Start a Business — 17 Ways to Find Startup Ideas

Coming up with an idea for a new business isn’t hard.

Or it shouldn’t be.

But a lot of people struggle to come up with the “right” idea. This is partly because entrepreneurs tend to overvalue business ideas and undervalue the effort it takes to turn them into successful companies. We want to find the right idea—the million dollar idea—that is certain to succeed.

But ideas don’t succeed by themselves. Hard-working entrepreneurs succeed. At least some of the time.

Million-dollar ideas are just ideas that someone has worked hard enough on to succeed. Sometimes they get lucky and the idea becomes a billion-dollar business.

Having said that, if you’re still looking for an idea to start a business with, here’s the most comprehensive list you’ll find anywhere. This isn’t a list of ideas for businesses that you can start today (like florist, cookie maker, or gutter cleaner). Those aren’t particularly valuable, in our opinion.

Rather, this is a list of ways to find the right idea for you—the places to look for startup inspiration. So check them out and get inspired:

Finding Business Ideas1. Search Google for “Business Ideas”.
Okay, this is pretty obvious. This approach to finding an idea for your startup is hit and miss. With a lot more misses than hits. You’ll find plenty of lists of ideas like: “55 Business Ideas You Can Start Today” and “101 Small Business Ideas”. The problem is that most of these ideas require specialized knowledge (bookkeeper, direct mail marketing service, and genealogist for instance) or have dubious prospects for turning a profit (candlemaker, cake decorator, and chimney sweep). Yes, all of those “business ideas” are included on the various lists Google turned up. They simply don’t apply to you. We even found a list that suggested “Lady Gaga Impersonator” as a viable business idea. Suffice it to say, this isn’t the most effective way to find an idea you’ll succeed with, but if you want to try it, here’s a list of 999 where you can start.

2. Turn Your Skills into Your Business
This one is easy. Turn your skills and time into money by creating a business around them.  Do you know how to create and program websites? Are you famous among your friends for being able to troubleshoot their computer problems? Can you write or design or create something others need or want? Do you have a collection of recipes you love to make? Do you have specialized skills using email, or PHP, or drupal, or preparing tax returns, or book keeping? If you have a skill that others are willing to pay for, you can turn it into a business.

3. Turn Your Knowledge into a Business
Do you know something valuable that others don’t know, but need? Then you might be able to turn that knowledge into a consulting business or create and sell content online (ebooks and educational courses). That’s what high school teacher, Rob Percival, did. He created several online web development course and an accompanying web hosting business. And made more than $3 million in less than a year. What do you know that you could teach others? Answer that and you have the beginnings of your startup.

Incidentally, we offer an online course that covers everything you need to know about logo design. It’s free. If interested, click the link.

Smart Ideas for Startups4. Watch for Good Ideas that Others Are Working On.
There are several services that collect the latest entrepreneurial thinking and business ideas and let the world know about them. Springwise is one. CoolBusinessIdeas and IdeasWatch are similar. You can sign up for regular emails or follow their RSS feeds. While you’ll find lots of solid ideas to start a business here, someone is already working on them, which means you’ll have competition if you decide tackle the same thing. But it’s also a good indication that there’s a market for the ideas you find there.

5. Watch for Good Ideas that Others Aren’t Working On Yet
Y Combinator has published several lists of ideas they wish entrepreneurs would tackle. Here is their latest one. Similarly, Requests for Startups is a regular email that focuses on what a particular investor is interested in funding and wants to see someone start working on. Most of these are very big ideas that a single founder is unlikely to take on. Here are a couple of other lists of ideas people say they want (some better than others): IdeaWishList, Lone Prairie, Wise Sloth.

6. Check out ProductHunt.
ProductHunt is a massive collection of existing products, apps, and software recommended by people to solve various problems. They’ll send you a daily email of new ideas every day. There are some great ideas here, but many could be improved upon. It’s those “could be better” ideas that you might consider turning into your own startup.

7. Get Ideas from the Future Before They Happen
Trend hunters are experts at evaluating and sometimes even predicting emerging trends before they become popular. Watching as trends develop and focusing your startup on meeting the needs they will soon create can be a great way to start a successful business. Check out Trendhunter and Faith Popcorn for ideas about what’s coming in the future.

Another Idea for Starting a Business8. Find a Co-founder with an Idea
Often you can find someone else who has a great idea, but doesn’t have all the skills to make it happen. If you have skills that compliment theirs and are willing to work on someone else’s idea, this can be a good option for founding a startup. Or you might find a startup idea that you can execute better than the person who came up with it. (Ideas aren’t copyright-able. If you can do it better, go for it.) Check out Founder2be, CoFounderLab, or FounderDating to find people working on new ideas.

9. Attend a Hack-a-thon
Hack-a-thons are meetups for people with programming, product development, and marketing skills or ideas that might become viable businesses. The purpose is to concept and build a basic product in a day or two (often working through the night). Most end with a presentation of each team’s product. Some result in real businesses. When you go, you’ll see lots of ideas that with a bit of tweaking, could be great businesses. You might even help create one.

10. Check Your Local University’s Tech Transfer Program
University researchers often invent new technologies that can be turned into viable businesses. But they don’t always have the business know-how to make those ideas successful. So, many universities have created tech transfer programs which license inventions and technologies to entrepreneurs and companies that can take the ideas to market. You’ll be partnered with the university and the inventor, but you’ll have access to patented technologies.

