What is the thought sequence, particuarlly in a new venture that you're thinking about or have already started? Do cool things just randomly pop in your head after whatever things you do through life? As a follow-up, how do you actually validate whether or not you will actually move forward with it (market opportunity, personal problem, growth potential, ease/challenge of problem, customer validation)?
Eric Sink has an article about that "Finding a Product Idea for Your Micro-ISV ", also present on its book (which I recommend) "The Business Of Software ".
Basically, open your eyes and talk to people. After a while ideas and solution start poping up (it happens to me), you literraly start imagining how you can create a solution that would ease others life and become profitable.
I totally recommend you to read it because it's a great book for all software entrepreneurs.
So, the trick is to make people talk to you and answer "what's your hardest problem in work"?
Having too much ideas is almost as bad as having no ideas, since you got to pick the best one.
So, in order to validate which ideas are worth to work on, I have distinct approaches, all relying on professional opinion from smart people.
I discuss the ideas with friends (careful here) whose opinion I respect and that have no problem what so ever to tell me "that's the dumbest idea you've hever had". The "careful" is to remind you that there are some friends to which you cannot discuss ideas because they'll always say "that's a good idea" because they do not want to hurt your feelings.
I also validate the ideas with people from the business area to which the idea belongs. For instance, I'm currently prototyping a GUI to illustrate the functionality of a sales solution that I'll show to several business managers. The last question I'll pop on these demos/validation sessions is something like "would you buy this" or "does this worth X to you" or (if you have a more personal relationship) "how much do you think this worths to you and to your competitors".
You have basically asked 2 huge questions. In the University Entrepreneurship program I teach, we have a whole subject for each of them. So briefly...
Coming up with ideas: There are lots of creative thinking techniques you can use to generate ideas and to train your brain to spot opportunities more readily. Some techniques that you might like to research include:
My favourite technique is to listen to people talking and identify what problems they have. People will often complain about little things that niggle them. That is our cue as entrepreneurs to identify an opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs solve problems for people. Eg. Problem: "I wish I knew when this taxi would get here." Opportunity: An iPhone app that tracks taxis and shows you where the closest ones to you are.
Evaluating Ideas: Once you feel you have found a problem which is worth solving, then you need to take it through an evaluation process to see if it is feasible as a business.
A lot of people run into problems in business because they have an idea and launch without conducting this kind of analysis. That's why I cover this process a lot in my blog - because I feel it is absolutely critical to a successful business. A lot of problems can be avoided by doing this right at the beginning - so don't miss this step!
Opportunity Evaluation involves asking strategic questions and getting real data and customer feedback to answer them and validate your assumptions. Some of the questions that are important to answer include:
In addition as you find the data and interact with your potential market, you will be able to tweak the idea to make it even better and more profitable. Having this thorough knowledge of the industry behind you will also give you a lot of confidence as you move towards launch.
Although this looks like a long list, it doesn't have to take a long time. Once you have run a few ideas through the opportunity evaluation process, you will find you do it quite quickly and are coming up with better and better ideas.
The final thing to look at is whether the opportunity is a good fit for you personally with your current skills, resources, time, contacts and interests. Some ideas may be great ideas but not good for you.
I had this experience several years ago. I was working on a business opportunity to help accountants outsource their basic bookkeeping tasks. I eventually realised, that although it was a reasonable opportunity, it was not a good fit for my skills and personality. The opportunity evaluation process also showed me that the target market was not really ready for this idea in Australia and I wouldn't be able to grow the business to the size I wanted to. So I moved onto the next idea after spending minimal time and money.
So lastly, running an idea through an opportunity evaluation process and deciding not to execute it, is also a good outcome. If the idea doesn't have a lot of potential, you want to move on to the next one as quickly as possible.