How to generate better startup ideas

Coming up with startup ideas is the first step in the startup journey, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Many founders make common mistakes that can kill their startup dreams before they even take off.

Coming up with startup ideas is the first step in the startup journey, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Many founders make common mistakes that can kill their startup dreams before they even take off.

Billion dollar startup ideas – Garry Tan

In this guide, we will talk about the most common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when coming up with ideas, and how to avoid them. We will also discuss how to critically evaluate your startup ideas. Finally, we’ll go over seven proven ways for coming up with startup ideas that have a better chance of succeeding.

Why ideas fail: 4 common mistakes

Mistake #01: Focusing on the Idea, Not the Problem

The most common mistake that startup founders make is focusing too much on their solution and not enough on the problem they are trying to solve. A lot of time and energy can be wasted developing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist or isn’t worth solving.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to start by understanding the problem that you are trying to solve. What are people struggling with? What keeps them up at night? Once you have a good understanding of the problem, it will be much easier to come up with a solution.

Mistake #02: Thinking that you need an amazing idea before you get started

Another common mistake is thinking that you need an amazing, original idea to get started. The truth is, most successful startups weren’t unique. They were built on top of existing technology or trends. Being the first mover in a space is not always important.

The best way to overcome this mistake is to start by finding a problem that you care about and thinking about ideas in this space. Don’t worry about whether the idea is original or not, amazing or not. Focus on creating something that people will want to use and executing on your idea.

Mistake #03: Jumping into the idea without properly evaluating it

Getting a flash of inspiration and jumping right into building your startup is exciting, but you need to make sure that the idea can truly succeed before investing a lot of time and money. Many startup founders make the mistake of jumping into their idea without properly evaluating it and considering whether they’re willing to commit to it for the long haul.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to do your research before you jump in. What are people currently using as solutions? Is there a place in the market for your startup? Who are your competitors, and how can you stand out from them?

Mistake #04: Thinking that ideas are hard to come by

If you’re struggling to come up with startup ideas, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that ideas are hard to come by. Don’t give up! Ideas are everywhere, and it’s easy to come up with great ideas once you train your mind to spot problems instead of trying to force ideas spontaneously.

The best way to overcome an entrepreneur’s block (idea-block?) is to get out into the world and start living life! Look for startup opportunities in your everyday life. What problems do you and others face every day? Talk to people, ask them what problems they’re struggling with, and write down your ideas.

How to evaluate startup ideas

Now that you know the common mistakes startup founders make when coming up with startup ideas, you might be wondering how to evaluate your startup idea and determine whether it’s worth pursuing. Without a way to objectively review your ideas, you’ll struggle to make decisions about which ideas are worth working on.

There are a few different methods for evaluating startup ideas, but there’s a simple 4-step approach that consistently works well. Let’s go through it:

  1. Founder/market fit – Are you an expert in the domain?
  2. Size – How big might the idea be?
  3. Problem – How sure are you that you’re solving a big problem?
  4. Trends – How has the world changed that makes this moment the ideal opportunity for the idea to flourish?

Founder/market fit

The startup industry has been obsessed with the idea of founder-market fit for quite some time. The basic premise is this: if you’re trying to solve a problem that you don’t understand, it will be much harder than if you have experience in that domain.

It will be more difficult to execute on an idea that doesn’t make use of your special talents or knowledge than one that does. Think about your past startup ideas and projects from this perspective – have you had more success with ideas that built on your unique skills and experience?

If not, consider whether there is a way to modify the startup idea so that it can better leverage your strengths. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on research and learning about a startup idea, it’s probably not in your domain of expertise.


It may seem obvious that you need to pick startup ideas that are large enough to be worth working on, but many founders don’t consider this fact at all or do so incorrectly. To determine whether an idea is worth pursuing, you need to work out if there is a big market today – or if there will be in the future.

It may be that there are large companies that are solving problems in this space (like banks, search engines, or car manufacturers). Great! This proves that there’s a market for your idea.

On the other hand, you may find that the market for your idea is small today, but has the potential to grow immensely in the future (like crypto, space exploration, and quantum computing). This is an exciting startup opportunity!