11. Consult the Yellow Pages or Wikipedia’s List of Occupations
You don’t need to re-invent the wheel or come up with something no one has ever done before in order to start a successful business. In fact, doing something that others have already proven works is a good way to give yourself a chance at success. Browsing the yellow pages or a list of occupations may spark an idea or open your eyes to existing businesses that you hadn’t considered before. If you live in a small town, are there businesses in larger cities that simply haven’t arrived in your area yet, but would be viable?

12. Review “Buy a Business” Sites
There are several websites designed to help people buy and sell their businesses: BizBuySell, BusinessMart, and Flippa are among the most popular. We’re not suggesting that you purchase one of these (though this may be the right way for some people to get into a business), rather visit these sites to get ideas you might use to start a business. One caution: many of these businesses are for sale because they haven’t been successful enough to earn a profit. So if you find your idea here, make sure you can make it work.

Bright Idea for a Startup13. Listen to Others
If you don’t have your own ideas for something to fix, listen to other people talk about their problems. Talk to customers and front line employees where you work today. What problems do they have that your current company isn’t meeting? Have your partner or spouse do the same where they work. What do they say takes too long, is too expensive, or doesn’t work like it should? What do they wish they had?

14. Reverse Assumptions and Think of an Old Business in a New Way
This is a great way to invent entirely new products and discover new customer needs. The inventor of the ATM asked, what would a bank look like if it didn’t have tellers? How would we do that? Jon Coon, co-founder of 1-800-CONTACTS, asked why people had to buy their contact lenses from their doctor (and pay a big mark up for the privilege). Think about the businesses you’re familiar with. Is there a different way to do things? How can technology improve the way they operate? Can you take an existing business online and create something better?

15. Turn Your Hobby or Passion into a Business.
If you have a hobby or pastime that others do for money, you could turn it into a business. Do you collect baseball cards, make t-shirts, or blow glass? Can you sell what you create or teach others how to do the same thing? Then your passion may be a potential business. But be careful, once you start making money doing what you love, you may find you don’t love it the same way. You might lose your hobby in order to start a business.

16. Read a Book
We’re big fans of reading, but to find great business ideas, you can’t read just any book. Start with The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideass and Make Them Happen, which promises to show you how to how to find the best ideas for you. Then check out The Business Idea Factory: A World-Class System for Creating Successful Business Ideas. These books, and others like them, will help you develop a habit of identifying new ideas that you could use to start a business.

The Very Best Way to Discover a Great Business Idea:

17. Find a Problem that Needs Solving.
Does something bug you? Not work right? Is there something you wish you had? Find a process that is broken, a food that doesn’t taste right, a market that isn’t being met, or something that works today, but could work better with a few tweaks. If you need a new product, there’s a good chance others will need it too.

Startup guru, Paul Graham, says it this way: “If you find something broken that you can fix for a lot of people, you’ve found a gold mine. As with an actual gold mine, you still have to work hard to get the gold out of it. But at least you know where the seam is, and that’s the hard part.”

There is a long list of successful entrepreneurs who have followed this path to success. A few examples:

Cliff Bar was invented by Gary Erickson after a 170 mile bike ride during which he ate five Powerbars. He was at the point of bonking and desperately needed energy, but he couldn’t choke down the processed goop of a sixth bar. His idea: a better tasting energy bar made from natural ingredients. Today Clif Bar is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Morgan Lynch was a marketing manager who needed a logo designed for a new insurance product he was launching. But after working several weeks with a design agency, then several more weeks with freelancers and still not getting a logo he loved, he started his own online design firm—which eventually evolved into Logomaker.

Tivo was invented by Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton in part to fix what was wrong with how video recorders work. Their invention allowed to change the way they watched tv—shifting viewing from when broadcasters aired content to when customers wanted to watch it. And allowed them to skip annoying commercials. You probably have a DVR connected to your television thanks to their foresight.

Many of the best new businesses are the result of fixing a problem.

 

Of course, as we mentioned above, coming up with the idea is actually the easy part. There are thousands of good ideas for businesses (and millions of bad ones). The real questions are:

Can you make money doing it?
Are you the right person to take on this idea?
Will anyone buy it?

Do you have another resource for finding great business ideas? Let us know in the comments!

 

Photo Credits: Sean MacEntee, A Bennettnhisman, C Potter.

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12 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from PluralSight Co-founder Arron Skonnard

Aaron Skonnard Startup QuotesAaron Skonnard’s first experience with a computer happened the day his father brought home an early model Apple computer. Together, they spent time learning how to code games for the machine. But at the time, neither could have imagined the impact that experience would have on the younger Skonnard. Years later, he co-founded PluralSight, an on-demand training company with a massive library of 3000+ videos focused on software development.

Pluralsight is one of those companies that is a ten-year, overnight success. Founded in 2004, the company’s founders bootstapped their growth for close to a decade, before taking more than $150 million in venture funding to fund several acquisitions—and they’ve been on a tear since.

