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Business / Entrepreneurship

Idea Generation | Coming up with killer business ideas

Learn how to become a business idea machine with proven strategies and actionable insights


What do Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, Pinterest, & Instagram have in common - besides being ultra successful businesses? You probably won’t guess it. Every single company started with an idea that was TERRIBLE Yes, that’s right. Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Andrew Mason, Kevin Systrom all started their businesses not with immediate success, but with immediate failure, ridicule, and frustration. That’s not the story you heard, right? You probably heard that they all channeled their unlimited brilliance into crafting the perfect idea. An idea so great, so perfect that it was just a matter of time before their idea took the world by storm. That’s what most people think. And most people are 100% wrong. Facebook started as a way to compare attractiveness between classmates. Pinterest started as an app that let you get notified when your favorite designer goods went on sale. Groupon started as a website for raising funds for charity. Instagram started as Burbn, the 400th app to let you “check in” at your favorite businesses. And yes, Twitter started as a website to list and find podcasts. None of these ideas were brilliant. They weren’t clever. They certainly weren’t insightful. And they certainly weren't "ahead of their time" But they WERE created by people who supposedly are. Business ideas are not an art. They're not things that are limited only to those with experience & creative insight. Anyone can come up with, develop, and improve business ideas. Business ideas that can be life changing - and I guarantee a whole lot better than the first idea of most major companies. Stop being intimidated by the process of coming up with business ideas. Learn it, master it, and conquer it. Learn the science behind creating great business ideas.
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  • Introduction
    How to get the most out of the course
    First thing to do
    There is one thing that will improve your course experience, guaranteed. Engagement is a huge component of my courses and an amazing way to get more out of the course. I'll show you an easy "lay-up" for getting engaged. Once you break the seal, so to speak, you'll find that the entire experience becomes much richer. It also helps me as an instructor to understand why students are here and what they're struggling with. I can then focus future content to address those needs. So......
    Your most important tool - the scratchpad
    For those that are following along and creating their own ideas, here is one thing that I think will help quite a bit. Scratch padding. Its as simple as that. You need something near you to catch your brilliant falling stars of ideas. Let this piece of dead tree be your idea safety net, so that no idea escapes unrecorded. We forget things all the time, like: "Whats the name of that song?" "What was that billion dollar business idea I came up with, again?" "Where was I the night of August 19th, the night my estranged ex-lover was murdered?" "Dude, where's my car?" It happens. But never again should you be held hostage by your erratic human memory. Use a scratchpad.
    ACTIVITY: Idea lister builder
    This is the first worksheet for the course. I call it the "Idea - Lister - Builder" because I'm great at naming things. I want you to have this by your side at all times. We're going to use it record ideas as they come to us, rank them, and then give them qualitative ratings. This worksheet will be immensely useful once you get through to Section 6, where we start to evaluate our ideas and seeing if they will float or not. You can print this out, answer the questions directly in a PDF editor, or even just record your answers in a separate word document or piece of paper.
    WORKSHEET: Idea Lister Builder
  • Laying the groundwork
    Intro to Section
    Let's talk about Section 2. In this section we're going to have a crash course on the context of business ideas. Where do they happen? Who has them? What do they usually try to change? Whats a complete business idea and whats not? This section is a big sloppy serving of Theory. Its like Spaghetti & Meatballs, except instead of meatballs it's The Pocketbook MBA. Think of this section like your vegetables, you need to eat them and you can't get to the good tasting stuff (Sections 3+) before you do. It's important that we get everyone on the same page, with the same general level of understanding, and with an operating system to organize their thoughts. Students can fall back on this section when they're crafting business ideas and think they've run out of places to look and ways of tackling a market. So put on your reading glasses, and stop grumbling; we're going to learn some Idea Theory.
    The idea equation
    In this lecture, we're going to meet Mr. Subject and Ms. Problem / Benefit. As a pair they're great, but they're not really complete until they meet Mr. Business model. I'm not really sure where I was going with this. In order to come up with legitimate, applicable business ideas you need to understand first what they ARE and what they are NOT. Prospective Entrepreneurs often suffer from the disease of unusable ideas. Their ideas feel great but never completely make sense. Well, that's because you need to understand the components of business models. A well thought idea, and more importantly, complete idea is a powerful thing. Not only will it help you more easily convey what you're trying to get et across, but it will also open your eyes to other potential opportunities. In this lecture we're going to cover: What constitutes a complete idea and how can you when a component is missing Common mistakes Entrepreneurs make when conceptualizing business opportunities How to change a flat idea into an actionable one What qualifies as a Subject? What can't be listed as one? What's the "Problem" part of the equation and do I need one? How "Benefits" work versus problems Selecting business models that at first glance fit your idea
