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How to Ideate Concepts for Your Future Products and Startups

As entrepreneurs and product managers, our process of conceptualizing does not end here.


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Michael Stroev

3 years ago | 6 min read

I started my career as a business developer selling business intelligence technology products to large corporations in the EMEA region.

As my career progressed, I naturally grew into a more product orientated role: owning product development cycles from concept ideation to customer acquisition.

I revamped existing products to increase their performance.

I generated new product ideas and validated their business concepts by talking to customers, devising go-to-market strategies, and forecasting future growth. I launched those products, sometimes on an international level, and managed all marketing initiatives.

I left my last corporate job in 2016. Since then, I’ve been on an entrepreneurial journey, founding small businesses and startups, and helping others perfect their products by working as a consultant.

I’ve generated countless ideas, and each time, I come with the approach that I want to imagine the most insane ideas that I’ll further bring to life.

Full disclosure, probably like many great millennial entrepreneurs and product managers, I’ve been deeply inspired by Steve Jobs’s quote: “the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I genuinely believe in Steve’s approach to “think different,” and I always push myself to be the one who is still thinking different.

But enough about me. I decided to write this article because I want to share a technique that I’ve used many times to ideate concepts. It’s been successful for me and has helped me dig into my inner consciousness and surface deeply hidden thoughts.

This technique works by gathering and combining notions and keywords together.

In other words, I merge various non-relating views to try and form as many new ideas as possible.

If you try and ideate using a single thought or question, such as: “I want to create a new business in the perfume industry,” you might not get very far in your thinking. But if you combine the notion “perfume industry” with other keywords, business models, or tools, you might come up with something unexpected.

The more non-standard combinations you ideate, the better!

Step 1

Start by drawing a table that looks something like this:

In the industry/market column, input the industries or markets, for which you want to generate ideas. You can also include additional non-relating sectors that inspire you. Your table will now look something like this:

Step 2

Filling in the next column requires a combination of knowledge, creativity, and research. Start by answering the question: “does the concept that I’m trying to ideate need to have a specific focus on a particular business model or approach?” If yes, then add that to the column.

Now get creative and start adding any models, tools, or keywords that inspire you. Add anything that comes to mind! They don’t need to relate to each other, and in fact, the more diverse, the better!

At one point, you’ll hit a dead end with your creativity, so when that happens, start researching and look for current and future trends.

What business models are the most popular today, and what are the newly trending ones? What new rockstar startups that have raised big investment rounds? On what concepts do their businesses focus? Try to forecast where demand will be in 2, 5, 10, or 20 years! Google is your friend here, and you can easily find various trend studies that will help you in the process.

Once completed, this is what your table should look like:

Step 3

Now starts the fun and creative part! It’s time to take everything that you’ve written down in this table, and mix it up. Combine everything that is combinable.

Attempt to link each industry/market to each business model, tool, and keyword. If something feels incompatible, don’t let that stop you: try and make a connection.

The idea here is to generate the strangest and most untraditional ideas possible. The more, the better. Remember, if great ideas were so easy to imagine, everyone would be Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak.

A crucial aspect of creative thinking that you need to be aware of, and try to implement at each stage of conceptualization is the inner child notion. In psychological terms, each of us has a childlike aspect, or an inner child, hidden deep within our consciousness.

When we were kids, we dreamed and imagined worlds upon worlds of fascinating ideas. With age, that creative free-thinking diminishes because we program our brains to think according to the systems by which our societies operate.

But that child still dwells within us. Being able to reach deep inside and activate that inner child is an art that is fundamental to generating great ideas. Be aware of this notion when creatively combining everything in your table.

Step 4

To give your creativity and combinations an extra boost, you can take an extra step and try to connect the various keywords within the columns. For instance, a “freemium business model” might fit well with the concept of social media/social network.

The coworking industry might work well with its fellow food industry. Mobility and travel could also be good industry combinations. It’s imperative that you do not use this table to think in lines: combining the left column with the right column.

Try thinking holistically. Everything can be connected, and every combination can be used to generate an idea to form an original link.

Step 5

Congratulation, you’ve just created a map! A map that is going to lead you to ideas! The only thing left to do is navigate through the various connections you’ve made and extrapolate ideas from those combinations.

The video-conferencing market has many SaaS players, but is there a video-conferencing social network with a freemium business model? By combining these concepts, we get a startup that I built called VIDI.

By combining fashion with AR/VR, we can get an idea to create AR/VR online renders for future fashion collections. This idea can be interesting as a digital product feature for fashion brands. Has this been done before? Research is the next step.

Imagine being able to buy a subscription and get perfumes of your selection delivered to you. When you’ve had enough and want to change, simply order a new one, give the old used one back, and voila! This concept is what you get when you combine perfume with on-demand and circle economy.

I’m not sure if this exists already, but if it doesn’t, here’s a potentially attractive business idea!

Lastly, I gave an example of Deskmates: a social platform enabling effective professional networking, communication, and collaboration for workplace-based communities. I conceptualized the initial grand concept of Deskmates using this exact technique.

Next Steps

As entrepreneurs and product managers, our process of conceptualizing does not end here. All of the ideas that we create are initially hypotheses.

These hypotheses need to be well researched and clearly defined before initiating any development. More ideation will be needed along the way, and your original idea will most definitely transform to become something different by the time you launch. And I’m not even talking about all the future iterations that you might make.

Validating these concepts is a whole different story, and can sometimes take months before getting feedback and data from your target audience. But that is what we call a startup or product development cycle, and there is no short way around it. The most important is that we learn how to activate our inner child and continually let our creativity run free.

The more we do this, the better we will become, and the more new amazing products, services, or startups we will create.

If you found this article useful, and if you end up using this technique, I would love to hear your feedback and stories about what you conceptualized! Comment below or reach out to me directly. I’ll also be glad to talk to anyone personally and give further advice and help.

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