Along the way, Skonnard has written several books (on programming) and was named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Utah area) in 2013. This year, Pluralsight was named the Utah Startup of the Year by Beehive Startups. Along the way, Aaron has shared a lot of advice about learning to code, building a great culture, and starting a business. Here are a few things he has said that we think are most inspiring:

“Because the world is moving so fast now that people who stand still will be passed by. Knowing more than the next person has become a major competitive advantage in every industry.”

“Coding is becoming a basic form of literacy—everyone should at least be exposed to it.”

“Although coding and computer science are still marginalized in the K-12 education system, it’s clear that the ability to code has become as important as other basic forms of literacy like reading and math.”

“You’ll find that when you let others tackle difficult decisions, they take on a lot more responsibility than you might expect.”

“It’s easy to focus on the glamor of entrepreneurship, as startup worship is turning a growing number of once Average Janes and Joes into global celebrities. But, the truth is, starting a business is incredibly hard work. Even the savviest entrepreneur can’t perfectly anticipate the challenges of growing a company.”

“Fear is an enemy of innovation. Fear-based cultures may temporarily make people work harder to avoid negative consequences, but in the long run, they make them less likely to take the type of risks that are necessary for new ideas and progress to flourish.”

“Make sure you’re fully invested in your cause since, after all, it’s what you will be eating, sleeping and breathing for several years… When we realized that passion would sustain us, we quit our day jobs and got to work.”

“In the startup world, venture capital brings peer validation, industry kudos, and much-needed cash flow to a young business. But taken too early, it can also dilute ownership, reduce autonomy, and weaken focus and resourcefulness, so the timing needs to be right.”

“Where you are today is a reflection of the education and skills that got you there. The question is, where do you want to be tomorrow? You won’t get there by coasting on what you already know.”

“The road to startup success is littered with the remains of companies that were either complacent or too comfortable with the status quo to pivot on their business models.”

“Bootstrapping at the start makes revenue and profit king, and keeps you connected to your company’s financial statement. Only when revenues and profitability increase do you then green-light new opportunities, more staff, increased risk-taking, and growth acceleration.”

“Hire people who are smarter than you. This point might bruise your ego but, in the words of Bill Nye, ‘Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.’ Companies stand to gain from bringing new perspectives, different backgrounds and brighter minds into the fold.”

—Aaron Skonnard, Author and Co-founder, Pluralsight

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Logo Design News This Week (5.9)

We’re back for another round-up of logo design news (something we’ve been doing on the blog for the past four and a half years or so). Looking for new logos, news about redesigns and such? This is the place. Here’s what caught our attention this week:

New Cleveland Browns Logo DesignLast week we told you the Cleveland Browns were due to release a new logo this week. And true to their word, they did just that on Tuesday. Sort of. Actually, the Browns don’t really have a logo, they have a color. So the helmet stands in as the icon. And the color is now a bit darker. The typography was also upgraded to something a little more bold. We like the changes. USAToday points out that the change to the helmet is barely worth mentioning. Favorite part of that article: “…you’re the Browns. Call it Brown. No one’s buying this orange nonsense.” The Dawg Pound (the team’s fan shop) also got a logo upgrade. This one is a bit more dramatic, with a fiercer looking, more abstract, dog icon. Other commenters point out that more than a new logo, the Browns need a new quarterback.

Speaking of new logs and football helmets, these are cool.

NYT Magazine Logo ChangeAnother big rebrand everyone seems to be talking about is the new masthead for The New York Times Magazine. And like the Browns logo above, most readers aren’t likely to notice. The new title (shown here on the bottom) is spaced better for easier reading. The rebranding effort also includes a shortened NYT MAG logo for use in small spaces, like social media.

Last year American Airlines got a new logo. Now the American Airlines Center gets its logo facelift (it takes about 42 seconds).

New Late Late Show Logo DesignWe’ve seen lots of changes in the late night television roster in the past year or two. And with James Corden ready to take over for Craig Ferguson, it was time for a new logo. The show’s executive producer says they “are really pleased with the logo”. But what else is he going to say? It’s a pretty dramatic switch from the previous logo and emphasizes the host’s name as much as the show. We kind of like the neon elements, giving it a slightly seedy feel (which is the kind of thing late nights ought to feel like).

The Heisman Club has a new logo design.

New Mesa Airlines Logo DesignGenerally companies with bad logos have an opportunity to upgrade and improve the designs they use for marketing when they announce a new logo. But that’s not the case with Mesa Airlines, which had an awful logo before, and didn’t improve much with the “upgrade”. The company has traded a design that looked like it was created with Microsoft Paint for something using design elements pulled from the 8os. A missed opportunity for improvement. On the other hand, Mesa flies planes under the banner of its partner (United Airlines), so this logo likely won’t be seen by most members of the public.

Direct Mail company, Valpak, has rebranded itself with a new look with a happy homes icon.

New Curling Canada LogoWe tend to like what many Americans think of as weird sports—cycling, soccer, and perhaps weirdest of all (and maybe not even a sport), curling. So we took notice of this cool new logo design for Curling Canada that was released this past week. A very simple design with strong typography. It also draws on a tradition of using shields in logos, patches, and banners for provincial curling clubs throughout the country. It’s a good look that we like.

The MTV Movie Awards has a new (hand-painted?) logo.

Royal Albert Hall LogoOur favorite logo from the past week is this new design introduced for The Royal Albert Hall, London’s most famous and most celebrated concert hall. The icon uses the reds and golds from the hall’s interior decor. The design is a bit trendy, using layers of colors to create the shape of the hall, but we like it none the less. Now if we could only get tickets to an upcoming performance.