    Areas to isolate & target
    Typically, when you talk to an Entrepreneur who claims they are "out of ideas" you'll notice a theme. More often than not, their inability to see opportunities has to do with the fact that they're only looking for them in one place. And I don't mean in one industry, or one problem set. I mean one area of the business value chain. This lecture is designed to remind you and help you re-imagine all of the areas that you can start businesses in. Some of the largest business ideas are "under the surface" so to speak and are not frequently noticed by the media or by pioneering entrepreneurs. Understand the business value chain and you'll be able to spot 3x as many business opportunities. It's actually that simple. In this lecture, we're going to cover: Why outsiders to an industry only see a limited amount of business opportunities How does Procurement work? What does it consist of? What all goes into what we call the "product"? How to isolate the delivery mechanism of every business and focus on improving its methods The top layer of the value chain thats often forgotten: Marketing How to use a systematic approach to the value chain to come up with more relevant business ideas
    5 types of innovation
    In this lecture, we're going to talk about the primary dimensions of innovation that are available to Entrepreneurs. Think of these like value adding levers - any combination in any industry has the potential to become a big business. You just need to understand how they work and when/where they are applicable. This lecture is more or less a broader discussion of what innovation looks like, how it changes markets, and specifically how it can be tailor made for the opportunity seeker. Business types (you know who you are) feel free to skim this lecture. In this lecture we're going to cover: The 5 primary and most commonly used types of innovation How to understand the function of Price as a 3 dimensional opportunity, and not through the standard view How the function of Convenience works and generally who it appeals to What the function of Speed really means and why its one of the harder dimensions to conceptualize How to properly define Quality without attribute bleed over. How Self-expression is the least common but most interesting innovation dimension
    Recap of idea dynamics
    Let's recap what we've learned so far with this section. Section 2 is heavy on concepts and visualization so it's important we make sure that we didn't lose any of the key points along the way. If you're on the business people I've been referring to, it's perfectly acceptable to watch this lecture just for a refresher and go back if theres anything you need to re-learn. Do you have everything done pat? All complete ideas consist of SUBJECTS, PROBLEMS (or Benefits), and BUSINESS MODELS All businesses have 4 parts to them - PROCUREMENT, PRODUCT, DELIVERY, & MARKETING The four most common types of innovation are Price, Convenience, Speed, & Quality. Do you remember the curveball? The 5th type we covered was Self-expression Alright, now thats out of the way let's move on to Section 3
  • Making it fit
    Intro to Section
    In this lecture, we'll get acquainted with Section 3 and what's going to be covered. What makes a good business idea great? We're going to answer that question in this section. I'll give you a hint. Ok, I'll just tell you. A good idea becomes great when it matches YOU. A brilliant idea is not truly a great opportunity if you're not motivated to pursue it, don't know what you're doing when you do start it, and have no skills to help accelerate the projects development. We're going to talk about HOW to determine what we're good at, what we care about, and what we have a natural proclivity for. We're also going to talk about your goals and how they should align with your business ideas. If you don't know what you want, you'll never know what you'll need! You'll also waste a ton of time
    The Fit quadrant: Hobbies & Passions
    Enter the 4 squared quadrant graph of wisdom. All head its wonderful truthy wisdom The first two quadrants of our system? Well, those are Hobbies, and Passions of course. What's that? You don't have any hobbies and the only the thing you're passionate about is Chipotle? I understand the second part, but trust me you have both. And you have a lot of them. Hobbies are rather obvious. What do you do for fun? Passions are a little trickier. What do you care about most in the world? In this lecture we're going to dive into these two dimensions and start analyzing what they mean to you. We'll cover: Whats the difference between the two? What qualifies as a hobby? To what extent should I follow businesses based on my hobbies? How do I find what I'm passionate about? How to avoid overused passions and find things that more specifically speak to you If you can't think of any hobbies or passions, what techniques can I use to get some inspiration?
    The Fit quadrant: Skills & Experiences
    Let's talk about the bottom half of the Fit quadrant. "Don't follow your passion... Find that thing you're great at. Put that into the world. Contribute to others. Help the world be better" - Ben Horowitz Most of us have grown up hearing that you should focus your life's work on something you're passionate about. But is that the only thing we should care about? In this lecture, we'll discuss the more concrete side of the Fit quadrant. Skills and Experience are things you either have or do not. They don't go away and they don't get "boring". We'll cover: How to discover what you're good at How to find skills that aren't as obvious but are still valuable assets How to think critically about your past experience Whether or not adjacent experience counts and what to expect
