, we've collected actionable strategies you may put into practice.
In brief, most of them go down to doing research and analyzing the market. Let's gaze upon the top fifteen "constellations" of frameworks and approaches that can illuminate the path for entrepreneurs seeking inspiration and idea-generation tips. Plus, we'll provide examples for back-up, many taken from the exclusive Startup Stories interviews that Upsilon held with successful founderrs.
Strategy 1: Turn Your Flashlight on Yourself
Why not start by thinking about what you're passionate about? It's pretty commonplace for founders to create first-class products if they're excited about something and are ready to do it for a decade or so. Therefore, provided that other people need such a solution in the first place, you can use your passion as a muse for starting a startup. Ultimately, it will take you years to finalize the product, so, as an entrepreneur, you have to feel the tingle and be into what you're doing.
Next, try looking into some of the issues you personally face. Are there problems you encounter regularly that don't have a solution yet? Is there something you'd put to use if someone made a solution for it? This is a great tactic if you're in two minds about how to find a business idea.
Before you begin looking around globally, try to jot down your daily frustrations or things that others might also be experiencing trouble with. Record such obstacles for several weeks and then overview the log. Perhaps you might solve them with a product that could later be commercialized.
In fact, many entrepreneurs apply this method: that's how Dropbox was created. The founder, Drew Houston, forgot his USB flash drive all the time, so he decided to make a cloud storage to tackle this problem. Today, it's an amazing MVP example showing how a personal issue can be converted into a profitable business.
Giving another great example, Upsilon interviewed Chandler Young, the CEO and founder of iJustOrder. This startup owner often attended various sporting events throughout the year. Here's how the idea hit him, and he decided to create a delivery app for ordering food and drinks during stadium matches.
"I love to attend different sporting events year around. In June 2017, I was on Texas Rangers' baseball game and I just wanted to have a cold beverage delivered to me without leaving my seat. The inconvenience that I experienced of sitting in that heat and having to leave my seat for maybe 30 minutes I knew something had to change. That's when I thought what if I made an app that could actually bring the idea to life. And from there, I never let it go."
Strategy 2: Use Your Own Industry Expertise
This tactic on how to come up with a product idea is great if you have ample previous experience working in a specific niche or industry. Applying your field knowledge means you know a sphere inside and out. That's what founder-market fit is all about: noticing the potential for a product organically. What if you could use your industry expertise as a privilege to execute something innovative?
Here's an example: in one of Upsilon's recent interviews, Chafik Belhaoues, the founder of Brainboard, shared his story. Before Chafik created the startup, he worked as an engineer and CTO for over 16 years. His entire career is tied to the infrastructure and cloud management platform he's working on now. The idea of creating a solution that would simplify cloud infrastructure management came from his own observations of how developers handle such workflows, the multitude of separate tools they use at various stages of the process, and the obstacles they experience during the process.
Strategy 3: Put User Problems Under the Microscope
It is also essential to begin your startup business idea search from a problem, not a solution. Otherwise, you might end up investing in a seemingly great product, yet one that no one actually needs. That's a brick wall you assuredly don't want to hit.
Therefore, study real user problems, desires, and pain points. Find out as much as you can about the people who'll potentially want this product and how many of them are there. For instance, some teams apply the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework for in-depth customer research. It helps define user pain points, find segments with undermet needs, come up with solutions, and make realistic predictions.
And once you begin noticing user problems, the question of "how to find a good business idea" will practically be a no-brainer. It'll be much simpler to go through proof-of-concept and build value-added solutions in this scenario, too.
Case in point, Upsilon talked to Erik Pavia, the founder and CEO of Pantheon, a social fitness app. Erik has been keen on bringing innovation to the health and fitness sector since he was a teen. Although there are many fitness applications out there that can support you in tracking your workouts or planning your nutrition, one of the biggest challenges users face is consistency. That's why he's working on a transformative and engaging product aimed at behavior change that helps people adopt good habits and stay healthy.
Strategy 4: Look for Market Gaps and Try to Spot Trends
If it's unclear to you how to generate startup ideas effectively, consider delving into more in-depth market research. Try to find gaps, white space, underserved segments, and allocate problems that don't have a solution yet. Bottom line: look into what's missing.