The best startup ideas are the ones that solve big problems. If you’re not sure whether a problem is big enough, there are a few questions you can ask to help determine its severity:

  • How many people does this problem affect?
  • How much money do people spend trying to fix this problem?
  • How much time do people spend trying to fix this problem?

If you’re not sure whether a startup idea solves a big enough problem, it’s probably better to keep looking for startup ideas. It can be hard to tell whether an idea is good or bad, and playing devil’s advocate with your startup ideas is the best way to help you make better startup decisions.


Finally, ideas that match trends around the world are often more likely to be successful than startup ideas that don’t. Trends can be advances in technology, or changes in society and behavioural norms.

Different parts of the world embrace trends at different speeds, which is one of the fascinating aspects about them. When you see what ideas are working in other countries and identify the trends that fueled their success, it’s possible that you’ll be able to do the same thing in your own country.

If you can find an idea that builds into a trend and also solves a big problem, you’re onto a winner!

Ignore your natural biases to find great ideas

Your brain is lazy. It will try to convince you that startup ideas are bad based on your natural inclinations. These biases can prevent you from working on great startup ideas, so it’s important to be aware of them and fight against them.

Creative thinking – how to get out of the box and generate ideas: Giovanni Corazza at TEDxRoma

The four most important biases to avoid are:

  1. Rejecting ideas that seem too hard to start.
  2. Rejecting ideas that seem boring or that are in boring markets.
  3. Rejecting ideas that seem too ambitious. 
  4. Rejecting ideas and markets where there are existing competitors.

Bias #1 Rejecting ideas that seem too hard to start

You may be tempted to reject startup ideas that seem too hard to start. Ideas that require a lot of capital or equipment, for example, are off-putting because they will take more time and effort than most people are willing to put in.

Overcome this bias and you might find huge startup opportunities. How many startup ideas have you rejected because they seemed too hard to start?

Bias #2 Rejecting ideas that seem boring or in boring markets

Most people are turned off by startup ideas that are in “boring” markets, like B2B products for accountants. Those kinds of startup ideas aren’t sexy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be multi-billion dollar businesses.

But if you’re not interested in a startup idea because it’s in a boring market, you might be making a huge mistake.

Bias #3 Rejecting startup ideas that seem too ambitious

You might be tempted to reject startup ideas that seem too ambitious. Big ideas are intimidating, and startup founders are often afraid to pursue them. But if ambitious founders didn’t shoot for the stars, we wouldn’t have Tesla, SpaceX, or Amazon.

Don’t let your fear of failure stop you from working on startup ideas that seem too ambitious at first. You may be surprised at how achievable they are.

Bias #4 Rejecting startup ideas and markets where there are existing competitors

This is a natural bias that most people have. Founders don’t like ideas that have a lot of competition. After all, it’s going to be hard to make your mark in a market where there are already established players. Counterintuitively, though, this can be a sign that an idea is actually good.

Competition means that people are spending money in the market, and it’s usually a sign that there’s room for more than one player. If you can find a startup idea that solves a big problem and there is already some competition, you’re onto something!

How to come up with good startup ideas

Now that we’ve gone over the four factors to consider when evaluating startup ideas and the filters you need to avoid, let’s look at how to come up with good ideas.

Before we introduce the recipes, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. What works for someone else might not work for you, and that’s okay!

Guy Kawasaki at TEDxBerkeley 2014: “Rethink. Redefine. Recreate.” His talk is titled “The Art of Innovation.”

The recipes we’ve listed below are a good place to start, but don’t be afraid to experiment. The best way to have a good idea is to get out and open your eyes to the world around you.

Recipe #01: Build something you want

The first recipe is for a startup idea that’s really easy to come up with is building a startup around something you’ve always wanted but never been able to find. This startup idea is especially useful if it solves a problem in your life or makes your daily routine easier and more enjoyable.

If you’re not sure what to build, look for problems that you have a lot of experience with. The more experience you have with a problem, the easier it will be to come up with a solution. Which leads us to our next recipe.

Recipe #02: Do what you know 

The best startup ideas are the ones that come from your own life and experiences, especially at work. If there’s a problem in your daily routine that you’ve been trying to solve, there’s a good chance that you could start a startup to fix it.

