The Billion Dollar Idea

Recently the Dollar Shave Club was bought by Unilever for one billion dollars.  I know many will think “why didn’t I have that idea?”  However, perhaps a more productive thought is “how could I come up with an idea like that?”  Well, it may sound far fetched but I actually do believe that you can.  In my book, The Start-up J Curve: Six Steps to Entrepreneurial Success, I talk about the process of coming up with the winning idea.  In fact, I even mentioned the Dollar Shave Club as a classic example.

Here is the excerpt:

One great method to help surface good ideas for the Create
phase is to become problem sensitive. This means training yourself
to notice the problems all around you or, rather, overcoming
your natural propensity to gloss over problems. We mentally
fast-forward through problems as a matter of survival; if we
obsess over every minor obstacle that crosses our path, we’ll never
accomplish anything, and we might be miserable. I’m not suggesting
that you become so problem sensitive that you become
incapacitated. I am suggesting that increasing this sensitivity will
facilitate your search for a marketable product.

For instance, say you have to make a last-minute, inconvenient
trip to the store because you’ve run out of razor blades. So you
drag yourself out of the house late on a Sunday night, arrive at the
store, find your package of eight razor blades, and buy them for
$32. Right there are two big problems: inconvenience and cost.

The guys who started the $1 Shave Club were probably sensitive
to these problems, and it led them to a solution: Subscribe
to the club for $1, and the club sends you razor blades monthly.
It’s a simple but brilliant problem-solving idea, and it hooked
me. Their costs of manufacture and shipping are low, and they
also upsell you to fancier blades, resulting in even more profit.
As the club’s motto goes, “Shave time, shave money.”

By paying close attention to problems in your life—when you
shop, at work, when you’re online—you can find potential ideas
for start-ups. On top of that, you can determine if a problem is
significant and widespread (rather than minor and a result of your
own idiosyncrasies) by talking to others. Are your friends and colleagues
as irritated as you are by a given problem? If so, and if you
think it’s a problem you can solve, you may want to move forward
on creating a solution. And this is a much better approach
than the typical brainstorming sessions that some start-up aspirants
favor—in which people throw out all sorts of imaginative
concepts that sound good in the conference room but lack a realworld
foundation and customer resonance, like having to go out
to the store for an overpriced package of razor blades.

I recognize that looking for problems may sound simplistic
from an idea-generation standpoint. Obviously, it takes more
than the recognition that gasoline is too expensive to develop a
marketable alternative fuel. At the same time, don’t be daunted
by big problems. Elon Musk was determined to tackle our
dependence on fossil fuels, and his boldness has led him to
create Tesla and Solar City. Training yourself to recognize the
problems in life is a great start, but don’t stop there. Be creative
in coming up with solutions, and then figure out a way to make
your solution a reality and a viable business.

You also need to ask yourself if you’re passionate about the
given problem and solution. Passion is a key ingredient and will
help you overcome the many hurdles a start-up presents. Startups
are incredibly hard, and if you aren’t fully engaged in what
you’re doing, then you have a problem you can’t solve.
Numerous factors affect whether a start-up idea bears fruit,
but the genesis is often some problem that bothers you or
inspires you—a problem that an observant entrepreneur grasps
and responds to before their potential competitors, who are still
in their conference rooms brainstorming.

Good luck with your next billion dollar idea, and if you want get that idea to success as fast as possible, check out The Start-up J Curve: The Six Steps to Entrepreneurial Success !


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