Where Do Business Ideas Come From? 8 Ways To Generate Successful Business Ideas



There’s so much talk about Start-ups these days. Many people are looking to start their own businesses now more than ever. While some have already successfully executed their business ideas,  others are still patiently waiting for the right idea to ‘pop up’ in their minds. Some others may already have an idea, but are not quite certain if it is a profitable idea or not.

Like many other first time entrepreneurs, i remember moving up and down, brainstorming, socialising with people including potential customers, competitors, suppliers,  trying to figure out that one great idea. Honestly,  i am grateful for my experience because that’s how i practically learnt a lot about of idea generation in business.

One thing for sure – Not all entrepreneurs have it easy in identifying a profitable business idea. One may argue;’There are thousand ideas everywhere’- Yes, you are right. But unless you know what you are looking for, many great ideas become  invisible to many people.

Numerous cases show that a majority of successful business entrepreneurs  came up with businesses ideas by doing one or more of the following-

1)  They experienced a frustration or identified a problem that needed to be solved

They say -‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.

And indeed it is! Successful entrepreneurs were once users or customers, who felt the need to develop a product for their own use and probably for customers who also wanted the products or services and were willing to pay for them. A good  example as highlighted by BBC was the Easy Taxi which was formed by Tallis Gomes who was committed  to solve a problem – limited cab availability. This problem drove him and his team to create a smartphone app ‘Easy Taxi‘. Easy Taxi allows users to book and track their taxis in real time on their smartphone devices.

Another inspiring story i came across recently was about a young inventor Richard Turere in Kenya, East Africa, who  came up with a solar-powered solution he designed, to safely scare the lions away and  to protect his family’s cattle from wild cats’ attacks.

There are many more examples of companies that have been formed as a result of necessity. As Prof. Eric von Hippel of MIT Sloan School of Management puts it in his book, Democratizing Innovation, ‘ Users may innovate if and as they want something that is not available on the market and are able and willing to pay for its development’. In other words, users (also customers)  innovate because they usually do not find what they want on the market.

2) Improve an existing product

This one is probably the most commonly applied technique. We know market is full of a wide variety of available products but as consumers, we tend to find something faulty about a service or a product. Maybe:

The features are not so appealing?  Customer service is not good at all? The packaging is not good enough? Product design doesn’t appeal to you?  Maybe  you would like to see some additional features? Maybe it’s too expensive and unaffordable and you’re quite sure if there was cheaper version of it, many would run to buy it? Or maybe the restaurant round the corner doesn’t offer good food or doesn’t have a good ambience?

Then you got your self an idea!

3)  Be inspired by Nature

In the recent years there has been a growing number of successful businesses that have been formed or improved due to inspiration by nature. I once attended a Biomimicry  course and that one single course changed how i looked at generation of business ideas and design thinking. Being inspired by nature not only helps you develop or improve existing products, but it can also help use examples from nature to improve your management in organisation. Under the influence of nature, you’ll find out that there are thousands of business ideas waiting to be discovered depending on the kind of industry you are in or the kind of product or service you’d like to offer. There are many examples about how nature has inspired innovators.

My favourite example is the Japan’s high speed bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen trains, where an engineer and a birdwatcher, both inspired by biomimicry and using their knowledge of the splashless water entry of kingfishers and silent flight of owls, were able to  decrease the sound generated by the train. Now to me that’s amazing!

Another other real-life applications of biomimicry and zero-waste principle, is the mushroom packaging innovation by Ecovativedesign.com. There are many more excellent examples about sustainable design ideas from nature. Check out this inspiring talk about sustainable developments in biomimicry by Janine Benyus

4) Be inspired by history

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”- King Solomon’s famous words

A look back in history can help you come up with a good business idea that can be profitable in today’s present times.  This is common in the garment or fashion industry especially with vintage wear. Others have applied this technique in other sectors such as  beer brewing industry. The Wall Street Journal highlights an example about a brewing company that makes a whole series of Ancient Ales inspired by historic and molecular evidence

5) Customers as a source of ideas

As an entrepreneur, i found customers to be one of the most incredible sources of ideas. They gave me ideas on what kind of products they wanted me to supply them with.  I’ve seen this technique work with many businesses too regardless of their sizes.  All you need to is listen to the customer. In bigger corporations especially,  customers may be quite helpful in design thinking especially when thinking about introducing a new product/service  or improving the existing ones.  This may be done in various ways. Either through direct contact with them or ask them to fill in a survey or questionnaire.

6) Immitation as an inspiration to a profitable business idea

We live in a  ‘copy cat’ economy where some individuals are good at creating profitable business opportunities for themselves, by imitating their competitors’ original ideas and successfully translating them to sellable concepts. One famouts example in technology is the  tablet (form of an Ipad) which was originally created by Apple. As soon as Apple came up with the tablet concept and realised it into a commercial product, competitors such as Samsung and Lenovo etc.,  followed it. Many more competitors (late entrants) who also recognised the profitable opportunity simply followed the Apple steps in order to have a ‘piece of the cake’.

A large number competitors (imitators) use ‘reverse engineering’ as a technique to understands how competitors develop their new products. This way, they are able to follow them or even surpass them.

Another widely discussed case example of businesses built through imitation as highlighted by Wired.co. uk is the  Germany’s Samwer brothers who  have been successful serial entrepreneurs by doing this for many years. The fashion industry too is not an exception where there is  a high number of fast fashion companies that have successfully built multi-billion-dollar businesses by reproducing  trends from the latest catwalk creations.

Now you might be asking-“Wait a minute, are you saying we should steal ideas?”  Oh no! You bet that’s not what i mean.  There is a danger. The danger here is the risk of facing a law suit or a legal battle like it was between Apple and Samsung.

All i am saying, Immitation is not a new concept. Infact although it has been in the market for a long time, experts agree that is difficult and ‘it requires a high level of intelligence and imagination.’ Studies show that many successful and leading players were creative imitators who used  smart and sophisticated methodologies to create business opportunities by using other people’s ideas. An article on the Economist highlights numerous examples of large company that grew by smartly ‘copying’ ideas from somewhere. McDonalds imitated a system pioneered by White Castle? Who knew? Now i know!

7) Passion

You may have heard –

” Do what you love” or  “Follow your heart or passion” startup-593336_1920

There many stories about successful ‘passion driven businesses’. You’ve probably heard of successful entrepreneurs who followed their passion and successfully built big businesses. I like hearing such stories too but not everyone agrees with that.

Even though there are disputes about the idea of’ following your passion,’ one fact remains-passion may be helpful but it is not the deciding factor for success.  A closer look at that may help you realise that you need to identify a matching set of skills to turn your passion into a profitable business idea.

8) Brainstorming

Whether you are looking for new ideas for your business, or to improve existing products or services one, brainstorming is a great source of ideas if well applied. Studies show that even though  many organisations engage in the brainstorming process, many get it wrong. The most important thing is to focus on identifying the ‘quality of the best idea‘. To get started, you might find it useful to check out Stanford’s brain storming rules to help you run a successful brainstorming process.


An original version first appeared on iAfrikan.com


  1. Kate

    Customers as a source of ideas……something I’m I have been learning the last months and greatful for the insight…..rich info up there.

    1. reyherb

      I also noticed that and i learnt to actively listen to them. I’m grateful for them too. Glad you liked it 🙂

  2. Pingback: Where Do Business Ideas Come From? 8 Ways To Generate Successful Business Ideas — Business Mellows – Ko'Kasi #UNWIRED!

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