How to find three business ideas

How to find three business ideas
Photo by Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash

In the last post, I argued you should start three projects, not one.

If you find yourself holding on to your one favorite idea, and can’t imagine finding two others of equal value, here’s my advice:

Quit your first idea.

Seriously, let it go.

Business ideas are like marathon runners: the first one usually dies on arrival, but once you have the proper footwear there are more than you can count.

The art of starting a successful business is largely the art of seeing abundant fields of opportunity.

When you commit to your first idea, its like the artist who tries to perfect their first drawing, never learning the benefits of multiple drawings.

When you’re willing to let go of an idea, you have a shot at learning to see the abundance of ideas.

Now that you have blank slate, let’s explore how to find three new projects.

This area might be the most difficult part of entrepreneurship to explain, because there are so many ways to play and so few best practices.

Lucky for you, there is a 2x2.

Green Glasses

We begin here because it is in the lowest position of the chart, but actually it is the best place to start.

In the Green Glasses approach, you build the mindset of abundant ideas by learning to see opportunity everywhere.

I was recently on a call with a friend who is teaching university classes on Zoom, and quite successfully.  I began to rant about the underlying limits of the Zoom interface, and the things I would change to make it more suitable for the future environment of education (and for my uses, improv).

She replied by insisting that Zoom is great, she’s had great classes on it, and if you use a few hacks like making every attendee a host, you can get a lot out of the product.

The difference in our conversation was that I was wearing the Green Glasses.  Although an outsider to the video meeting market, I noticed the incremental opportunities created by a mass market moving to this platform, and how many people are feeling a new stress from using Zoom for unintended purposes.

She has no such glasses.  For her, Zoom is the best tool she’s got, and she’s going to win using what she has instead of making something new.

My first experience with Green Glasses was in High School.  Junior year, my school raised the price of a slice of pizza by 25 cents.  Naturally I was outraged!  The school was a closed campus, meaning we couldn’t leave to buy lunch elsewhere, so this price increase was a blatant exploitation of their monopoly on warm foods.

By some fortune, I had carte blanche to leave campus everyday at 10am, so when I saw this shocking price, all I could do was go to the pizzeria directly and buy slices at a better price.  I discovered I could buy 1-2 whole pizzas, sell slices to my friends at the lower price, and get a free slice for my troubles.

A similar pattern occurred in university: although not a smoker myself, my college in its infinite wisdom placed every smoker in my building on my floor.  The university didn’t sell cigarettes, and it quickly became clear no one had a convenient transportation to buy more.

I uniquely had brought a car, so I started connecting smokers to their tobacco.

I love these examples because they are as incremental as is it gets.  I didn’t start these side hustles because I wanted to become a billionaire; I started them because I saw an unmet need that I could meet.

Although my personal examples are incredibly incremental, in practice there are far larger Green Glasses projects.  Here are a few that have come up in the past few months:

  • Coworking space for working parents
  • Closed group homeschool that collectively hires the best teachers
  • Zoom but customized for yoga classes
  • Improv classes for the elderly
  • Video survey to estimate requirements for a home cleaning service

These would be Green Glasses projects, for me, because I’m an outsider and I can’t see the exponential opportunities.  Anything I build would have to be relatively simple, because I only understand a small amount of the domain.

For many new entrepreneurs, Green Glasses can feel too small.  This is not the right approach to start a Billion dollar company, they think, so its better to do something else.

Green Glasses work because they make you better at every other approach.

An entrepreneur who can spot opportunities as an outsider, will become better at spotting problems as an insider; an insider who tries to start something new will find themselves competing with folks who know more, or avoiding customer development because they think they already know what customers want.

An entrepreneur who can identify and solve incremental problems will get more practice en route to solving exponential problems; you learn far more from baking three kinds of bread than half baking one.

Whether you are just starting a business, actively running a business, or on the precipice of beginning, I encourage you to try wearing the Green Glasses for just an hour.

What businesses have you recently interacted with, and what new problems do they face due to Covid?

If you have entrepreneurs as friends: what problems keep coming up for them?  What are they optimistic about?  What are they worried about?

If you sell to an existing market: what are the biggest problems they face?  Among those who don’t buy from you (but should), what problems do they face?  How are these different?

You don’t need to hold the right answers; it is enough to hold the right questions.