How to Come Up With Great Business Ideas

Who doesn't have a business idea? Even if you're happy working for somebody else, I bet you have a business idea that you haven't ever told anyone about. And, chances are, in a few years (or months) someone will start the business you've been dreaming about and that's when you'll tell your friends, "I had that same idea two years ago. I knew it would work!" This happened to me so many times! Of course, I can't start a new business every time I have a new idea because that would draft me away from my current businesses. Some people (like me) have at least one business idea each day. Other people struggle, spending days, weeks, months thinking about a great business idea. Why is this?

Don't Look for the "Perfect" Idea
Look at Starbucks. They didn't invent coffee; they created a great way to enhance the coffee drinking experience. Look at McDonald's. They didn't invent burgers; they came up with a way to deliver food fast at a low cost. Look at Zappos. They weren't the first online shoe store, but through amazing customer service (and free return shipping) they became the largest online shoe store.
These businesses didn't re-invent the wheel. They found something that could be done better and did it.
Don't look for the "perfect" idea. There are hundreds of ways you can create a better world and make a lot of money at it.

The "It's Been Done Before" Myth
Every time someone comes to me and tells me they have an idea for a business that "has never been done before", I start to worry. There's a reason some things have never been done before. Let's say you want to sell a square car. It has never been done before. That doesn't mean there's a market for it. Actually, the fact that it has never been done before leads me to think there's no market for square cars.
But the real problem is when people give up on business ideas because they have been done already. Don't do this. Going back to the previous examples, coffee existed before Starbucks, burgers existed before McDonald's and shoes existed before Zappos.

So, How Do You Come Up with Great Business Ideas?
The answer is this: "Keep your eyes open for things that you want and can't get, or things you can't get in a convenient way." I'll give you a few examples:
  • A friend of mine used to live in an isolated mountain town the US Postal Service, FedEx and UPS wouldn't deliver to. They dropped all the packages at a central location in town and people had to drive 15 miles to pick up their mail. Everyone was annoyed with this fact and started saying that they'd be willing to pay a little extra to get the packages delivered to their homes. My friend listened to them and started charging each family $10 a month to pick up their packages and deliver them daily to their homes. He had 200 clients and paid for his college working two hours a day.
  • Sara, a woman I know, moved from Costa Rica to the US five years ago. She was craving Costa Rican food and she couldn't get it anywhere. She then realized that the Latino population in the US is huge and those people missed the food they could get in their countries but wasn't available in the US. Sara decided to import Latino foods into the US and sell them online. She does over $2M now.
  • Last week I got a grill that I had to assemble myself. It was a pain in the butt and made me waste four valuable hours that I could have spent helping my clients. I would have loved to pay someone $50 to put it together for me. That store also had beautiful furniture that I wanted to buy too, but there's no way I'll spend two entire days assembling all those tables, chairs, beds and closets. What if someone approached this store and offered them this service for their clients? The store would increase their sales, the clients would be happier and this person would have a business.
The bottom line is this: Every time you're frustrated about something, think about how you can make it better. Once you automate this process, I guarantee that you'll get at least one great business idea per day.