Have you ever seen a pitch for a product on a show like Shark Tank and thought to yourself, “I had that idea years ago,” only to be left wondering why you didn’t take it to market yourself?
The truth is, great business opportunities are all around us, but in the moment it can be difficult to differentiate a good idea from the bad. It can be tough to figure out whether you should jump on that opportunity you discovered, or write it off as fool’s gold.
Even coming up with a good business idea is one thing, but acting on it is something else entirely. There are plenty of people who, whether because of motivation or inclination, will never take advantage of the business opportunities lying around them.
Roughly 10% of all Americans own their own business—and of those, only a fraction are successful. Many don’t know how to seize the opportunities that come their way.
As I was thinking about this landscape of missed opportunities and failed business ventures, I tapped into the expertise of a few entrepreneurs that know a thing or two about opportunity and how to identify it.
David Trainavicius, founder and CEO of PVcase, is the first guest I spoke to, and I also was able to sit down with serial entrepreneurs Brad Feld and Dr. Sean Wise, co-authors of Startup Opportunities for an interview. The advice they all had to share was extremely helpful for anyone looking to identify and capitalize on the opportunities they come upon.
1. You’re Doing Something You Love
“The biggest mistake that people (who don’t know what they want to work on) do is they sit quietly and try to come up with a lot of different ideas,” shares Feld.
He continues, “Instead, you need to let your brain have the ideas, and just grab one that’s interesting to you. You shouldn’t spend time working on something that you’re not excited about. So dismiss the ones that you can’t imagine doing ten years from now.”
If you find an idea that you love, you’re more likely to actually devote the time and effort to following through. Opportunity often comes from obsession, and finding an idea you’re willing to invest yourself in, will get you much further even if the opportunity isn’t as promising at first.
2. You’re Solving Your Own Problems
“I started my company because I was frustrated with the lack of tools that did what I needed,” explains Trainavicius. “The solar industry needed a product like PVcase that saved time and gave them the precision they needed to design better solar parks. My experience directly impacted the product that we finally offered. It was something that I knew personally would have made my job easier before, and it’s something we offer to people who have similar frustrations.”
Especially if you’ve worked in a particular industry for a while, you’re going to be one of the best possible test audiences for an idea. Strive to answer questions like:
- What are your pain points?
- What do you wish ran more smoothly?
- How could your job be done easier, better, faster or more efficiently?
Build your idea around crucial gaps you can identify in the marketplace today.
3. You Have An Unrefined Idea
Sometimes an opportunity isn’t an idea that’s completely new to the world.
Most often, it’s in making something that already exists better, more convenient or more efficient. Wiivv is a great example of a company that did that. Its founder saw the orthotics industry and realized that he could create better wearables for cheaper than they were already being made by existing players in the market.
What’s their secret? 3D printing, which hadn’t yet impacted the wearable market. They were able to offer custom orthotics for people at a fraction of the cost of regular custom insoles.
One of the best ways to build a strong business is by finding an idea that already exists, has proven demand and then make it meaningfully better. That’s the foundation for many successful businesses, from Uber to Facebook.
4. You Occupy A Niche Market
Is there a niche market that hasn’t been serviced the way it should be? You might not have the same size of audience, but your penetration is guaranteed to be strong if your product or service is sound.
Marketer and author Seth Godin expands on this point on his blog, “When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone. And if you’re not the irreplaceable, essential, one-of-a-kind change-maker, you never get a chance to engage with the market. The solution is simple but counterintuitive—stake out the smallest market you can imagine. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better.”
Trainavicius agrees. “If you go for too large of a market when you start, you’ll probably shoot yourself in the foot. What we did was go after a small market that we knew would love our product. Once we had a few on board, they talked to other people—and since they already loved it, we started generating a lot of positive word of mouth. In small niches, if your idea is good, there’s incredible opportunity in word of mouth.”
5. You’ve Found A Transferrable Idea
One of the best ways to solve a problem in a given industry, is to strip it down to its most basic elements and present it to other experts from analogous fields.
One Harvard Business Review piece collated examples of this, and the list is wide-ranging—everything from inline skaters who designed construction safety equipment, to stage makeup artists coming up with ways to minimize facial surgery infections.
If you’re looking for a good idea, try cross-pollinating with people from different fields. You may be surprised at the insights you uncover.
6. You’ve Got An Unfair Advantage
No matter your industry, you’re going to need to develop an unfair advantage—a strong competitive edge—at some point if you want your idea to stand the test of time.
Is your advantage in your knowledge? Your expertise and experience? What about your network? Maybe you’ve developed technology other people can’t get their hands on, or understand how to replicate. Or perhaps you just have more funding to outspend the competitors.
Even a fairly mundane business can grow into becoming a big opportunity if you have an unfair advantage.
If you have the right mindset, game-changing business ideas are lying all around you, waiting to be discovered.
It takes an open mind, willingness to experiment and dedication to problem-solving. Then, all that’s left is throwing your effort into bringing that idea to life.