Coming up with a winning idea
Entrepreneurship is not a job. It’s about providing a solution, and pulling people and resources together to make that change. Workable business ideas are all about solving problems.
Q: I’m an engineering student in Portugal, but I feel I really was born to be an entrepreneur. I started creating logos for companies when I was about 15. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and I’m always trying to think of new ways to start businesses. I want to follow my passion — but it’s tough when you have a great business idea, and no support. How do I find the right path? — João Bandeira, PortugalJoão, it’s always heartening to hear a young would-be entrepreneur talk about passion being a key driver in his life. The most successful entrepreneurs share that indescribable desire to change the world and make a positive difference in people’s lives.
And while it can be a struggle in the early days to find one project to pour all your enthusiasm into, just remember that successful entrepreneurs always manage to come up with an idea that’s right for them, and they make it work.
Your question reminds me of the origins of Ring — a wildly successful business that I have invested in.
For years, founder Jamie Siminoff had attempted to come up with a winning business idea — he even turned his garage in California into a lab for prototypes. As he worked there, though, Jamie was annoyed that he couldn’t hear the front doorbell.
One day he decided to fix this problem — he created a program to link the doorbell to his smartphone so that he could answer the door remotely with a video call. It was a great solution.
Jamie’s wife loved the idea as well: When Jamie was away, she could always see who was at the front door, and she felt safer.
Later, Jamie invited friends around to check out his other inventions, but the only thing anybody cared about was the doorbell!
He soon realised that this was the best business idea he ever had, and Ring was born. Just like that, the hours of searching for a winning idea were over.
João, the fact that you are constantly thinking of new businesses to start is a hugely valuable asset. Being proactive is a good thing, but I would strike a note of caution about the idea search.
I recently joined a host of fellow entrepreneurs in Los Angeles for Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural “Business Is an Adventure” event, and the topic of generating business ideas came up in a panel. Sean Rad, the CEO and founder of the dating app Tinder, made a great point.
“Entrepreneurship is not a job — it is a reaction to you wanting to solve a problem,” he said. “You have to wake up and say: ‘I am passionate about making a change, and I am passionate about pulling together people and resources... Not wake up and say: ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’ because I think you’ll kind of be lost... you’ll be looking for a problem instead of finding a problem looking for a solution.”
It’s a shrewd observation, and one that underlies the success of many companies, including Tinder.
In our daily lives, we all come across problems, annoyances or frustrations that we would love to see solved. Luckily, entrepreneurs are perfectly placed to solve those problems.
Interestingly enough, that’s how Virgin Atlantic began. After one particularly terrible experience as a passenger with an unscrupulous airline, I decided there must be a better way to fly. The next day, our team was on the phone with Boeing asking if they had any second-hand 747s that they were willing to sell.
Thankfully, they didn’t laugh and hang up — and the first Virgin airline was born.
So keep in mind that generating ideas is a great strength, but make sure that you’re spending your time and energy searching for solutions, not problems. That’s the best way to approach workable business ideas. Become a passionate problem-solver, and you’re half-way to being a successful entrepreneur.
Also keep in mind that once a great idea has been sparked, getting it off the ground can feel like a daunting task for anyone — especially if you have nobody there to support you, as you point out. I would advise you to take advantage of the connectivity offered by the Internet. Plenty of resources, networks and fellow entrepreneurs are just a click away.
Additionally, getting a mentor who can point you in the right direction and share his experiences is one of the best things you could ever do. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just ask. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
By Richard Branson
Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.
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