How to Come Up with An Incredible Business Idea (And Validate It)

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 11/06/13 •  12 min read

“I’d love to start a business, but I don’t have any good ideas.”

I call BS.

If you don’t have any good ideas then you either are sitting in bed all day doing nothing but staring at a wall or you’re just making excuses because you’re too afraid to actually start building something for yourself.

Everyone has problems that they’re looking for a solution to. You can’t walk down the street without finding dozens of things that could be fixed, upgraded, or changed. And where there are problems, there are solutions waiting to be found in the form of a new business.

Hell, I’m sitting at a coffee shop right now, and I could come up with multiple business ideas that would make my life easier:

This list took me seriously 45 seconds to come up with.  Are any of them actually worth pursuing? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is once you train yourself to be looking for problems to solve, the concept of not having any ideas becomes non-existent. Rather you become overwhelmed with so many ideas that the hard part is choosing which one to focus on.

Learn to Love Uncertainty

In my TEDxCMU talk I talk about the 3 phases of uncertainty.  The first is fearing it. You’re afraid of change, so you do everything you can to avoid uncertainty. The second is overcoming it, when you overcome your uncertainty you might still be terrified of what you’re doing, but you take the leap anyway. You recognize that if you don’t make a change, you won’t get the things you really want out of life.

The third step though, is embracing the uncertainty. When you treat uncertainty as an asset and you embrace it you realize that the future doesn’t exist yet.  You can shape it however you want, and anything can happen.  When you’re walking through the world with this frame of mind, everything becomes an opportunity.

This is what sets entrepreneurs apart from others.

Entrepreneurs are constantly looking for problems to solve, and willing to act on them. Employees embrace the status quo. – Tweet This

Step 1: The Brainstorm

If you’ve decided you’re ready to stop accepting the status quo, and start helping yourself and your potential customers, then let’s get going with this.

There are all sorts of ways to come up with ideas for a business, sometimes you just need a little push in the right direction.

Often the best ideas are the ones you already have but just don’t realize it, or haven’t spent enough time thinking about it to full develop the idea.

Action: What do you like to do? List at least 25 things.

Could be as simple or complex as you want it to be. For instance, it could be basic “I like playing golf”, or complex, “I like drinking South African wines while playing cribbage with my wife.”

Keep your list handy so when new ideas come to you, you can add to it.

This is going to be your reference point. While you don’t always have to start a business around something you like, you’ll be more excited to work on it and make more progress if it’s around something you enjoy. Here’s a great example of someone starting a photography business, which is both fun and lucrative. Everything can be improved upon, so there’s no reason why you can’t pursue a business focused on something from this list.

Action: Take a “problem walk” with a pen and paper

I can hear you now, “what the hell is a problem walk?”

It’s a one hour walk, where all you do is look for problems and solutions.  Take a pen and paper with you and walk around your city.  Notice everything, the people, the buildings, the ads, the clothes, the noise – everything.

Write down all of the problems you see. While you’re doing this, what you’ll find is you start thinking about other areas of your life where things could be better. Write those problems down too.

When you’re done, you’ll have a massive list of problems. Sit down and start writing out solutions to each of the problems you see. Try and come up with three for each.

Many of these will never turn into business ideas, but it’s important because it is training you to look for problems/solutions in your day to day life.

Action: Talk to 25 People About Their Problems

The last part of the brainstorm phase, idea extraction, is also the most important.  This is where a lot of your best ideas are going to come from.

I learned this from Dane and Andy of the Foundation. When it comes to finding new business ideas, few people do it better.

How do they do it?

Cold call.

Yep, they will call up people in a variety of niches and simply ask them questions about what problems they’re facing.

Weird, right? Well you’d be surprised at just how well it works. Here’s an example of how someone might go about this.

By having other people (potential customers), tell you exactly what problems they are having, you’re able to start building out ideas for solutions.

If you get one person who’s say a realtor and they have a 2 key problems with their business, then you can call another realtor and suss out if they have those problems as well.

By the time you’re done talking to a handful of people you’ll have a very clear idea of what problems you can solve for these people.

So to summarize:

  1. List out things you like to do
  2. Take a “problem walk” and start coming up with solutions
  3. Talk to other people about what problems they are facing in their job/business

Step #2: The Lifestyle

Ok, so you’ve got a big list of potential ideas and businesses now.

Before you go any further though, it’s important to think about something that’s often overlooked.  It’s amazing that more people don’t think about this, because the path you go down will be entirely different depending on what the answer is.

