"Don't have ideas." That can't be true, can it?

I’ve gotten really curious lately about people who say they want to own their own business but insist they “don’t have ideas.” That can’t be true, can it? Isn’t it more likely that they do have ideas but they just think their ideas are too crappy or too hard?

Presumably everyone here has had their share of ideas. Why do you think people say they don’t have any of their own? Please tell me what you think. (Here or on the Google Doc survey I put up.)

Better still, if you know people that say, “I can’t come up with a business idea,” would you mind asking them to take the survey? (No, I’m not selling anything. I’m seriously just looking for info.)


Hey Brandi,

I filled out the survey, but I think it needs a bit more of an explanation. I do have ideas, however most of them just seem unfeasible. Here is a list of common issues I have:

  • They have no easy to identify business model, or will only have a very small income stream. Idea: A bus timetable app that works everywhere.
  • They are not easily bootstrappable / they’ll require too much up front development. This rules out most b2c ideas which usually require a ‘critical mass’. Idea: An insurance comparison site for long term travellers.
  • They are in a market I know little about and/or it looks very difficult to enter. Idea: HR related SaaS products.
  • They have competitors and I don’t really see how I could improve that drastically so customers would choose my product over my competitors. Idea: Backup service for Wordpress.

At the moment I’m a freelancer. I make a good living, and am flexible where and when I work, but I would like to build some products so my income isn’t directly related to the number of hours I work. I guess I’m kind of waiting for the ‘perfect idea’, I’ve never done sales / marketing so that isn’t really a strong point for me.

Hope this helps!


I have so many ideas I can’t handle them. I wouldn’t say that they “suck” but I have no way to validate them. I need access to a group of people (e.g. a group of restaurant owners/gym owners/lawyers/dentists/whatever) so that I can learn about what their problems are and how their work flow happens before I am in a position to come up with a valid idea.

How to get “in” with such a group is what I’m struggling with and I don’t believe I can go into business and start working on something until I have that group.


I’m with you on that @Layla, I have too many ideas that it kills my momentum sometimes. Some of them are more monetizable than others, but I still want to build all of them.

I think many people who don’t possess the required skills to bring an idea to life, often feel trapped and helpless. I imagine I would have much fewer ideas, if I did not already understand what was feasible for me to build or not.


Ideas, like anything else take practice. I have a few friends that say “I don’t have any ideas” or “I’m not technical enough”, and my usual response is, that there are whole worlds of undiscovered business ideas out there (and even more that are already working, that just need to be tweaked for a different market or location). They don’t all require being technical either.

I advise them to buy a little mini moleskin notebook and write down three business ideas a day, without regard for size, feasibility in execution, etc. Just write down ideas. It trains the brain to always be on the lookout for ways that you can trade your skills for money. Eventually you’ll stumble on something that excites you, is something you can manage, and has an addressable market with a real need.

Now, I find no one takes that advice. Usually because “I don’t have ideas” is a rationalization for sticking with the status quo. I don’t knock that mindset by the way. Building a business is a scary proposition and it takes time to build up the motivation to take action, and some will never get there…and again, that’s perfectly OK.

If you’re sufficiently motivated, not having ideas isn’t the problem, ideas will be all over the place. Like @Layla said, the problem is filtering those ideas based on execution risk and potential upside (however you want to define those two dimensions).

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Hey @lucaspiller, thank you so much for taking the time to reply both here and there! I’m not sure how many more ideas like these you have but I wonder if it would be helpful if you laid them all out and looked for something that ties them (or most of them) together. Something they each have in common - however obscure.

If there does end up being a common factor, knowing what that is may present alternate routes to go about finding your ‘perfect idea’ instead of having to wait for it. Let me know if you decide to do that and what you come up with.

Oh @Layla, I hear ya. I am inundated with ideas too. Most of them are things I’d not personally be interested in pursuing but they flood in anyway whether I’m currently working on something or not. I just write it down and tuck it away until I have time and the need to revisit it.

When you say you “need access to a group of people” do you mean in person or online? See if this article from Jason Cohen’s blog resonates with you. It talks about cold calling but I’m suggesting it more for the “how I got them to talk to me” aspect. I don’t think the method of initial contact is relevant. Let me know if that’s the kind of access you were referring to.

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Isn’t that frustrating?!

I’ve worked for myself from home for 16(ish) years and I tend to get questions from various friends and relatives. Usually it’s at the times they are most frustrated with their current situation that they’ll ask things like, “How can I do what you do?” It took me a while to figure out they didn’t actually mean, “How can I bust my ass like you do.” Seems they think I’ve got it easy since I don’t “have to have a real job.”

How’s the saying go? “Entrepreneurs… the only people who will work 80 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40.” Some people just don’t get that.

Ah, but you can work any 80 hours you like. ;0)


I have plenty of ideas, but none of them I believe in. I find it easier to believe in a person who has an idea they believe in. I am technical, I can code some stuff, make the ideas reality, but I don’t often really believe in an idea. My ideas are crappy, hard, or outside of my experience area. Or I feel the market is saturated and I don’t bring anything new to the table, no twist.

