Inventing a New Product for a Startup

Inventing new products is perhaps the most exciting application for TSI. New products often form the foundation for a new startup or a new business unit within a larger organization. We need to come up with a lot of product ideas if we hope to find a great new product.

If you’re starting from nothing and are looking for possible new ideas for a company, it’s easiest to start close to home: people know their own problems the best, so a good place to start a TSI is to ask:

“What are my biggest problems?”

Once you have 2-3 interesting problems, create separate TSIs to find the best solutions to each of the problems.

“How can we solve problem X?”

You should be able to find 2-3 interesting solutions for the 2-3 problems resulting in 4-9 possible product ideas you can further develop.

Focus on an Industry

Do you have deep knowledge of an industry? Start there with the simple questions:

“What are the biggest problems in my industry?”

Or, try alternative phrasing:

“What do I hate most about my industry?”

However, most major innovations come from those outside the industry. We all have experienced a lot of industries: real estate, hospitality, health care and many more. Focus finding problems within a single industry, or even better, a certain segment of an industry. For example, you could focus on any of the subsegments of hospitality: hospitality -> restaurants -> menus.

“What is the biggest problems with menus?”

It’s vitally important to narrow your focus as much as possible. It’s ok to start broad, but you’ll probably find more solutions to a more narrow problem.

Technology Disjoints

Once of the best times to build a new product is during the early stages of a major technological shift which creates a disjoint. These technology disjoints often renders existing products and companies obsolete and levels the playing field. In many cases, this disjoint turns the existing player’s assets into liabilities (like the Internet did to brick-and-mortar retailers and newspapers).

I believe that most industries will become part of the “tech industry”. The best solutions to a problem are most often the cheapest and quickest and if you can use technology to accomplish this, you’re more likely to win.

Ask the question:

“What emerging technologies will become dominant in 3-5 years?”

Once you identify 2-3 emerging technologies, you can apply this to solving specific problems as described above. For example, you can ask:

“How can technology X be used to solve problem Y?”

Dwight Merriman and I used this approach when we were coming up with ideas for how the Internet would impact certain industries. For example:

“How will Internet companies make money?”

We identified ecommerce, subscriptions and advertising as top potential revenue sources for Internet companies. We choose advertising and created DoubleClick.