Have you ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs get their ideas about what to do in life?
Such ideas are called Aha moments or a Eureka. It’s when you are suddenly struck by a blinding insight or inspiration for a business or you find a solution to a problem you’ve been working on.
They start out as ordinary people just like you and me.
Business icons like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson developed their ideas “in secret” that eventually became success stories.
But each one of them had a trigger point where they thought, “Aha! I can do this.”
Take a look at the inspiring infographic below by Funders and Founders to see how many of the businesses we know today started out as simple ideas by their founders.
I wanted to share it with you because it follows on from my last blog post.
If you recall, that post was to urge you to stop looking for an original idea to start your business. I believe it’s far better to take an average idea and run with it, or improve on an idea that has come before than wait forever for that BIG IDEA to strike.
Today’s post looks at how ordinary people get their ideas in the first place and build a business on the back of that initial inspiration.
Many Business Ideas Come From Need
Regardless the type of business or what you think about it, did you notice how many business ideas are borne out of need? Check out these 3 stories:
1. Caresse Crosby invented the bra because she couldn’t fit her bust into a corset.
Today we take the vast choices in women’s underwear for granted but it wasn’t too long ago when women were forced to squeeze into tight fitting, rigid corsets to get the hour-glass figure that was so desirable at the time.
This was the acceptable way for women to dress for many centuries, but can you imagine what it must have been like to be trussed up like a Christmas turkey every day?
According to the story, one night in 1910, as Caresse Crosby tried to squeeze her ample bosom into her corset so she could attend a society ball, she noticed that the corset was poking out over her dress.
She asked her maid to bring her two handkerchiefs and some ribbon, and went to the ball wearing her new undergarment.
The other ladies were so impressed by how freely she moved that they begged her to make them one too.
Word soon spread.
Other women started asking Crosby for a similar undergarment, even offering to pay her for it.
Crosby realized that she was onto something and applied and eventually got a patent in 1914 for the first Backless Brassiere.
Although her business struggled and she ended up selling her patent to the Warner Brother Corset Company (who incidentally earned $15million over the next thirty years from it!) Crosby did turn her idea into a business which spawned the $billion lingerie industry.
Without the invention of this early brassiere, other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have been inspired to improve on her idea. We wouldn’t have had the innovations in materials, shapes and designs or the introduction of cup sizing that helps women instantly find their size today.
Women would still be wearing restrictive undergarments that needed another person to help fasten them, and they wouldn’t be enjoying the glamor, luxury and sensuality that comes from wearing beautiful lingerie.
2. Sara Blakely couldn’t stand the heat so created Spanx underwear
I’m pretty sure that Sara Blakely, another female entrepreneur on this infographic, would not have been inspired to develop her bodyshaping underwear brand Spanx without Caresse Crosby’s idea for a bra.
Neither would she have become the world’s youngest billionaire.
Blakely got the idea for Spanx after struggling to wear pantyhose (nylon tights) in the hot Florida climate while working as a sales rep.
She didn’t like the way the seamed toe poked out in her sandals so she cut off the feet of her underwear.
Although the legs kept riding up Blakely liked the firm silhouette it created beneath her clothing.
Blakely had no formal business training or hosiery industry experience but she didn’t let this stop her.
In fact, she believes that her lack of knowledge was the secret to her success because she was less intimidated by her competition and more willing to experiment.
Blakely spent two years developing her product and testing it on herself, family and friends – all real women.
Remarkably, this was unheard of at the time because even in 1998 lingerie was still a male-dominated industry that did not test products on actual people.
The ideas phase helped Blakely tweak her product and make sure it was something women needed, wanted and would pay for. She understood her market and listened to what they were saying.
What she found was that women everywhere wanted to look good and have an easy, affordable, non-surgical way to smooth out their lumps and bumps in fitted clothing.
Blakely eventually got the product stocked by upmarket retailers like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman as well as being endorsed by Oprah Winfrey on TV.
Sales started flooding in almost instantly and the company has gone from strength to strength, achieving a turnover of $350million in 2013.
Not bad for a business started by a 27 year old novice with just $5,000 of personal savings!
In 2014, Blakely was listed by Forbes as the 93rd most powerful woman in the world.
This is a great testimony to developing someone else’s idea and making it better and more relevant. It’s about really knowing your ideal customer avatar, the person you are marketing to, and having the self-belief to follow your heart.
Hosiery was not new, neither was lingerie but Blakely understood what women wanted and gave it to them.
3. Brian Chesky rented out his air mattress and made cash
AirBnB is one of those great simple ideas that you wish you’d come up with!
It is a business that doesn’t hold stock or make or sell any products of its own (except for its website).
In case you don’t know, AirBnB is an online platform that connects homeowners with travelers looking for short-term vacation rentals.
It was started by flatmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia in 2008 when they moved to San Francisco and found they couldn’t afford to pay the rent on their apartment.
They hit on the idea of renting out their living room and providing bed and breakfast to guests who would pay for the privilege of sleeping on air mattresses.
The idea took off and they managed to raise $30,000 seed funding to develop their fledgling business and secure multiple rounds of investment over the years.
AirBnB earns the bulk of its revenue from service fees. It takes a 3% fee from the host and between 6%-12% fee from guests.
This is a simple yet genius idea that is very easy to scale because it relies on more and more guests and hosts joining its marketplace rather than the founders having to build hotels or own rooms themselves.
In just 6 years AirBnb has become an international phenomenon that is valued at $10billion and covers all kinds of property rentals from private homes and apartments to boats and igloos.
As you can see, these entrepreneurs built their businesses on simple ideas borne of their own needs or from what they observed around them.
They couldn’t find what they were looking for in the marketplace or they spotted a gap that no one else was filling so they went out and created a solution.
The same applies to you.
Instead of viewing your challenges in life as problems, why not flip them and see them as an opportunity or ideas that can be developed into a business?
Have you overcome a difficulty or solved a problem that could help others who are in the same position?
Your solution doesn’t have to be an actual product, it could be a digital one that gets downloaded or is done remotely via your computer.
You could share your knowledge, experience and expertise in the form of an information product like an ebook or an ecourse, or offer a service such as coaching, or even sell software.
The key thing is that it helps others and is something that people are willing to pay for.
Notice also the varying ages of each of these entrepreneurs. Some were very young, others were older when they got their ideas.
The important lesson here is that you are never too old to start.
These founders didn’t let age or for that matter a lack of knowledge, not enough money or “the competition” prevent them from running with their ideas.
What do you think about this infographic? Which of these entrepreneurs’ ideas has inspired you most? Please share your thoughts below.