These could be areas where there is a demand - supply overbalance or where customers are dissatisfied with current offerings. When identifying market gaps and trends, using data to extract actionable insights can significantly enhance the process of pinpointing underserved segments and emerging opportunities. As such, you can do keyword research and investigate profession-specific solutions or tools for work. Because the usage of SaaS has been growing in recent years, there might be a need for clean-cut job-related instruments for solving particular tasks and eliminating manual work.
Basically, answer the question of "what can be done better, say, X times?". That's how Grammarly, which we think is among the top SaaS startups today, is moving toward success. As they are simplifying the lives of thousands of professionals by providing them with a much easier way to write error-free.
One of the startup founders we've interviewed is a good example of this, too. Alyona Medelyan, the co-founder and CEO of Thematic, previously ran a natural language processing and machine learning consultancy called Entopix. Although the company shut down, while it was still operating, Alyona noticed that some of their clients experienced trouble with Net Promoter Score and feedback analysis. She built a prototype that truly solved their problem. It later became Thematic, an AI-backed product for customer sentiment and feedback analysis.
Strategy 5: Search for Opportunities to Disrupt the Industry
Another much larger-scale approach to how to get an idea for a business involves studying a given industry. Most likely, some areas are currently ready for innovation. At this point, you need to do thorough market research. You may seek business models that are outdated, look for stagnant markets, sort of "broken" industries, or inefficient processes.
If you think about it, such big players as Uber or Airbnb did just that. Their founders spotted ineffective areas in rather established industries like taxi services and rental accommodation and addressed them with progressive and time-saving solutions.
On a similar note, innovation can also be valuable in the recreation industry. We talked to Daniel Steele, the co-founder and CTO at eola, a booking platform and schedule management system. Since its initiation, eola has already transformed from a marketplace to an entire ecosystem for SMBs to manage schedules and booked activities, handle rentals, and other vitals. This is what Dan recalls:
"Initially, we felt that there were not good platforms out there that aggregated activities and made them bookable - that was the problem we wanted to solve. While there are online travel agencies like GetYourGuide, Booking.com, and Viator, they didn't have significant market penetration in the outdoor activity space. So, we aimed to build a marketplace that would aggregate all these activity centers by working with their existing backend systems."
Strategy 6: Investigate Products or Companies That Once Failed
Even those ideas that previously failed on the market can be a source of inspiration. Finding a business idea that'll work today is possible if you look among those that weren't successful earlier. Maybe it wasn't the time for them back then, yet the time is now?
Someone's business failure in the past (or even your own) can be outstanding food for thought. In fact, according to the startup failure rate, founders with previous experience running startups have a bigger chance at succeeding. So, study the trends, try to make predictions, and dig deep, you might be on to something.
Nimrod Priell, the CEO at Cord, gave us an interview recently. He had previously worked at several failed startups and a successful one that was acquired by Facebook. By 2018, he began sharing his learnings and best practices with a few startups as an advisor and consultant, gained even more knowledge there, and then founded Cord, a useful software development kit for those who want to integrate live collaboration and chat functionality to their apps.
Strategy 7: Peek on Existing Solutions or Competitors
Alongside this, inspect other successful companies or products that are trending now. It may be so that you can go from big to small, narrowing down the ways to apply a product, or the other way around.
Additionally, you might think of other ways to use a solution or other markets where it might be useful. However, ascertain that the idea is big enough in itself to become a separate standalone product. Some believe that one of the ways how to get startup ideas is by conducting a SWAT analysis to assess a competitor's strengths and weaknesses.
If you think it's cheating to spy on competing solutions, to be honest, everyone does it. Even world-famous Instagram once scooped up some ideas for their app from another popular photo editing product, Hipstamatic, that had neat photo filters. They revealed that this solution lacked social media sharing functionality and reached a decision that they wanted to combine photo editing and sharing on Facebook for the basis of their product.
Another case in point, Cory O'Daniel, the founder of Massdriver, shared in his interview with us that the early version of their product was initially similar to Cloud Native Application Bundles (CNAB). It was another open-source project dealing with bundling and infrastructure stitching. Yet, Massdriver eventually evolved into a powerful productivity tool for platform engineering and making cloud operations and working on DevOps tasks easier.
