Big companies like Apple, super successful websites like Facebook, and bestselling books like The 4-Hour Workweek all have one thing in common: They begin with a million dollar idea.
The big question is: How did their creators come up with these ideas? Did they sit around waiting for an inspirational flash or a mystic spell of luck?
The answer is: Spontaneity and luck had little to do with it.
In this article, we’ll take a brief look at 20 tried and true techniques that some of the brightest and most successful entrepreneurs have used to generate million dollar ideas.
You don’t need to have a 100-person company
to develop and execute a good idea.
– Larry Page (Google)
- Generate lots of ideas. – The more ideas you create, the more likely you are to create an idea worth a million bucks.
- Fail a lot. – All of the ideas that don’t work are simply stepping stones on your way to the one idea that does. Sometimes you have to fail a thousand times to succeed. No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.
- Consume information consciously. – Some of my friends think it’s wasteful that I spend so much time reading books and blogs. It’s not. It’s what gives me an edge. I feel engulfed with new ideas and information. And I’ve actually used what I’ve learned to launch a few successful websites. When you read things and interact with people, take off your consumer cap and put on your creator cap. There are million dollar ideas (or at least some really good ideas) all around you waiting for discovery.
- Focus on topics and ideas with large markets. – A million dollars is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly is if you’re trying to earn it in a small market with limited opportunities. Even if you put Steve Jobs in the role of CEO for a new venture with a maximum market size of 100 people he wouldn’t make more than a few cents. ‘Big bucks’ result from high demand in a substantial market.
- Make sure there’s money in your market. – Bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. Before you become emotionally attached to an idea, do a little market research. Make sure the idea you’re pursuing is where the money is. Who are the clients and consumers? How much disposable income do they have? Etc.
- Keep your eyes, ears and mind wide open. – Oftentimes one idea’s failure will open a door to a new idea. Don’t get so hung up on one failed attempt that you miss the opening for many more.
- Test variations of the same idea. – Think about the iPhone and the iPad for a second. One is just a variation of the other. Both are multi-million dollar ideas.
- Figure out what works well in one market and tailor it to another. – Find an idea that’s already proven and think about how it could be applied in a different context. Take a formula that works in one niche and apply it to a new niche. Or take the best aspects of one product and combine it with another product.
- Put the pieces together. – YouTube’s creators didn’t invent Flash. They didn’t invent modern digital cameras that can record computer-ready mpeg video. And they didn’t invent broadband Internet connections, cheap web hosting, embedded website content, or one-click website uploading technologies either. What they invented is a technology that takes all of these existing pieces and combines them into an online video sharing portal.
- Spin a new twist on a previous breakthrough. – A new twist on an old idea can still be a million dollar idea. Take Facebook for instance, it wasn’t the first big social networking site, but Mark Zuckerberg and company added twists and features the others did not grasp. How can you take an existing million dollar idea, or even a common idea, and give it a new twist, a new direction and journey?
- Systematize a popular service into a reproducible product. – A service is productized when its ownership can be exchanged. Think about Alienware and Dell back in their infancy. Both companies simply systematized the service of building IBM compatible PCs and then sold them as a packaged product. If you can convert a high demand service into a scalable, systematized, efficient process and sell it as a packaged deal, the million appears.
- Play with opposites. – When something becomes extremely popular, the opposite often also becomes popular as people turn away from the mainstream. When WordPress, Blogger and Movable Type exploded in popularity by giving anyone with an Internet connection the ability to share long, detailed blog posts with the world, Twitter and Tumblr came along and started the micro-blogging revolution – for people grasping to share extremely short content snippets. There are hundreds of other examples. Just remember, the opposite of a million dollar idea can paradoxically give birth to another million dollar idea.
- Look for problems and solve them. – There are many real problems in this world. Like a business owner wondering why his profits are sinking. Like a golfer worrying about his slice. Like a young man who is growing bald at 26. Like a mom whose child is suffering with allergies. Like a new dog owner who’s unsure what to do about her puppy barking all night. Solving problems like these can make millions.
- Design new products that support other successful products. – How much money do you think iPod, iPhone and iPad case manufacturers are making? Millions? Billions? What about companies that jumped into the market of manufacturing LCD and Plasma TV mounting brackets eight years ago? You get the idea.
- Keep it simple. – Don’t over complicate a good idea. Business marketing studies have shown that the more product choices offered, the less products consumers typically buy. After all, narrowing down the best product from a pool of three choices is certainly easier than narrowing down the best product from a pool of three hundred choices. If the purchasing decision is tough to make, most people will just give up. So if you’re designing a product line, keep it simple. (Read Made to Stick.)
- Exploit the resources and skills you already have. – It’s not as much about having the right resources as it is about exploiting your resources right now. Stevie Wonder couldn’t see, so he exploited his sense of hearing into a passion for music, and he now has 25 Grammy Awards to prove it. If you pursue a new venture that involves leveraging your resources and skills, you’re ahead of the game.
- Surround yourself with other thinkers. – You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with. If you hang with the wrong people, they will affect you negatively. But if you hang with the right people, you will be more capable and powerful than you ever could have been alone. Find your tribe and collaborate to make a difference in all your lives. Bounce ideas off each other, etc. (Read Tribes.)
- Be enthusiastic about what you’re doing. – Enthusiasm is the lifeblood of creativity. Big ideas blossom when you’re passionate and enthusiastic about what you’re doing. It’s nearly impossible to pioneer ground breaking solutions in a domain where there is not passionate intensity. But when your mind is stimulated by a fundamental curiosity and interest in the subject matter, your creativity will run rampant and your motivation will skyrocket.
- Accept constructive criticism, but ignore naysayers. – When someone spews negativity about your idea or product, remember, it doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it, it matters how many do. No matter how much progress you make there will always be the people who insist that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible. Or they may jealously suggest that the idea or concept as a whole is utterly ridiculous because nobody really cares. When you come across these people, don’t try to reason with them. Instead, forget that they exist. They will only waste your time and energy.
- Actually do something with your ideas! – A million dollar idea is simply a good idea given the chance to grow. On paper, Google and Facebook sprung from fairly ordinary ideas: ‘a search engine that’s accurate’ and ‘a website where friends connect with each other.’ Remember, neither of these companies were the first ones in their market. Their ideas weren’t groundbreaking at the time. Many people had the same ideas even before Google and Facebook existed. But Google’s and Facebook’s creators did something with their ideas. They worked hard and one-upped the competition. Their initial success was in their execution. Remember, it’s not the ideas themselves that count, it’s what you do with them. With the right execution, a simple idea can evolve into a million dollar idea. (Read Making Ideas Happen.)
Photo by: Noah Coffey