And this is: what kind of business do you want?

It’s easy to just get going and throw out ideas, but if you want to be ultimately successful you should have a clear understanding of what the end goal is.

Do you want a lifestyle business that may not make you rich, but gives you freedom? Do you want to raise funding and have a traditional startup? Do you want a brick and mortar building focusing on a local community? Do you want to ultimately be the boss or simply create a job for yourself?

All of these are crucial to how you proceed.

For me, freedom is paramount. I’d take less money, as long as I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Don’t get me wrong, money is great, but time is greater.

For this reason, I’m not rushing out to get VC or angel funding for any of my new business ideas. I want to retain ownership and be the boss.  I want to be able to take off for Bangkok on a moments notice. All of those things are important to me, and because of that I’m not trying to build a big business with lots of employees.

Action: Write down in a few paragraphs what’s most important to you. What does success look like, and what will your life be like when you achieve it?

It’s amazing how many people simply don’t know what they want. They don’t know what “success” is.  This exercise should help add some clarity.

Step #3) The Validation

You have a huge list of potential ideas, you know what kind of business you want, now for the the final piece of the puzzle: how do you validate your ideas and find one that really has potential?

Well, we’ve already talked about one, cold calls.  If you go through the idea extraction process that we mentioned earlier, that is both extracting ideas and validating them because you’re talking to actual potential customers.

If you talk to ten real estate agents and all ten of them tell you that they wish there was a better system for finding new homes to list – then you know you’ve got a potential business on your hands.

This is one of the most effective ways of validating an idea, but what are some other ways to go about it?


If you have an idea for an online product you can use Facebook or Google ads to get a sense of whether or not people are actually interested.

Personally I’ve used Facebook to build up a social group around golf, and then use the engagement numbers for various types of posts to see what people are really interested in. This is great if you know you want to go into a certain niche, but still aren’t sure about the details.

If you want to get more direct feedback create an ad to a landing page where you talk about a product that’s coming soon.  Have an email opt in where they can be the first to hear about it and get a discount when it launches.  If 50% of everyone that clicks  through is signing up for more information, you know you’re on to something.


Do you already have an audience and want to see if they’re interested in a certain product? Give them a survey to do.  Surveys can be tricky, because people don’t really know how they’re going to react to something until an actual offer is presented.  Structure your questions in a way that gives you tangible information that you can act on.

If you ask would a question like “would you rather have option a, option b, or neither” that’s actionable if the majority answer the same thing.  Asking “what would you pay for this product” is one that has the potential to be fraught with mis-information.

Before I launched Location Rebel I sent out a survey and asked the following:

How much would you pay for a product like this (Location Rebel)?

Out of around 100 responses, 2 people said $250+.  When I launched a few months later with an original price point of $297 I sold out all of my beta spots in 48 minutes.

So take your survey results with a grain of salt.

Google Keyword Planner

I know people who have built 6 figure businesses all because they spent an hour doing keyword research using the Keyword Planner. If you can find ideas for keywords related to your product with relatively high traffic and relatively low competition, then it becomes feasible you can use search as an effective way to find customers and sell your product or service.

Search is changing (and has changed) a lot, so this is just one bit of information that can help you get a sense of the feasibility of your idea.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Do all signs point to a great product that lots of people want? Awesome, but you don’t have to bet the farm on it right away.  What’s the minimum viable product that you could create and sell? Start with that.

There are all sorts of ways to do this and many of them are inexpensive and can be done pretty quickly.

For instance you could start with KickstarterHave a few prototypes or outlines of what you want to sell? Put it up on Kickstarter and let the public decide.  This is what my buddies Nick and Tim did – and in less than a week they’ve made over $100k.

If you’re looking to build out an information product or membership site, you could put together a forum, shopping cart, and some premium content in a week and have something to sell. This works best if you already have an audience you think might be interested in the idea.  Put it out there and if people buy, spend a few months building it out and use your founding members to get feedback.

So, Are You Ready to Stop Making Excuses?

If you follow the steps listed out here, you should have no more excuses for not having an idea.  Make the fundamental shift in thinking where you start looking for problems, solutions, and opportunity. By doing this, the problem will never be not having a good idea, it will be deciding which one to invest your time and energy into.

If you’re serious about starting a business check out Location Rebel. We help you learn the skills necessary to build an online business that can be run from anywhere on Earth. We’re with you every step of the way.