This is called the “do what you know” approach because you’re already familiar with the problem and you have firsthand experience solving it. Not only does this make it easier to come up with a solution, but you also have a lot of knowledge and experience that you can bring to the table.

This is one of the best ways to come up with startup ideas, because you should already have Founder/Market fit. You’re already an expert on the topic!

Recipe #03: Follow the trends

The next recipe is for a startup idea that takes advantage of trends. To come up with startup ideas using this method, look at what’s changing in the world and think about how you could capitalise on it.

The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed | Bill Gross

For example, the trend for wearable technology has led to a lot of startups that make products like fitness trackers and smart watches. Another popular trend is the “sharing economy,” which has given rise to companies like Airbnb and Uber. Trends can also be social and behavioural, such as the rise of online dating, video conferencing, and the shift towards remote work.

When looking at trends, think about how you can solve a problem with startup ideas that take advantage of the trend.

Recipe #04: Look in unusual places

The next recipe is for a startup idea that comes from looking in unusual places. This is a great way to come up with ideas because you’re not limited by your own experiences or what’s popular right now.

All you need to do is think about where you could find problems and solutions. For example, you could look at industries that are ripe for disruption or trends that you don’t think are being addressed properly.

When coming up with startup ideas using this recipe, be sure to brainstorm a lot of different possibilities. The more ideas you have, the better your chances of finding one that will be successful.

Recipe #05: “Uber for X”

The fifth recipe for startup ideas is to look for new models that have been executed successfully and apply them to new markets. This is a popular approach, and fast-growing startups leave thousands of “Uber for X” and “AirBnB for Y” ideas behind them.

The reason this approach is so successful is because it’s easy to understand and you can quickly get started. All you need to do is find a popular business model and think of a new market or industry that it could be applied to.

When coming up with startup ideas using this recipe, make sure you’re able to prove that there is a large problem and a big market – otherwise, you risk creating a solution in search of a problem.

Recipe #06: Remove all assumptions

The next technique for generating ideas is to remove all assumptions. We seldom stop to question why things are the way they are, so there are a lot of assumptions about how the world works.

To use this method, you simply start by listing all the assumptions that you’re making about the problem space. Then start removing them one by one. The assumptions you list will help you come up with new ideas.

For example, if you’re starting a new restaurant, you might list the following assumptions:

  • A restaurant has a kitchen
  • A restaurant has a varied menu
  • A restaurant has a building

If you begin to reverse these assumptions, you might come up with startup ideas like:

  • Food delivery startup – removes the assumption that a restaurant has a building.
  • Meal kit startup – removes the assumption that a restaurant has a kitchen and varied menu. This is how Blue Apron got started!

Recipe #07: Find contradictions and conflicts of interest

The final recipe for startup ideas is to find conflicts of interest. When two things are in conflict, it can lead to new and innovative solutions. This approach is similar to the one where you remove all assumptions, but it’s a bit more creative.

To come up with startup ideas using this method, start by looking for contradictions in the problem space. These contradictions can seem impossible at first:

  • Complete the project twice as fast, at half the cost.
  • Increase profits while reducing prices.

When you find these contradictions, start brainstorming ideas that could solve them. To supercharge your idea, aim to find a win-win solution instead of seeking the easy compromise.

You can use the startup idea evaluation checklist from earlier to review ideas that you generate and decide whether they’re worth pursuing. Just remember: it’s better to spend a little time critically evaluating your ideas than jumping straight into a startup idea that isn’t going to work out!

4 simple ways to have a great idea | Richard St. John


Coming up with startup ideas can seem daunting, but it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The recipes I’ve shared are a great starting point, but you need to find the approach that works best for you.

Sometimes the best startup ideas don’t follow any of these rules – they’re just contrarian and solve a big problem. So don’t get too hung up on trying to find startup ideas that fit into one of these recipes.

The most important thing is to remember that ideas are cheap; it’s execution that counts. Don’t spend too much time thinking about startup ideas. Instead, come up with a bunch of startup ideas and then go out and validate them.

Startup ideas are only one small part of creating a startup – to become successful, you need to build something that people want and constantly keep improving it based on feedback.

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