Step 2: Innovate
Editor’s note: This is the second of eight installments for SUCCESS‘s 3rd annual Start Small Win Big entrepreneur challenge. Check out last week’s installment.
The word innovation gets tossed around a lot in business. Unfortunately it’s often used in a way that can easily intimidate would-be entrepreneurs, giving the impression that you must be a totally out-of-the-box thinker like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs to successfully innovate.
But, actually, just about anyone can originate a concept that can lead to a thriving business. Often innovation comes from providing a product or service similar to what already exists, but doing it a little differently, targeting a different customer base or filling an unmet need.
This week your homework is to brainstorm or flesh out your innovative business ideas. This will be fun, so start thinking with your creativity cap.
• Assemble an informal group of friends, family members, co-workers and others. Between 5 and 20 people will keep the group manageable while still providing diversity. You can do this in person or go online to create a Google Hangout or group chat.
• Ask the group what problems or needs in their daily lives (including their jobs, personal lives and family lives) lack solutions.
• Working together, generate ideas for solving those problems or filling those needs. Consider existing business models and how they might be applied to the problem you’re trying to solve or the need you’re trying to fill. It’s ok if they’re far-fetched or already exist in some form. The point of the exercise is to flex your problem solving muscle.
Here’s an example to get you started:
Suppose several people in your group are parents who work until 6 p.m. but whose school-age children have extracurricular lessons and sports and need to be chauffeured from 3 to 6 every afternoon. What business ideas can you generate from this problem/need?
• An “Uber for kids” that pays a trusted network of parents to provide after-school rides for children to their various activities.
• Mobile extracurricular programs that come to local schools after-hours so kids don’t have to leave the premises for lessons.
• Virtual lessons so kids can learn, say, how to play the violin via a live or recorded instructor on-screen.
• Extracurricular activities that include transportation from local schools and drop-off at home afterward.
Once you’ve got your list of ideas, narrow them down to your favorite problem and solution. What interests you most? What is most feasible based on your skills, experience, connections and startup capital? If you’re tech-savvy (or know someone who is), the virtual lessons could work out. If you’re part of a large network of trusted parents, the “Uber for kids” might be most viable.
Do your homework by researching online to see if anyone else is already doing your top ideas. In 99.9 percent of cases, someone will be. That’s OK. You just need to find out:
• Is there room for competition?
• What can you do that they aren’t doing?
• What market can you serve that they aren’t serving?
• Can you do it better/cheaper/faster?
• Can you make more of a marketing splash?
By thinking creatively about what you and your friends need, you, too, can come up with innovative ideas for a potential business. See? You can be the Steve Jobs of your niche.
Share in the comments below: Which was your favorite problem and solution? How did this exercise flex your creative problem solving muscle?