Image Credit: Inspiration from Big Stock

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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29 comments on "How to Come Up with An Incredible Business Idea (And Validate It)"

  1. Amazing article and it really resonates with y early days of starting my Digital Publishing company in London. Have to tell how I first started as freelance SEO consultant after reading Sean’s 48 hours to become article.

    I truly believe if you are on the look you can find so many problems in this world where you can solve and get paid. I like that fact of Step #2: The Lifestyle, it’s the most important reason of my Starting of a business. Just wanted to make sure I can work from wherever I want and still read articles like this and make sure I get paid to my bank and PayPal accounts 🙂

    I would like to connect with anyone who is on the same journey.

    1. Sean says:

      Thanks for the comments Fernando and glad to hear things are going so well! You’ve come to the right place if you’d like to connect with likeminded people…

    2. Tony R says:


      I’d like to connect with you, I have the same goal of being free (free from a 9-5 job and having MY time do work how and when I want)! My email is [email protected]

      Look forward to chatting with you!

  2. Liz says:

    Once I stopped over-thinking things and just realized that there were sooooooo many obvious problems that needed solutions, things got much easier!

    1. Sean says:

      Funny how that works, isn’t it?

  3. Maven says:

    I find it easy to come up with ideas. I find it hard to come up with a first step to making them a reality. If I had angel or VC funding, what would I even do with it? For example, the headphones idea is great, but how do you find someone who can design and manufacture it, or even tell you if it’s possible with current technology?

    1. Sean says:

      That’s where you just have to actually take action. For instance maybe the first step is to google “electronics manufacturing in china.” Or if you really wanted to get serious about it, go to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou.

      But for that one in particular, I’d contact the guys over at and ask them to point you in the right direction.

      Thats one of the more highly technical examples, but if you have an idea, just start taking one step at a time to begin seeing if it’s feasible.

  4. Clayton says:

    Good post man.

    I’d actually argue that not having an idea is even better than having an (unvalidated) idea. If you look for problems, ask people what their biggest pain points are, then they will tell you what you need to solve. That, imo, is a much more straightforward approach than just coming up with an idea yourself.

    If you already have a business, you can still do the same thing by running surveys. Feedback can be surprising sometimes and can lead to product improvements and new opportunities.

    1. Sean says:

      This is a really good point. Not having any pre-conceived notions of what you should be doing can actually be a huge asset, as it makes you more inclined to listen to the feedback people give you. Good call.

  5. Sam says:

    Hey Sean,

    I think you should check out It may be a good solution for your french press coffee problem.

  6. Nickolas says:

    You have a good approach validating ideas. Awesome post!

    I think now that we have facebook groups and LinkedIn groups
    its very easy identify target groups and reach out to them and
    ask if they would have any benefit from your idea.

    I on the other hand think its very easy finding ideas everywhere,
    but have limited it down to online ideas. I have actually wrote a
    free ebook on it. You should check it out.

    thanks for all your quality free stuff Sean, glad I found your site !

    – Nicko

  7. Robb says:

    I love the way you are able to break things down to a manageable and actionable level. You make it seem so damn easy! 🙂

    I’m still working on Step One, which you asked in your very first email and continues into this post, trying to answer the question of what exactly it is that I want, what my perfect day would be. I have a lot of ideas, but you helped me realize that I was being entirely too vague about it. I do believe the journey is as much fun as the destination, but having a destination in mind sure helps cut a lot of the crap. I’m bookmarking this post to come back to next.

    Thanks for the insight, your ideas are very helpful.

  8. Mirko says:

    Hi Sean!

    Your enthusiasm and determination is so contagious! I always find the boost I need to get myself out of my comfort zone, however, I struggle with confidence, fear and learning how I go through creative phases and how to make the most of them. Breaking the habit of non innovation and mediocrity is hard for me, but I’ve decided not ready to settle with any of that.

    It’s really refreshing to read you, thanks again and be hearing from you 🙂

  9. Peter Santenello says:


    Solid post. You really broke this down well. Sometimes in the idea/startup process it is easy to get cluttered and disorganized. This content is gold since it takes some of the perceived ambiguity out of the whole process. Great work! Thanks.


  10. Ben Cameron says:

    Great post Sean, as usual your point of difference is breaking a big concept down to into actionable points. Keep it up!

