How Deliberate Entrepreneurs Find Opportunities

In this article we explore how deliberate entrepreneurs find and test ideas. Then we look at how they can do this while also earning a living.

The two main activities of deliberate entrepreneurship are to test ideas and find new ideas to test.

  • To deal with some subtle nuances, in the below diagram I’ve broken each activity into 2 sub-activities:
    • Finding ideas: find & explore
    • Testing ideas: test & build

Getting Started: How to Find New Ideas

Let’s assume you’re starting with no idea: in this case the first thing you’ll need to do is to find one.

If you were told to sit down and come up with business ideas, what would happen? Most likely, you’d come up with a bunch of ideas, all of them bad.

Good ideas tend to be spotted by and form in the subconscious, starting as little more than a sense of curiosity, and only with time and attention are they matured into something meaningful.

Finding new ideas entails maximizing the exposure of the subconscious to potential ideas (interesting problems & stimuli), and maximizing the quality & speed of idea incubation in the subconscious mind (through conscious exploration and cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset).

  • Gain exposure to more ideas:
    • Direct: gain exposure to interesting problems & stimuli. Follow your intuition and curiosity to proactively work on (and seek out and speak to people working on) interesting opportunities
    • Indirect: foster an entrepreneurial mindset (spend more time being an entrepreneur, analysing opportunities and risks; making uncertain decisions) so that you hone your intuition
    • An example: who do you think is most likely to have exciting business ideas?
      • The person who is simultaneously testing several business ideas live in the market, sparring with multiple startup founders every week, and constantly talking with interesting new businesses that they come across
      • The person who spends most of their time and energy on their day job, and at best manages to spend their evenings talking to their friends about their one tired business idea, writing a business plan or reading techcrunch
  • Increase your idea incubation quality & speed:
    • Direct: talk it out; actively explore and test the ideas already in your mind
    • Indirect: foster an entrepreneurial mindset (spend more time being an entrepreneur, analysing opportunities and risks; making uncertain decisions) so that you hone your intuition

This indirect process of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset is what Paul Graham describes in his essay on finding startup ideas:

“Empirically, the way to have good startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them”.

Paul Graham

You may have noticed that there are two things you can proactively control:

  • Building the capability (skills & knowledge) and resources (time & support team) to talk out; actively explore and test ideas
  • Exposing yourself to interesting people, problems & stimuli

You can do both of these things – and most likely also earn money to live on while working as an entrepreneur – by searching for and testing other people’s ideas.


Sidebar: Creative Constraints

You can increase your focus and creativity by adding constraints to your search (and some will be imposed upon you).

What type of business do you not want to build?

This article explores how you can approach this consideration.

What is the limit on time/money that can you afford to invest in searching for opportunities or exploring a particular opportunity?

There tends to be a balancing act between getting paid to test other people’s ideas (while gaining exposure and honing your intuition) and exploring & testing your own ideas. If you have no monetary constraint then you could just start testing ideas, even bad ones. For many reasons, this might not be the optimal strategy.


Other People’s Ideas

Searching for other people’s ideas

Talk to:

  • Interesting companies
  • Interesting founders
  • People who know interesting companies and founders e.g. VCs
  • Potential co-founders: other people who are looking for opportunities or who have identified an opportunity but have yet to found a company. These people may be harder to explicitly look for (Startup events; accelerator programs (especially pre-idea programs, like Entrepreneur First), Universities/research departments)

How?

  • Leverage your existing network or identify interesting people via desktop research and contact them via cold outreach
  • Figure out how to pitch yourself in a way that gets people interested in talking to you (what can you do for them?)

Exploring other people’s ideas

Approach the conversation like an entrepreneur:

  • Be curious: try to understand their business, the risks, how you could help them, how they could help you (perspective; advice; other intro’s)

Ask good questions and show that you’re on the ball and these initial conversations will lead to further intro’s and more opportunities.

If you’ve found an interesting idea that you want to explore further (beyond a conversation with the founder/potential founder) then you should assess it more or less like you would your own opportunity, ideally by conducting some form of customer development process (for the earliest stage opportunities), or perhaps moving straight into testing.

Testing other people’s ideas

Check out this article where I discuss how to get paid to test someone else’s startup.

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