Strategy 8: Seek Inspiration from Others
If you don't have any ideas from your own background, you may attempt to engage people from various fields or specializations to participate in brainstorming sessions. For example, a UX/UI designer, a marketing specialist, an accounting specialist, and a web developer could be gathered together to share diverse perspectives. Think about what each person is particularly good at and how this knowledge can be combined to create a stand-out product that solves an actual problem, say, for issuing payrolls or handling equity. The collective intelligence of a team can surely be your leverage.
Answering the question of "how to get an idea to start a business", you are free to draw inspiration from others. Was there something that really impressed you from someone's story?
You'd be surprised, but that's how Jan-Philipp Peters, the co-founder of BitsForDigits, and his business partner came across the idea for their fintech platform for company buyouts and acquisitions. Here's what he told us:
"The original inspiration for the platform comes from one of the co-founders of Basecamp. David Heinemeier Hansson and his co-founder sold a piece of their business in a secondary transaction to Jeff Bezos and took some chips off the table. They were safe for life, having peace of mind to run Basecamp to the present. We viewed it as a super cool transaction we hadn't heard of before, especially in this bootstrapped internet company space. We wanted to build a platform around it."
Strategy 9: Play Around with AI Chats
Speaking of innovative tech, if you still can't decide how to come up with a startup idea, you can even take an AI startup idea generator for a spin! Artificial intelligence is getting smarter, so a tool like ChatGPT or Shopia can be an ally to pitch you ideas. Surely, some prompts might seem too primitive or goofy, yet they can suggest things that may serve as a foundation for further exploration.
Strategy 10: Explore Emerging Innovative Technologies
Our world has been experiencing many changes lately. New tech based on blockchain, VR, AI, or IoT is appearing at a very fast rate, and you can definitely explore new technology and give thought to how to apply these technologies to your benefit or in a different way. As you're figuring out how to find a startup idea that'll work, think about ways you can apply emerging technology and bring your own unique approach and differentiation to the market.
Instagram mentioned above, for example, was very lucky with the timing of its iOS app product launch in the autumn of 2010. The success of Instagram's early version (which was laser-focused on simplifying the photo-sharing experience) is partially due to the 2010 summer release of Apple's iPhone 4 with an improved camera. This technological advancement and the popularity of these smartphones helped Instagram's leap.
Sharing another story, Tomer Shamir, the co-founder and COO of AiDock, had over a decade of experience in logistics, shipment, and freight. These areas are bound to paperwork, which is prone to many typos that lead to costly mistakes and is very dependent on such things as lengthy customs procedures. Tomer and his business partners decided to harness such modern technology as artificial intelligence. Hence, they took on the challenge of creating AiDock to revolutionize and automate tedious logistics paperwork processes. This is what he mentioned:
"About three years ago, I met my partners, Eddie and Sean. They wanted to automate those kinds of paperwork processes. As for me, a person who started by doing that paperwork and finished managing those processes, it seemed a bit unreal, but I felt that if this is real, I want to be a part of it. That is how I got into AiDock as the domain expert of customs with my two partners. One of them is a longtime entrepreneur and experienced software engineer."
Strategy 11: Browse Forums and Social Media
If you find yourself at a loss for how to have startup ideas, what other techniques can you employ to spark creativity? Actually, you can check out what people are discussing in forums and on social media.
There are plenty of channels you may sift through, including thematic groups, startup communities, Reddit threads, and chats. That's where people ask questions, seek answers, complain about problems, and bring up interesting topics. Likewise, you can subscribe to different kinds of newsletters that are devoted to your fields of interest for inspiration. Surely, all these channels can serve as a source for weeding out product ideas for a startup or business.
Upwork's founders browsed online discussions, forums, and social media platforms and came to recognize the common pain points that freelancers faced. People were desperately in need of a centralized solution that would help them connect with employers, find remote work, communicate easily, and handle transactions safely. As a result, the founders established one of the best freelancer websites.
Strategy 12: Explore Remote Industries and Overseas Markets
What else can you do if you're unaware of how to find startup ideas? Look outside your industry to find inspiration. What if there are distant domains or other sectors with solutions that can be adapted to a market you know more about?
Correspondingly, crosscheck what's available in your local market and compare what's on offer in other countries. Although a product could be a hit in your region, there might be a necessity for an analogous solution on the other side of the globe or vice versa.
That was the story of Jumia, a successful e-commerce platform that's in demand in Africa. Its founders were fascinated by giants like Alibaba and Amazon. Since the African region had potential in this area, too, they thought of building an adapted online shopping platform solution that would be in line with regional requirements and challenges.
