This is the third of a series of posts answering questions that were submitted at the Lean Workshop series conducted at StartSLC on 1/30 and 1/31 - you can find the first post here, and the second post here.

StartSLC Lean Workshop Q&A Series Part III: Idea Generation

Ideas Post It

Question: How do I cultivate product ideas?

I chose to answer this question next because just last week, I was at an event at Startup Ogden with a number of entrepreneurs and startup co-founders, where we discussed this exact topic.

The format of this event was an un-conference, where attendees discussed topics that they really cared about and that impacted them, including “How do I come up with product ideas?”

Idea Generation: Back to Basics

When discussing the topic of generating startup or product ideas, we tend to over-complicate the process.

My answer to this question is pretty straightforward and simple. Ready?

The best and most successful ideas I have seen come from either of the following two scenarios:

1)    Your idea solves a pain, problem, or need that you personally have.
In this scenario, something is enough of a pain for you that you actively go out and seek a solution, and either:

a.    You don’t find one, or
b.    You don’t find one that does what you want it to do in the way you want it done. (Elegant? Simple? User-friendly? Automated? Fast?)

This is a great place to start.

Knowing the pain or problem because you face it means you will also know what constitutes a good solution.

It is rare (but still possible!) that you are the only one that is facing a certain pain or need. 
Before going too far down the solution road, however, do some problem validation.

Talk to others that share characteristics with you as a target customer. Qualitative data is your friend, at this point in the game.  

Stop trying to generate fancy new ideas from thin air, and start with you. What problems or pain points do you have?

Remember: You are your perfect target customer. (But make sure you have a plan for getting other ones, too, preferably ones that will pay - if that's your thing.)

2)    Your idea solves a pain, problem, or need that you know exists because you directly serve the target customer.    

Do you work directly with a certain customer or market segment that might not include you?

Example: Maybe you work directly with celebrities that have a specific need when it comes to managing their personal schedules, and although you like to consider yourself a celebrity, you really aren’t?

Knowing a customer well enough that you understand where their pain points are, what they are willing to pay to resolve those pain points, and how motivated they are to find a solution is a very powerful thing.

I recently had a friend tell me about an idea they had that didn’t apply to their own situation, but directly solved a problem for a customer he knew really well.

However, I could immediately tell that this idea has a lot of merit and potential, because my friend works directly with the type of person that needs this solution. (It didn’t hurt that he had indications that his target customer would pay for it, too.)

Don’t underestimate the value of being intimately familiar with someone else’s pain or problem.

In addition to understanding their pain, you also have the advantage of having a direct line of communication with them, if you already work with/ for this target customer. 

There you have it.

Summary: Focus on ideas that come directly from your own experience, or leverage your knowledge of a certain target customer’s problems because you work with or for them.