I do a lot of contracting for this reason, I’m cynical with the amount of idea failures I’ve seen, and it pays every* time to take a work for hire job. I still want to work on something big, but I’m just looking for that idea I believe in enough. My most successful personal project wasn’t my idea at all, but the idea person believed in it, and I believed in them.

I know she isn’t for everyone, but Amy Hoy has this to say on ideas (in her email course):

An idea is a terrible thing to build a business on.

A “Great Idea™” will make you its bitch.

Everything you do will become about the idea: You’ll worry that it’ll get stolen. That somebody else will launch the idea before you do. That the idea is not good enough. That it’s too big, or too small. That you’ll finish your product and ship it and find out that… it was the wrong idea.

And will anybody pay for it, anyway?


There are tons of real opportunities, undiscovered or just not imagined.

I come from a technical background (BS in Comp. Science) but I am pretty sure a lot of what I’ll say could be taken elsewhere, not just living on the web.

It depends on what result you want from your idea: make money or make someone’s life a bit easier. I feel like it is not easy to make these two overlap in good proportion or it could take some time to figure out how to blend the two together.

As I’ve been building over 30 products in the past 2 years (many failures, some big successes too) I have realized quite a few important points:

  • You can create a new industry by merging two existing industries. Take for example 3d printing and IT support. You come up with “tech support for 3D printer owners”. This isn’t out there to my knowledge but I am using it for an illustration that by merging 2 existing areas you can end up at something new that might prove profitable.
  • Many new industries follow a pattern that has happened before. When something new hits the market, it is a matter of finding a similarity to something that came out in the past and catching up to the new product’s future (being ahead of everybody) by drawing parallels. Accessories for electric cars, for google glass, android watch, any new gadget - these are potentially a huge market.
  • Competition isn’t bad and shouldn’t stop you from pursuing the idea. The fact that somebody is already doing what you intend to do only means that this area is successful. Because I like to make existing things better, I can look at a product and instantly say what could be done to improve the product or usability of it. Now, only I would have the vision for this improvement so I could care less about competition and proceed with building my idea.
  • Finding the tools/resources that allow you to make ideas into reality could make or break your success. Since I am in tech world for me it was important to find a “framework” that allowed me to quickly prototype and validate my ideas without relying on other people. I don’t know how to apply this to the world outside of tech yet but I intend to learn and verify that connections/resources could allow me to go outside of the web to build what I want.

What do you think about these points? Are any of them something new to you or something else?


Your first three points are mentioned often by those trying to encourage others who are seeking ideas. The problem I have with them is not that they are wrong - just that they are vague and honestly it seems like the only people who can “do them” are the people who already do them naturally. Everyone else is left thinking, “OK, but how…” At least that’s what I am hearing from people so far.

As for the fourth point, I’m not sure I follow what you are saying. If you mean people should build tools their customers perceive as “make or break” tools then taking that offline is a matter of looking for aspirations people have in the offline world, examining the routes they currently take to achieve them and looking for opportunities to streamline that process for them via some tool or alternate process you create.

Thank you for your feedback.

I think the “how” is a bit difficult to pass on through a computer screen with one short post. It is something that takes time to build up and maybe you can exercise that trait by paying attention to the weaknesses/deficiencies of methods, tools, products that you use daily. Can you find a tiny improvement in something around you? Can you find new uses for old things? Would the chair that you are sitting on be better if it had “x”? In my opinion lights, phones, laptops, cars, architecture, etc - everything could be improved or “blended” together with and object from another industry and the only limit is imagination. In that case maybe training imagination/creativity is something that we need? A book that helped me understand that concept was “The Element” by Sir Ken Robinson where creativity is explored in great detail.

The fourth point was about finding or building a “framework” - a set of tools that allows your creativity to get out and be transformed into something real.

Since 2008 I’ve worked from kind of a flowchart.

First, I started keeping a list of EVERY business idea I had, no matter how stupid or bad. Then my workflow was:

  1. Pick the least terrible idea on the list and start working on it.
  2. Have I determined my idea won’t work, or have I come up with an obviously way better idea? If either is true, switch to the new least worst idea.
  3. Am I a millionaire yet? If not, keep working. If so, reassess situation.
  4. Repeat from step 2 daily for the rest of my life.

This process drug me through five duds and then a hit, which is what I’m working on now.

My early ideas were ridiculously stupid. If you never stop moving forward with trying to succeed in business, you can’t help but start having better business ideas.

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@jasonswett, I’ve never heard it put quite like that before but it’s essentially the same thing I’ve done - only I’ve been at it eight years longer :frowning: and my “hits” are too minor to make a big enough dent. But I’m still at it and I couldn’t quit if I tried.

It’s kinda like a cat chasing its own tail though. I am however making a conscious effort to change that cycle.

I have been taking a different approach. I look for problems, either mine or those of others and then see if I can a) think of a solution if no good
one exists and then b) determine if I can execute the solution if it passes the first question.

So far I have executed twice. The first was very custom software and service I sold multiple times, the second was (is) my first SAAS .

The key I think is to diversify your inputs so you are more open to spotting problems (ie get out of your comfort zone, get to know people outside of your industry) and second be able to spot problems.