Did we miss anything you saw? Let us know in the comments.

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Start a Business — How to Set Up a Website

Last week, in our post about how to build your first product, we mentioned that we would take a more in-depth look at how to create a website. If you’re ready to start a business, you’ll want to set up a website so customers can find you online.

How to set up a websiteBefore we walk you through the steps to create a free standing site, you should first consider if that’s the right option for you. There are several companies that provide simple website maker software (that link goes to the Logomaker website tool) that helps you get set up in 10-15 minutes and also provides an easy tool for adding content for less than $25/month. That’s a great basic option for those who need it. You might want to check it out before reading on. If you’re looking for something more customizable and easier to grow (say, if you need to add a blog), then the rest of this post is for you.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to setting up your business website (we’ve tried to keep things very basic so anyone can follow these steps and get online today):

1. Choose a Web Host and Get a Domain Name
Before you can attract customers to your website, you need to choose a web host and a name for your site. Your web host is the company that will store your website files and make sure that customers can see your website when they search for it.

Your domain name (also called a URL) is simply the name of your website. The best domain name for you is your business name (www.yourbusiness.com). But chances are, your company name is already taken. (For more about choosing a name, read this.)

Not to worry, if your preferred name isn’t available, there are several ways to make a slightly different name work. If your company is called Home Made Fudge and homemadefudge.com is not available, you might look for an alternate like: tryhomemadefudge.com or gethomemadefudge.com, or homemadefudgekitchen.com. This is a chance to be a bit creative and find a great name for your website.

It’s a good idea to get a domain with either your company name or product name in it. If your company name is Atlas Consulting, but atlasconsulting.com isn’t available, don’t settle for something completely unrelated like, northwestadvisors.com, just because its available. The two really should match because your company name will be one of the primary ways your customers will search for you online.

Also, be sure to purchase the .com version of your name. This is what people search for and what search engines deliver most often. People tend to think .com addresses are more credible than other choices. So do search engines. If your preferred name is available with a .biz, .net, or another TLD (top level domain—what the end of your web address is called), you can buy it if you want it. But the .com address is what you are really after.

How do you buy your domain? Your web host will help you purchase it. We really like Bluehost (they’re inexpensive and dependable), but you can usually use any other web hosting company to buy your domain. Simply visit their site and start the purchase process. Select a hosting package (the basic package is likely enough right now), then you’ll have the option of searching for an available domain name and buying it along with the hosting package. Buying your domain name from your web host makes it easy to keep them all connected without using a domain forwarding service.

The purchase of your domain name will cost around $10 to register for two years. Your hosting plan will depend on the options you choose but will start around $4/month.

content management system2. Set Up a Content Management System
This sounds more difficult than it is. Your content management system is simply software that makes it easy to add text and photos to your website, without having to worry about writing HTML or CSS.

If you’ve chosen Bluehost as your web host, you can install WordPress with the click of a button. Bluehost does the work for you and also installs the basic WordPress theme so your website already has a default design. Bluehost has video instructions on how to do this from your control panel. Other web hosting companies will have similar options and tutorials.

We like WordPress in part because of how easy it is to use, but also because of the thousands of developers who have created unique themes, widgets, and plugins that make your website more useful. If you have trouble with your site, it’s easy to find help online or from a programer who is familiar with WP. It’s also easy to integrate Google Analytics and webmaster tools so you can track basic performance metrics. And upgrading can be automatic. But there are other content management systems if you don’t like WordPress—Joomla, Drupal, and Ghost come to mind. Several of them can be installed on your site with a single click of a button. Check with your web host. We won’t go into a side by side comparison here, but you should be able to easily find a content manager that you are comfortable with.

3. Choose a Theme
The theme is what gives your website it’s look. You’ll want to choose one that looks right for the kind of business you are in. And, this is where things get hard. Not because it’s technically difficult, it’s actually quite easy. Rather, it’s tough to pick a theme from thousands of great options out there. You’ll probably find several that you like.

Not only are there lots of beautiful designs to choose from, you can also pick between free and paid themes—both offer good options. The advantage of choosing a paid theme is that they often come with support from the creator, just in case anything goes wrong or you need simple changes. Choose whichever option is best for your needs.

There are two ways to install a theme. You can look online (Elegant Themes is a good place to start), or simply do a search for “wordpress theme.” Then download the theme you like to your computer and upload those files to WordPress (into the /wp-content/themes/ file).

Or, you can log into the WordPress account you just set up, click the Appearance button on the left side of the page, then select Themes, and click the Add New button. This will allow you to search for a new theme from hundreds within WordPress. Not all themes are available this way, (including most paid themes), but there are a lot of choices there that might work.

Once you have your theme uploaded (or downloaded), activate it (by clicking the Activate button) and it will show up on your site. You will need to add photos and copy to make the site reflect your company’s identity, but you are now live online. There are a lot of things you can add to your site depending on the theme (like widgets that will allow you to put links or other information in a sidebar or footer). Click around and explore what you can do with your site.

Set up Google Analytics4. Set Up Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics
While this step is optional, it is a very good idea to add these services to your website so you can see what your customers do when they visit your site, where they come from, the words they used to find you, and what pages they leave from. You can monitor your traffic and more easily discover any problems your site is having.

