I … am very bad at coming up with ideas. I don’t know why, but I always struggle with creating ideas, even when it comes to school projects or story ideas. So I was very scared when I found out that everyone would have to pitch a startup idea in my media entrepreneurship course at Michigan State.
Ultimately, I got a better understanding of how to begin to find a good startup idea. Both Graham and Blakely said to look at the problems you have in your life right now and see how you can solve them. Or to think into the future and try to find what is missing or what could be interesting to consumers. Ideas always begin with a problem and end with a solution.
While reading/listening to what Graham and Blakely had to say about startups, I tried to think about the tools I use in my daily life, how they were invented and what problem they solved for me.
As a journalist, I always use Google docs because I can ensure that all of my work will automatically be saved. I use voice memos on my iPhone so I can get accurate quotes and information for my stories. As a young person who no longer lives with her parents, I often use social media or Facetime to connect with family and friends from my hometown. As someone who loves aesthetically pleasing photos, polaroid cameras and vintage-y things, I always use the HUJI Cam app—a simple photo-editing app that gives your pictures “a feeling just like the year 1998.” Even the simple things around my desk I don’t think twice about–paperclips, tape, staplers, hole punchers—were invented by someone who ultimately solved some sort of problem.
Some of the things I listed didn’t necessarily solve a huge problem I had. For instance, the HUJI Cam allows me to take the aesthetically-pleasing photos that my polaroid camera would take. But polaroid film is hella expensive and my polaroid camera is too large to carry around wherever I go. I love the HUJI Cam because it’s free, it’s instant and it’s on my phone—something I carry around with me everywhere. This might not be a great example, but I use this app because it’s interesting to me and it solved some very small problems I had with getting the photos I wanted. This led me to believe creating a new idea might be easier than I’m making it out to be.
Another idea I thought about was the Starbucks “sippy cup” lids. The problem that invention solved was no longer having to use straws for iced drinks. It’s a simple, environmentally-friendly alternative to using straws that Starbucks is supposed to fully transition to by 2020. When this idea was first announced, I was like, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?” It seemed like such an obvious thing, but no one had thought of it before. Blakely said she would meet women all the time who were cutting the feet out of their pantyhose, trying to solve their undergarment issues, yet she was the first to actually try to solve that problem with an invention: Spanx.
Graham also said, when searching for ideas to look in areas where you have some expertise. This made sense to be because, as a reporter, I always struggled with coming up with story ideas. However, after reporting and editing on campus-related topics for four semesters, coming up with ideas became incredibly easy for me. I actually have too many story ideas to complete now. So maybe creating a startup is kind of like that. We have to be familiar with a problem to solve it. As journalists, we could probably solve a problem related to news media better than a mathematician could.
I will probably still struggle with coming up with a startup, but at least I now have a better understanding of what I can do to spark some ideas.