    ACTIVITY: Hobbies, Passions, Skills, & Experience
    Everything we've learned in the last 2 lectures has led up to this point. Use the worksheet in the following lecture and complete your own Fit Quadrant. This will be immensely helpful going forward through the course. Keep this list handy so you can evaluate your business ideas effectively. Review the previous lectures if needed or if you get stuck.
    WORKSHEET: Hobbies, passions, skills, & experience
    This is the worksheet to use on your own. Fill it out either online, in a separate word document, or print it out and follow along with paper. Worksheet consists of 3 parts: The front sheet is for your Top 3 of each section. Fill this out last, but use it as a quick reference later in this course Top 10 lists. Fill these out specifically with everything relevant you can think of Prompts. If you get stuck ask yourself the questions at the bottom. When you've completed this move on to the next lecture.
    ACTIVITY: List out your goals
    In this activity lecture, we're going to list out our goals. Your business goals are crucial in order for you to come up with business idesa that specifically work for you. A business that makes money but takes too long to grow, or has too short of a runway can potentially waste years of your life. Know what you want first, and then adjust your lens accordingly. In this lecture, we're going to talk specifically about your expectations - profit, time commitment, time to break even, & others. Think hard on these questions. You might surprise yourself.
    WORKSHEET: Fill out your goals
    This is the goal setting worksheet to fill out. Answer each question as honestly as you can. Its ok if you're not ambitious, and its ok if you're overly ambitious. The point is to simply recognize what you are. Each section has example answers just to get you moving. These are NOT the only possible answers. You can write anything.
    The 3 business types: Pick yours
    In this lecture, we're going to break down the different types of businesses that Entrepreneurs strive to create. There isn't just one type of business you can start and profit maximization doesn't necessarily have to be your goal. I'm going to introduce you to a sliding scale of business levels and the most popular types throughout. We'll dabble in wisdom from Paul Graham, Tim Ferris, and the ladies at your local bake sale. All businesses are not created equally. Now that we understand what we want from our business, its time to understand what to shoot for. We'll cover: The varying degrees of business types as they relate to profit expectations, time commitments, and mindset What makes a startup... a startup? Is it just college students in hoodies? Why aiming for the "big idea" really isn't for everyone... in fact its not for most people What's a business "muse" and how it relates to your hierarchy of needs What's a lifestyle business and how does that affect operational decisions? Whats considered a "side business" and what are realistic expectations for one? Common examples of businesses for each type of business
    How good does my idea have to be?
    Ideas without context are worthless. Now that we've established what your goals and expectations are, let's see how they align with your idea generation strategy. If you want an ambitious outcome with your business venture, then you'll need an equally ambitious idea. Big ideas take a while to come up with - they require research, experience, testing. But what if you don't WANT or NEED that type of business outcome? In this lecture we'll explore what exactly the bar is for idea quality, given your goals & preferences. We'll cover: Why how "good" your idea is really a relative term and not an absolute How to create 3 different levels of businesses with any given platform scenario How to judge competition through different lens of expectations What's the general mindset between a lifestyle business owner and a startup owner? What makes a startup, a startup? How to determine the depth of your "core truth"
    The Eureka myth
    You've been pounding your head against a wall trying to find the next big thing. Day after day you make no progress. Then one day you're in the shower and Eureka there it is. The perfect business idea! This tale is as old as time. And like witches and ghosts, its a complete work of fantasy. It's actually more a work of good storytelling, and the re-tellers right to "creative re-interpretation". A good founder story always had a moment where the original visionary receives their first vision. In reality, there is no such thing. In fact, most big ideas that we all agree in retrospect were game changers were developed slowly over years. Also, in most cases the original AHA moment for big name startups were actually... terrible. Let's have a frank discussion about where ideas come from and what they in actuality look like. We'll cover: The ugly duckling your favorite idea actually started out as. How thoughtful entrepreneurs incorporate and evolve their ideas with new information The relationship between ideas and rigidity Why its so hard to judge other peoples business ideas and how the media distorts everything
  • Ways of coming up with ideas
    Problem based business ideas
    Wouldn't it be great if
    Imagine the future
    Reverse imagination
    The Fit generator
    Cater to power users
    Reposition Good / Fast / Cheap
  • Business models
    Saas: Software as a Service
    PWYW: Pay what you want
    The sharing economy
    On Demand
    Curated Boxes
    DTC: Direct to Consumer
    Crowdsourced catalogs & inventory
  • Evaluate & test
    Intro to Section
    Matching Fit
    Path to validation
  • Idea advice & commentary
    The value of ideas
    Red oceans & Blue oceans
    Idea frameworks & Unreasonable people
    West coast, east coast
    Avoid threshold problems


  • Entrepreneurship
  • Product Ideation
  • Start-Ups

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