Before you can add these services to your website, you’ll need to set up an account at Google. Create a free Analytics account here (just the basics, not premium). Once that’s set up, you can add a webmaster account with the same log-in information by clicking here. You can create a Bing Webmaster account here.

Once you have the accounts set up, you’ll need to download the tracking ID or tracking code for each service you set up. This does two things—it lets Google know the website is really yours (you prove you have access to your site when you put the code on the pages) and it allows Google or Bing to collect data about what’s happening on your site.

After you have the tracking codes, you’ll need to download a WordPress plugin that adds the code to each page on your site. There are dozens to choose from. We use Yoast’s SEO plugin, but you could use Insert Header and Footer or something similar. Just search WordPress plugins (the link on the left side of your WP account) for Google Analytics to find one that works for you. Then activate it for your site and add the IDs or codes.

Now when you log back into your webmaster tools pages or analytics, you’ll see the data that the code collects (this may take 24-48 hours to update).

5. Set Up Your Professional Email
Nothing says amateur faster than someone with an email address from AOL, yahoo, hotmail, or gmail. Now that you have your domain set up, you can add a professional looking email to your account. You simply do this by logging into your host account and following the instructions for adding an email address. If you purchased your domain from your web host, this will be relatively easy. Just follow the instructions, then add your account to your desktop email software or phone.

That’s it. Follow the step above and you can start a business or at least, set up the website, in less than an hour and for something less than $100. And you don’t need to know how to do any programming. Of course, if you get stuck or aren’t confident in your abilities to do the above, you can always reach out to someone to help. But don’t wait any longer.

There’s never been a better time to get your business online.

If you found these instructions hard to follow, you might check this site out.

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10 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal

Neil Blumenthal Startup QuotesNeil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, co-founded their startup, Warby Parker, because they saw a potential hole in the eye-wear market. A new pair of fashionable eye glasses cost $500 or more—pricing most consumers out of the market. They thought that if they could create their own designs and brand (as opposed to licensing other fashion brands) and selling directly to customers online, they could create a successful company and lower the cost of glasses significantly. And they were right.

An initial flood of positive PR brought so many orders in the first week, they could barely handle them—they hit their first year’s sales targets in just three weeks. By the fourth week, the startup was completely sold out of their top 15 models.

It was important to Blumenthal and Gilboa to practice a version of the buy-one-give-one model that has propelled other socially conscious company’s (like Tom’s Shoes) into the lime light. When you purchase a pair of WP glasses, they work with third-world entrepreneurs in more than three dozen countries to sell a second pair (at very low prices) to customers making less than $4 a day. They don’t give them away, instead they help people create businesses that provide this needed service (and economic development).

Here are a few things Mr. Blumenthal has said that we think will inspire others who are starting businesses today:

“Creating an artificial distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ has never done the trick for me. It’s a boundary that I associate more with 1950s sitcoms than with today’s work environment. Because we spend most of our lives working, it’s so important that your work be your life’s passion. When that’s the case, there’s no need to institute a separation.”

“It comes down to execution. And you’re only going to execute at the highest level if you have the support of your network… and they can only support you if they know what you’re working on.”

“While brushing my teeth every night I rewind and think about all the stuff I didn’t do during the day. If there are any huge, looming tasks, I try to accomplish them before I go to bed. Then I take the rest of the ‘To-Do’s and make a list that I swear to myself I’ll tackle first thing in the morning.”

“When you look at the reasons people leave companies, it’s usually because their boss is a jerk or because they aren’t learning and growing. So we spend a lot of time developing leaders internally and creating learning opportunities.”

“Either I have a healthy dose of optimism or a pervasively deluded view of the world. Whichever it is, I still believe and act as though I can do it all. It leads to a lot of running, I derive energy from a frenetic pace. I tend to surround myself with people who share a certain optimistic vision of the world—people more apt to ask why than why not.”

“It’s through vulnerability that human beings create connections. The more vulnerable we can be with one another, the more that we’ll trust one another and the more we’ll be able to collaborate effectively.”

“Sometimes it takes outsiders to look at an industry and say, hey, this is broken, or this isn’t working and to come in and disrupt it.”

“If we’re able to demonstrate that you can be profitable and can [do] good, hopefully we can inspire other entrepreneurs to do the same. It’s not about the amount of wealth you can accumulate or the amount of profits you can drive, it’s about the impact and change that you can create. ”

“We want to create a model for how a for-profit company should behave, because we believe they should be stakeholder centric, they should be thinking about customers and employees, and the community, and the environment, in the same way that they think about shareholders.”

“We think a lot about being a disruptive company. The question is, How do you remain a disruptive company? How do you create a culture of innovation? The first way is actually asking for innovation. A lot of companies don’t expect or ask their team members to come up with ideas, but we demand it.”

—Neil Blumenthal, Co-founder of Warby Parker

 

 

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Logo Design News This Week (5.8)

As always on Fridays here at Logomaker, we take a look back at the biggest news (and some not-so-big news) from the world of logo design. Here’s all the stuff that caught our eye this past week:

New Minneapolis Logo DesignIt looks like Minneapolis will be getting a new logo soon. The city’s communication department has done “extensive research on the best practices in brand identity for large organizations and businesses”. What exactly does that mean? Isn’t this the kind of thing a city hires an agency for? Or a competent marketing director? The new logo drops one of the sail boats, shrinks the icon, and updates the type treatment. The new logo is an improvement, if a small one.

