I always wanted to go into business, but I was afraid I wasn’t creative enough to come up with any good ideas.

So, I decided I had to train myself to get better at ideation. I felt that improving my personal creativity wouldn’t be much different to improving anything else — I just needed to find a simple, effective method of practising ideation.

Two years after coming up with a method, I’ve been pretty astonished by how much my ability to ideate has improved. So, I want to share the method with anyone who has considered building a business themselves and hopefully it’ll help inspire a few interesting ideas.

A simple way to come up with good ideas

When I was doing my masters at UCL, one of my lecturers told the class that most of the best startup ideas come from people building products to solve problems they themselves currently have. So I realised a good starting point was to actively make myself more aware of the problems I was facing. It’s really easy to ignore problems or to simply accept them as the norm, so I needed to find a way to get around that habit. I came up with a simple 4 step process to help me come up with ideas. Some of my best best ideas have come out of this process (though the idea for Flair did not).

Step 1: At the end of the day, write down a list of everything that annoyed you

So an example of a list could be something like this:

  • I had to wait in a really long line at Tesco’s to pay for my food
  • The Oyster Card reader at the tube station kept giving me an error so I had to ask the staff for help
  • I forgot to take my medicine before bed

You can just use your notes app in your phone, as you want it to be stored in a place that’s quick to access, so it doesn’t feel like a chore to do it.

Step 2: Repeat step 1 until you identify a trending painful problem

After a shorter time than you’d expect, you’ll notice some trending problems. For example, in the past week alone, I’ve forgotten to take my daily medicine twice. I’m sure this is something that happens to millions of people on medication, but we just accept it as something that happens every-so-often. That said, for me it’s a painful problem — literally. When I forget to take my medicine, my back flares up and it’s something I’d rather avoid. For others with even more serious conditions, forgetting to take their medicine may even be life-threatening.

Step 3: Test the problem against the 3 killer questions

I previously wrote about how to know if an idea is worth pursuing. It involves asking yourself three key questions about the problem you’re looking to solve. The first question to ask is ‘am I passionate enough about this?’. If you couldn’t devote 7 days a week for the next 10 years of your life to solving the problem, it’s simply not worth pursuing as this is the sort of workload you should expect running a startup. The second question is, ‘have I got a comparative advantage?’. If you don’t have a unique understanding of the problem, it’ll be hard to successfully solve it and to convince others that you should be the leader of the company trying to tackle that problem.

If your honest answer to both of the above two questions is yes, then you should go and find the answer to the final question — will the market be big enough? The key to this is speaking to enough people who you think might be affected by the problem, working out the extent to which it is a problem for them, and finding out how they are currently dealing with the problem. Once you’ve spoken to enough people, you’ll have a strong gauge whether or not the problem is serious enough to try and tackle.

Step 4: Repeat steps 1–3 until you can answer ‘yes’ to all 3 killer questions

I’d strongly advise against pursuing anything where the answer to all 3 questions isn’t yes. It may take a long while to get to that point, but it’s important not to rush into working on a startup if you want to maximise your chances of success.

Teaming-up

The point you should start looking for a co-founder depends on the situation you’re in. For example, you may need a partner to carry out step 3 with you as you lack the necessary expertise or network to conduct effective research. Or, if you’re in a good position to research on your own, you may decide to wait until after you’ve done some market validation, as this could increase your leverage when looking for a co-founder. In our case, Darrell and I partnered up from the get-go. But, we only felt confident enough to seriously search for a CTO once we had done a fair amount of market validation. Lee, who eventually joined as our 3rd co-founder/CTO has always said that he was convinced to join because of the extensive market research we had done.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the essential traits for co-founders to possess.



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