Generating Startup Ideas

Calin Drimbau

Sep 22, 2022

Introduction: Generating Startup Ideas

Having an innovative and feasible startup idea can be the first blocker for thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs out there, but once founders get it right unlimited potential is unlocked. For example, Airbnb grew from the simple idea of providing airbeds to strangers to $4.4B in funding. Likewise, Uber initiated its journey out of the desire to book a trip on a mobile phone. Have you wondered how they generated these startup ideas in the first place, and maybe you dream of becoming one of these successes one day? If yes, then this article is for you.

Can we define a ‘good startup idea’?

There is no definitive standard of what is a good startup idea, and ideas with excellent success potential can be disliked by many. For example, when Jeff Bezos started raising capital for Amazon, most of his responses were negative.

So, should you strive to develop the idea that everyone likes? The answer is no. Andy Rachleff of Benchmark Capital nurtured dozens of great names, including eBay, Twitter, and Uber. He thinks there are two dimensions to evaluating an idea: either 'right' or 'wrong,' and the idea is 'consensus' or 'non-consensus.' When considering ideas, most people understand that a 'wrong' idea doesn't make money, yet few realize that if an idea is both 'right' and 'consensus,' chances are that it doesn't succeed either. On the other hand, if everyone likes the idea, it's highly likely not groundbreaking enough and not generating enough value to stand out.

Don't try to adhere to public perception or mainstream thinking when brainstorming for your startup idea. Instead, you should aim to be 'right' but 'non-consensus': right in that you have a practical path to execution and growth, and non-consensus in that you have a way to stand out and surprise people.

Be in the right environment

Just as Shann Puri and Sam Parr discussed on the My First Million podcast, good ideas are fragile. Founders lose hope in these ideas since they feel stupid when telling others about their crazy visions. To protect you from falling into this dilemma, you need to put yourself in an environment where people encourage you to think out loud. The group doesn't need to be fond of your ideas, but they must be open-minded and daring to consider supporting your explorations. As Sam Altman, former president of Y Combinator said, be around these people who have the 'idea flux' and are good at coming up with ideas. They are usually the ones who are optimistic about the future and think without constraints.

Train your brains to unconsciously generate startup ideas

Paul Graham gave his tip for generating startup ideas in the famous "How to Start a Startup" course series: don't try to think of ideas consciously. The best ideas, he argued, are ones that are found unconsciously by trained minds. He said the most successful companies like Google and Airbnb always started as side-projects because they originated from unconscious sparks in founders' brains, yet later they grew into household names. 

To do this, it is best to take your brain off autopilot. Like Alex Liberman framed it in his Founder's Journal podcast: destroy the everyday filter we use to make us think about the world around us quickly. For example, when brewing your coffee in the morning, you should question why your machine takes so long; when you put on your newly-purchased jacket, you should wonder whether it can fit more perfectly. Keep asking how you should improve things, and internalize this spirit until you find yourself generating ideas unconsciously.

Testing with a minimum viable product

You must have heard about minimum viable product (MVP), which can help get feedback from early customers. While testing and validating your startup ideas may not need to go that far, founders can follow this thought to gather some initial opinions from their target audience.

This approach is not contradictory to what we said earlier to be 'non-census.' Yes, people cannot help you decide whether your initial idea is significant or not. Still, with a minimal pilot plan laying out the business structure and product features, people will start taking your ideas more seriously and generally give more constructive feedback. As Director of Brown University's Entrepreneurship Center Danny Warshay said, tweaking the pilot plan based on opinions gathered in an early-stage survey can help you run your business much smoother. Find the balance between being true to your original thoughts and taking constructive feedback, and you will polish your initial startup ideas into successful seeds.

Collide your ideas with reality

Marc Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix, mentioned when speaking on the Impact Theory podcast that every founder should collide their ideas with reality. This means doing detailed research on the market you are preparing to enter, knowing about the real needs of consumers, and identifying the ongoing trends within the field. For example, Marc Randolph mentioned a woman trying to start a peer-to-peer clothing rental startup on the podcast. His suggestion was to tape a piece of paper to her bedroom door saying "wanna borrow my clothes?" and find out people's demand and acceptance of this. Before committing 100% to the idea, you have come up with, find enough ways to collide it with reality and make sure it passes the test. 


It takes practice to be good at generating startup ideas. It is a multifaceted task in which you can only succeed in the right environment, with the right mindset, and doing the proper validation for each idea generated.

We hope the resources compiled above are helpful to get you started on cultivating the skills to generate great startup ideas.