The American Samoan National Olympic Committee has a new logo.

National Watermelon Association Logo DesignThe National Watermelon Association has a new logo this week (and a new website to go along with it). The design features a swoosh, which is a design element we saw a lot ten years ago. The NWA likes that element because “…it indicates the global nature of our industry.” We’re not sure that’s what swooshes do, but they like it. We think the mark would be stronger without it. We especially don’t like the way the swoosh forces the seeds apart unevenly.

Bringing you tomorrow’s logo news today… the Cleveland Browns are set to announce a new logo next week. We’ll bring it to you when they do.

Charlotte Independence Logo DesignRegular readers of the blog know we love sports logos—especially minor league baseball. Minor league soccer is a close second, which is why we took note of the new logo for the Charlotte Independence which will start playing its first season is the USL this year. We told you about the new USL logo last week. There’s a lot to like about this shield logo—the type treatment, and the shield with soccer ball. Even the minute man icon is good, though it looks a little front heavy. Over all a very nice design.

What’s with the D in the Disney logo? This is pretty interesting.

Google Volta Logo DesignAnd we wrap up the week with one of many new Google logos we saw this week, including new logo designs for Valentines Day, the 50th Anniversary of the Canadian Flag, and Carnival. But we really liked this design celebrating the 270th birthday of Alessandro Volta, the guy who invented the battery.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

 

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Welcome Escape School Fans.

Escape SchoolIf you’re visiting from our guest post as the Escape School, welcome.

While you’re here, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (up there on the right side of this page).

A couple other things you might want to check out:

Our weekly inspirational quotes from successful entrepreneurs.

Our new series on Starting a Business here, here, here, and here.

Our logo design application (create your own logo in minutes).

Thanks for visiting.

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Start a Business — Building Your Product

Here’s How not to Start a Business:

You’ve got a great idea for a product or service that you know everyone will want as much as you do. So you sketch it out on paper and get to work building it for the next few months. Maybe its a web application or a product you can sell through a retail store. Maybe its a service and you’re working out the positioning. It doesn’t matter. This is a great idea. And you’re busy creating it.

Build a BusinessOnce you’ve got the first version done, you show it to a few friends who offer suggestions on how to make it better. Great! You go back to your product and work for another couple of months. These are all good suggestions worth adding and they make the product a lot better. Once you’ve completed the revisions, you’re ready to show it to a potential customer. And you’re pretty sure they’ll buy it—in part because of all the great additions you’ve made to the first version.

The presentation goes well. Your customer likes the idea and the progress you’ve made so far, but it’s not quite right for them. So they suggest a few changes and ask you to re-engineer things so your product matches their own internal processes. Once that’s done, they can take another look and figure out if it is something they will buy.

The feedback is really helpful. You learn how your product can fit in a real-world situation, so you go back to work, adding the new suggestions and reworking things to fit their process. It takes a few more months, but the time invested is worth it because you are building something that a customer says they want and might even buy.

By now you’ve made a lot of progress…

You’ve got a product that you like, your friends like, and a potential customer says they might buy.

But you have no commitments. And, more importantly, no sales.

You want to start a business but all you’ve done so far is spend several months building something no one is buying.

What You Should Do Instead

Too many founders start by creating a solution to a problem. Instead they should be asking: How painful is the problem? Will anyone pay for the solution I can build? And most importantly, can I build a sustainable business around my solution?

Experts like Eric Ries recommend that you build an MVP—a minimal viable product. Ask how minimal and he’d say, “Probably more minimal than you think!”

The idea is to build something that is the bare-minimum required to sell it. In fact, you may not even need to build an actual product to prove your concept. But you do need to create something so customers can see how things would work.

Let’s say you want to start a business selling home-made fugde. (We used this example in our post about figuring out if you can make a profit with your startup idea).

FudgeYou know in order to make a living at this, you need to sell about 300 boxes of fudge a month. And you can’t sell a box of fudge without boxes (and fudge) so you could spend money on packaging and ingredients, make the product, and then put up a website or start shopping it around to local restaurants.

Don’t do this.

Instead, put up a one page website with a good sales message for your fudge. We would recommend you spend more time crafting the message on the page than you spend actually building the website. Next week we’ll write about the specifics of setting up a simple website online, but for now, this will suffice: Find a web host and purchase a domain (we use blue host for many of our sites), install WordPress and add a free or low-price template. Then add photos of your product and an appropriate sales message.

Note: you still haven’t spent a penny on making fudge or packaging.

Now it’s time to go to work. Using your website as a base, reach out to as many potential customers as possible on social media: Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, Stumbleupon, and anywhere else you can get someone to notice you. Ask your friends and family to share you page. Now is not the time to be shameless. (Joel Gascoigne of Buffer wrote about how he did it in a post worth reading here.)

You may also want to run a few very inexpensive ads in Adwords, Bing, or the Amazon Ad Network. (We wrote a bit about that process here). The idea is to drive real customer traffic to your site so you can see real customer behavior.

You’re not looking for people to tell you what a good idea you have.

Ask them to buy.