  11. Chas says:

    This post is so important to me. Thanks so much for it, Sean. You helped clear some cobwebs.
    “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” ~Albert Einstein

  12. Munna says:

    Dear Sean,

    Thank you so much for sending & sharing me such a valuable information i have not ever seen. It will help me to think & to step out for a new business for changing my lifestyle.
    I am ever grateful to you for this business idea.
    Here is an big announcement that I am going to launch a new website very soon named , I am now working on this website to swap it up very soon.
    Pls let me know how can I earn money from this website from Google Adsence.

    Thank You once again.
    Take Care.
    Will contract to you soon to start a partnership Business in Bangladesh with your business idea & Technical Know how!!!!! R U agree?
    The problem is I have not sufficient money to start a new business so I want to start partnership business to you.

    Thanking You,

  13. Simon says:


    Re: headphone size problem. Have you checked out the Bose QC20?


  14. Jan Koch says:

    Hey Sean,
    you did a very good outline of the process of building a business.
    In fact, it’s what I went through the last weeks and I’ll utilize your idea of creating Facebook groups to validate business ideas and opportunities just today.

    I quit my job and I’m going to build residual income with niche sites – and launch a training program around that, especially targeting a specific market that isn’t served yet.

    Thanks for sharing those tips, I can’t wait to put them into action!

    Best regards,

  15. luckamantra says:

    Oh man, I love the idea of the art app! Does anyone know if something like that exists already? I tried to google it but nothing obvious popped up.

  16. I completely agree with the second the point you made in “Step #2” about considering the type of lifestyle you desire to have while running your business. You really have to know what you are willing to do and how much time you are willing to put into your business in order to reach your desired goal. Like you said, if having a flexible schedule is your main goal then you should not expect to make as much money as if you had put in more time (with the goal of making more money.) This is so important so that you do not give up on your business when your expectations have not been met.

  17. Tyler says:

    Sean- Great stuff here. I love the part where you say “money is great, but time is greater”. That is often something people forget about and end up creating a beast of their own making. I’m actually going through the idea extraction process right now and really enjoying it. Learning a lot about myself, growing and challenging myself. This post and the message behind it needs to go out to more entrepreneurs.

  18. Chris Miller says:

    Great share! Your :45 second brainstorm reminded me of a #RVA (Richmond VA) company that made Time magazines 50 list Coffitivity was a simple idea that turned into a business (and app). They would make a good follow up interview for this topic.

  19. Dave says:

    Great stuff Sean and totally agree. If you think all the good ideas are taken, as any people do, you’re just not trying hard enough! I mean look around you – see how many improvements the world we live in needs!

    I find the hardest part to be the idea validation. You listed a lot of great ideas. Personally, I think talking to the target market is the most accurate BUT people gloss over just how hard that is. Sure I have friends in my network I could ask but more often than not they are not the target market. You can try cold calling/emailing, but you know the success rate on those is just so low. I’ve sent out literally 50 well crafted emails to companies in my niche and had 0 replies!

  20. Reza says:

    Great post about generating ideas. You’re right that its easier to come up with business ideas than most people think. My problem, however, is more in finding a business idea that I would be sufficiently passionate about to sustain. As someone who has actually been clinically diagnosed with ADD (inattentive type), I have always had many casual interests but nothing really strong and deep enough to sustain over a longer term. As is true with most ADDers, we get bored quickly and move on to the next “flavour of the week”. I think this is one of my biggest obstacles to being an entrepreneur.

  21. Martin says:

    Hi Sean,

    great post. Especially validating an idea is important from my point of view.


  22. Jessie says:

    Great post,I am of those people that think that they have no talent and skill. The only thing i think i have is my love for writing and reading even though i am not confidence about my writing skills and english language proficiency. But somewhere deep down, i have the feeling that this is what i have do. I have written some novels that never get published. I wrote a movie script at the age of 17, it was produced but I wasn’t paid and the director took credit for the story. I had no one to talk to about it! So i burnt all the stories that i wrote. After then i went into acting,it was going well for me at the beginning until i discovered that artist that have any sort of educations have better chances at succeeding. I was only a high school leaver. So I decided to go to school, after two years I earned a diploma but i did not get to the HND level as i had to move back to my village when i lost one of my siblings.I never act, i never wrote again. I have had and overcame so many challenges since then. It’s been 11 years now since i did anything professionally. Now i want to start a blog but i am not even good in using a computer, i don’t understand most of the web technicalities. I just want to start with the blogging until i find my inspirations once again.I am in a better place to turn my life around but I don’t know how? Please what do you think i should do?

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