Strategy 13: Expand Your Search by Reconsidering Your Filters
How many ideas did you throw away? Our internal filters can sometimes be too biased. Many great ideas are discarded without enough thought. And it's often a shame for entrepreneurs who have pushed away great ideas, especially when a similar product pops up on the market somewhere down the line.
Challenge yourself by not crossing off ideas from your list because you think it's unsolvable or will never work. Sometimes, the decision to take on a challenge, follow through, and implement a project that might have seemed impossible, too difficult, laborious, time-consuming, or boring, could lead to a much-desired breakthrough.
What we're trying to say is that it may be the time to act on your "what if" assumptions. Just take Stripe as an example. It was a tough path paved with many roadblocks, yet currently it is one of the best payment gateways in the world. The team stepped out of their comfort zone and tried to tackle the issue hundreds of others were struggling with but didn't take the next step of building a solution for. It was time-consuming and obviously harsh when dealing with regulations and financial peculiarities, but it was worth it for Stripe in the end.
Strategy 14: Look Through Your Backlog
Are there any more specific methods or techniques for learning how to come up with a product idea? Well, taking a retrospective look at the things you could have set aside for later or marked "low" on your feature prioritization list is a wonderful method for clearing the blank page fear.
Did some ideas hit you in the past, say, while you were working on something else? Did you put feature ideas on the back burner, but they stayed there forever? Examine the ideas you put off for another time for some reason, as there could be room for a new product or startup. Plus, try to remember cases when you had thoughts like, "Why didn't anyone build this yet, I'd buy it right away?".
Interestingly, LinkedIn was sort of created like that. The founders previously worked on a project called SocialNet, a dating website. They had thoughts about other types of websites that might gain wide adoption and recognized that they could build something for professionals. Today, this networking platform for pros is the biggest in the world.
Strategy 15: Try to Find New Ways to Apply or Modify Your Product
This tactic is great not only if you experience an urgent need for a startup pivot of your existing product. However, if there is a lack of product-market fit, then this may be the pot of gold you're figuring out how to get startup ideas. Are there ways you can repurpose a feature, service, or product?
Slack is an amazing example of how a side product can become a real game-changer. This popular instant messenger widely applied among work teams was actually split as a byproduct when the Slack team was working on making a game. They used an internal chat to communicate with each other and discovered that it could be an amazing business or startup tool that other teams could benefit from.
Strategy 16: Explore Startup Competitions and Hackathons
Another interesting way to generate ideas for a startup is by checking out events where entrepreneurs and tech minds compete by creating innovative products. As a rule, hackathons, summer camps, or similar competitions are limited in time. Yet, participation can let you challenge yourself, get access to a wealth of resources, and obtain knowledge.
Plus, you can not only brainstorm ideas with like-minded individuals but also expand your network of connections, which can be very beneficial in the future. Not to mention that popular accelerators and incubators like Y Combinator sometimes hold such events or engage in such activities. Therefore, you never know, maybe you'll get noticed!
Final Thoughts on How to Find Startup Ideas
As you see, the possibilities are limitless, and there are plenty of effective methodologies and tricks for finding promising business and product ideas. Nonetheless, every shortlisted idea that you generate has to be properly evaluated and go through the discovery phase. For instance, you should assess the market size, ensure that you as a founder have enough knowledge and expertise to roll out a decent solution, and that you're truly excited about it (say, you would like to use such a product yourself).
Moreover, the idea needs to go through thorough validation. It is vital to do your research, study market demand, collect data, and test product hypotheses before moving on to time-consuming and expensive product development. You need to be certain that the problem truly needs solving, and that enough people show interest in what you're planning to create.
On the flipside, execution matters a lot too. So, it is important to find a balance between delivering a quality product that'll truly solve user needs and live up to their expectations and use your resources wisely (for instance, by building the product consequently). This is why many businesses choose the agile MVP path when crafting their solutions, as it gives them the needed flexibility to gradually mold the product and iterate it continuously.
Upsilon has over a decade of experience helping startups create scalable products. If you have one in mind and need a tech team to assist you with bringing it to life, feel free to check out our MVP development services for startups. We have a versatile team, work in sprints, and can deliver your minimum viable product in about three months. Reach out to us to chat!