If they don’t buy, ask them, why?

Is the price too high? Do they already have a preferred fudge brand? Do they like or dislike the flavors you offer? Is the idea of shipping fudge to their home odd? Where would they expect to buy your product? What kind of packaging do they expect? What do they think of the brand name you chose?

With an MVP, you are trying to learn everything you can about your customer, the market for your product, what customers want to know before they buy, how they want their product delivered, what flavors they would pay for, and on and on.

At this point you may learn that while people like your idea, they’re not willing to buy it online. So you might adjust your go-to-market plan and start pitching your fudge to shops and eateries around town. Or perhaps people expect to pay less. Can you lower the price and still make enough to stay in business? Can you add something to increase the perceived value of your product? It’s even possible that people don’t really want to buy fudge for themselves, but they will pay more for gourmet fudge as a gift for special occasions. So you might raise your price, rework the messaging on your web page, and try again.

You should split test your product offer by sending web traffic to different pages with different features, different pricing, and different copy. Learn what works and what doesn’t.

If you get an order or two at this stage, you can choose to make a small batch and send it to your customers, or you could cancel the order with apologies until you are truly ready to launch. (See how the Buffer team handled this in that link above).

Learn What Works, Then Fine Tune Your Product

Tuning KnobOnce you figure out what works, you can then start adding new features and fine tuning your product to appeal to more/specific customers. You’ll start making money, which helps pay for the added features and product updates you will want to make. Michael Cho wrote about that process for Ooomf here (another link worth reading).

Okay, we can hear you saying… easy enough for a product like fudge, but what if I want to start a business that only works when it’s up and running. What about an idea that connects job seekers to job opportunities (a sort of a Tinder for employment)? You need more than a simple web page for that, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. Read the post about Ooomf at that last link.

Start by creating your web page. And again, spend a lot of time on getting the messaging right. You’ll need to figure out what kind of information you would collect from you potential customers and probably need a mechanism for uploading a resume and cover letter. This idea requires a bit more work on the web site, but not a lot.

Once the site is ready, go to work promoting it everywhere. As potential customers visit your site and give their information, it’s now up to you to create the experience they are looking for. Because your website isn’t up and running yet, you will need to find job openings to present to them (by searching the web and other job sites, contacting recruiters, and then sending an individualized email to your customers with the results, for example).

The idea here is to simulate your business idea as closely as possible without actually spending time or money building it until after you know customers will pay for your service. To your customers, it looks like the website is doing the work, but in reality it is you putting things together offline.

Once customers are paying you for the service, then start building the product.

Why Building an MVP is a Good idea

1. An MVP allows you to prove your business before you invest a lot of time and money into it. The benefit here is obvious, why spend time building something you can’t turn into a profitable business? If it isn’t working, get out and try something else.

2. An MVP allows you to figure out processes and features that you can’t predict before you have customers. Because you haven’t invested a lot into a specific process or product, you’re not locked into something you can’t easily change. Customers won’t buy fudge for delivery? Okay, let’s try a different distribution system. Job Applicants won’t pay more than $25 for access to your job list? Okay, let’s test different pricing and access levels. Maybe we can add a free resume service to increase the value.

3. An MVP allows you to pivot to related ideas quickly. The idea of pivoting from a bad idea to a better one is popular in the startup world. But the fact is, if you have invested time and resources into a particular solution, changing course is hard. You’ve got so much invested in the old idea that it is hard to let go. With an MVP, changes are much easier to stomach. Let’s say we learn people think fudge is a luxury gift, not something they buy every week. Maybe we can add cookies, brownies, and other treats to encourage more buying. Or perhaps we can create a gifting service that makes sure a customer’s loved ones receive a special treat on every birthday and anniversary. The possibilities are open because we didn’t invest too quickly in our first idea and now need to make it work.

4. An MVP helps you maximize your chances for success. By getting real customer feedback (not just people saying they like your idea) and real customers paying for your product, you vastly increase your chances of success. And if you fail, you cut your losses before they cost you anything. The feedback comes before its too late to make changes. And you learn what features your customers want, and just as importantly, what they don’t want.

You could spend a lot of time building what you think your customers want. Or could do it right and build a minimum viable product, then learn what your customers want before you spend your time and money fine tuning your profitable business.

 

Photo credit: Fudge by Jennifer, tuning knob by Michael Rosenstein.

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10 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Amelia Humfress, Founder of Steer.me

Amelia Humfress QuotesAmelia Humfress started her career as a marketing intern at Jimmy Choo, the designer shoe company. While looking for a way to learn how to code, she discovered that easy, accessible coding classes were harder to find than one would think. Which is where the idea for her company, Steer.me, came from: make it easy to learn how to code. Today Steer offers courses in HTML, CSS, iOS, Rails, and JQuery. And perhaps just as notable, during the last three months of 2014, Steer was teaching front end development to more women than men.

That’s pretty impressive for a founder who is just 25 years old. Ms. Humfress raised just £100,000 (roughly $150,000) in seed funding and had revenues over £400,000 in her first year. With that kind of success, the company may not have to raise another penny. With that kind of success, it’s no surprise that Ms. Humfress has been named one of the UK’s Top Digital Women Under 50 (though one assumes the women aren’t actually digital) and Steer was named one of the best places to learn to code by The Observer in its first year and is one of the 2014 UK Startups 100.

