The Process: Identify your gap or problem

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Closeup image of a small tree and a light bulb glowing on pile of soil

When I’ve put together the process of building a successful business or startup, I wrote a few paragraphs on each step and they are highly applicable when you’re ready. However, I’d like in this article to delve a little deeper into the “identify gap and idea” step. 

Let’s get to it. 

1- Identify your why 

I typically jump straight into ideation as I typically have a product idea before starting this process. But it’s possible some of you just itch to create a product or start a company, but don’t know what you’d like to build. This is where this article is useful. And the best way to get started is to look at yourself. Get to know YOU a little better and WHY do you want to be an entrepreneur. 

So let’s start with why. Something or someone put the spark of wanting to start a business. Who is this person to you, or why would you want to follow their advice? Why suddenly are you motivated to create a startup and a new product? Look around and find your why, which is super important. Without a strong purpose, your motivation will quickly dissipate as you move towards your product launch. Spend some time understanding why you’re doing this. Put it down on a piece of paper.

Next, what about you? What are the skills you can bring to the table in creating your new product or company? Do you have specific competences that could benefit the product or widget you’d like to develop… for example you’re a JavaScript programmer… therefore you could easily build a web application. List all your skills on the same piece of paper, below the why section.

If you’re struggling with this step, it’s completely normal, but you need to go through it. Building a startup is far from easy and there will be times where you’ll question everything, especially when the initial steps throw you a curveball. I’ve experienced this myself, not having a strong enough why for a product or a project I was building through tons of challenges, and it was hard not to quit. Find your purpose and reasons early, you’ll thank me later.

2- Brainstorm a few ideas

Let’s brainstorm some ideas. First, without thinking, put on the back of the paper any product ideas you may currently have or would like to see in the market. There are no wrong ideas here, and everything goes. And if you don’t currently have any ideas yet, do the following exercises to get your juice flowing:

  • Look at your why and skills again, any of them providing ideas for a startup?
  • What are your passions? Do you enjoy reading about science and science-fiction? Maybe there is the spark of an idea in a book you read recently? Ask questions around your passions.
  • With a piece of paper, walk around your house and find any product that bothers you or ones that are great. Could any of them be improved and pushed further? Look also at the source of your pains, why are some product annoying? Could a brand new product solve this issue?
  • Can you combine one or two of the ideas you’ve written down?
  • Add products from science-fiction movies (the science has now caught up)?
  • Can you add extra features to your favorite gadgets/clothes/house appliances?
  • Reverse engineer a product, simplify it and add an alternative approach to it, can this be achieved without being sued by the manufacturer?
  • If the product is digital, cut out squares out of a piece of paper and draw specific functions in each section and then play with your squares until you get something great.
Draw and cut pieces of your paper prototype to create your ideal product.

The goal here is to build out a list of ideas, as crazy as some of them might sound, you don’t restrict yourself from putting anything down nor use your judgmental side to shoot down any ideas. This is not part of this process. We do this later.

3- Some initial analysis

Now, finished with your brainstorming session, you must have a fantastic list of potential products. Once you’ve identified all the best product ideas, for each one ask yourself the following questions and rank each of them by adding a point (1) for each where you answered YES. So, you’ll end up with your list of products having a score and be able to see which ones have the best chance of being successful:

  • Is this product exciting? When I study it, am I eager to get started on it?
  • Does it align well with my WHY and WHO I am? If you’re a software engineer and you get excited about building the next revolutionary chair, you’re already putting some pressures on your startup by aligning with your skill set. Investors will also raise concerns if you’re trying to get funding for it.
  • Do you already see how this product could be produced, brought to market, etc. Or you’re completely in the dark, and don’t have any idea what comes next (no worries if that’s the case, that’s where we’re here to help). If you already see a lot of the puzzle pieces, this product is definitely better suited for you.
  • Do you know people that could help or have expertise related to this product? If yes, add a point.
  • Are there a lot of these products in the market? If yes, remove a point.
  • Is this product very complex and most likely extremely expensive? Where the go-to-market distribution and sales will be initially challenged by a long cycle? If yes, remove a point. This one in particular shouldn’t be a deterrent if it is something you REALLY want to do, but recognizing it early on, that it’ll take a longer cycle to sell and manufacture is important. This will also affect financing the startup.

Once you’ve got a list with scores for each one, take the time to select the best one to three ideas you’d like to brainstorm with. If the signs are all pointing towards one, then just go with one. 

Now that you’ve determined which product you’ll push forward with, you can carry on to ideation.

Manny Henri
Manny Henri
Emmanuel Henri grew up in Chambly, a city in the tail of Quebec (Canada) near Montreal. He’s an established technologist with 25 years of experience in the world of programming and design, and also published 125 courses on several platforms such as Linkedin Learning, Pluralsight and O’reilly. Since his teens, he always had a knack for storytelling, especially monster-driven tales, and has compiled a boatload of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and horror ideas he’s thrilled to put into words. To keep his head sane and healthy, especially after his close call with cancer in 2020 (now in remission), he’s pledged his body to a strict diet and rigorous exercise plan. He’s currently working on his novel "Ashes" and editing “From the mist” and several short-stories, such as “The Agency”.
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