We find Ms. Humfress’ success and work in encouraging more women to learn engineering inspirational. Here are a few things she’s said that we think other startups and entrepreneurs will be inspired by:

“I really needed someone to tell me to stop finding excuses and just do it. I think that especially for women, it’s often a lack of confidence that can hold you back when you just need to stop doubting yourself.”

“You get to dive straight into the interesting challenges and do something different every day, rather than just making the tea!”

“I love seeing young women who have built something against the odds. Every time I read about a woman achieving her own personal definition of success, I’m inspired.”

“My aim is to make technology education accessible. I also hope to encourage more women to consider engineering as a career and to start their own businesses.”

“Design plays a critical role in the success of a product or service. If your product looks like crap, it doesn’t really matter how well it works—people are not going to love using it.”

“Coding is super-creative. It’s all about taking an idea and figuring out how to build it and writing lines of code to make it a reality.”

“If you can code, you understand how your designs will come to life and what’s within the realms of possibility. You understand the terminology so you’re able to communicate your ideas to developers. You know how much things should cost. You can build your own designs, which opens up more projects and gives you a higher earning potential.”

“If you don’t mess anything up, you’re not going to be learning.”

“We do see the stereotype of the young programmer, the young hacker changing the world, but we’ve had people learn to code with us who are over 50 and I don’t think that it’s necessary that you have to be young to program.”

“If you can send an email, and you can attach a document, then you can learn to code… it’s just like the first time you learn to swim. It’s just something new. It’s just different from what you’re used to. But you can still learn.”

—Amelia Humfress, Founder and CEO of Steer.me

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Logo Design News This Week (5.7)

It’s Friday again (and in the states the beginning of a long holiday weekend). And that means you’re likely in a hurry to leave the office. Before you go, here’s a quick round up of the logo design news that caught our attention this week:

WalletHub Logo DesignTake a look at the green and white W logo to the right. It’s for Wallet Hub, though you’ve likely never heard of it before. What does it make you think of? Probably not the Washington Nationals, which use a white W on a blue background. Or the Chicago Cubs, who fly a blue W on w white flag when the team wins. Or for that matter the logos for Walgreens or W Hotels. But the MLB (Major League Baseball or maybe, Major League Bullies) thinks that’s exactly what you’ll think. So they’re locked in a trademark dispute over the use of a letter. What’s really funny is the W used by the Nationals doesn’t look anything like the W used by WalletHub. And the cubs use their W on a flag, which no one sees. Maybe this is why no one watches baseball anymore.

Speaking of reusing trademarks, SportsLogos points out that hockey’s Ontario Reign has reused the old Los Angeles Kings logo. Yep, pretty much. But it’s intentional.

New Seattle Police Logo DesignThis week we noticed a couple of new shield/crest logos at BrandNew. The first is an update to the Seattle Police logo, which removed the way-too-complex shield within a shield and replaced it with a profile (or is that a mug shot?) of Chief Sealth, for whom the city was named. The new crest is an improvement in our opinion, as we generally prefer simplicity over complexity. The other new shield logo unveiled this week is for the University of Texas at Austin. The new logo adds a shield and keeps the emphasis on Texas. Given the number of logos used by the different schools and colleges at the university, the new logo is an effort to unify the graphic standards at the school—almost always a good idea.

Is $50,000 too much to spend on a logo? Yes, it is. There are much more affordable logo options out there. We think $50 is about right.

Libertarian Party of Nevada Logo DesignThe Libertarian Party of Nevada has a new, crowd-sourced logo. Or at least the beginnings of one, as the party says the size and colors of the elements may change a bit. And it’s not bad. We see the L. And the flames which, we assume, represent the flame of Lady Liberty’s torch. And we agree with the party that this icon needs a bit of tweaking. The lettering is traditional and trustworthy, exactly the kind of ideals a political party might want to project. On the other hand, it resembles a Christian church logo, especially the Methodist Church logo, which is maybe not the kind of thing the Libertarian Party is going for.

The USA Rice Federation has a new logo design. Now be honest: who knew there was a USA Rice Federation?

United Soccer League Logo DesignThe United Soccer League, currently the “C” league in the states, has a new logo and is applying for Division 2 status (which is currently held by the NASL). The new logo comes in a variety of colors representing the different teams in the league. This year the league will debut with 13 new teams, more than half of which are owned by Major League Soccer clubs. The affiliates will be able to loan players back and forth, effectually setting up a farm team system. We’d prefer to see club levels set up to allow for relegation, but for now we’ll watch to see if the USA can support this much club soccer profitably.

We’re digging this new logo for cycling company Wiggle.

Freeview Logo DesignThe United Kingdom’s subscription-free television service, Freeview, announced a new logo this week. The company is jointly owned by several networks including the BBC, ITV, and BSkyB. The new logo is a big change. It retains the brand’s red color, but adds a subtle gradient of purple and yellow. The logo also shifts from a “billboard” to an icon and letter mark. We don’t love the icon, but the type is nice. The new logo accompanies the launch of a new television-on-demand service.

Little House on the Prairie Google LogoWe wrap up the week with Google’s logo design celebrating the 148th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or as Pa called her, “half-pint”. She is best known as the author of the Little House on the Prairie books.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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