A Breakthrough Business Idea In 21 Days? How to Improve the Odds

small business idea

Four big ideas around learnings and creative thinking methodologies.



Over breakfast a number of years back with Bryan Mattimore, I shared an increasingly gnawing concern with an innovation doctor I knew well from our hard pro bono work together expanding, improving and marketing the local homeless shelter. 

No, not for-profit homeless shelters at all…but the need to have the ideas “entering” the customer development process enter with greater strength and uniqueness

After all, shouldn’t a startup idea be as truly distinctive and exciting on its way into the customer development process to make it strong as possible coming out the “other end” of the process. 

In a word, too many of the ideas were just plain ordinary, obvious, or done and done and done again, just like a shoeleather steak. 

As I told Bryan over breakfast, “If I see one more idea for a new iPhone cuisine app from my students, I’m gonna burst.  There are 850 or more already, and this category is growing at a rate of 12 to 15 new apps a month, very few of which are selling.” 

I personally interact with about 750 startup teams all over the world each year, and if five or eight percent of the ideas in any group are really exciting on day one, that group is at the top of the heap. “It’s gotta get better on the way in,” I said.This led to a challenge for my friend: “Can you create a workshop that teaches aspiring entrepreneurs how to generate truly big/breakthrough ideas for new businesses?”

I knew well Bryan Mattimore’s  ideation and innovation consulting work with hundreds of major brands in corporate America, as well as his book, Idea Stormers, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs

Shouldn’t the same powerful ideation techniques apply to startups, even before you put the pencil to the business model canvas for the very first time?

 Bryan said “Creating a Breakthrough Business Concept in 21 Days” was the workshop, thinking program, and new book (once I write it) that came out of breakfast that morning with Bob.  He continues…

To develop the course content for this workshop, and “walk my own talk,” I conducted an interesting experiment:  I set a goal for myself of generating an original, “big idea” for a new business every day for 21 consecutive days. There were dozens of insights, learnings, creative thinking methodologies, and yes, big ideas that came out of this experiment.

Here are four:

1.   Focus is important

To prepare for the 21-day experiment, I identified seventy possible arenas/frames for the new business “big idea.” These frames varied widely, but were also specific enough to potentially inspire a new idea.

For instance, creating a new: 

  • Beverage
  • Health services concept 
  • Social media idea for Millennials 
  • Clothing/fashion idea
  • Sports/exercise program
  • Service for retirees
  • Transportation invention.  All were all on the list.

By having these specific arenas to in which to think creatively, it both focused and freed my mind. I knew my list would also help aspiring entrepreneurs identify the kinds of businesses they might have a passion for creating; and even more importantly, those they wouldn’t.

Next page- Big Ideas 2 through 4


About the author

Bob Dorf

Bob Dorf is among the world’s leading Lean Startup and Customer Development experts, who trains and coaches startups throughout the world, with a particular focus on Latin America.  Bob co-authored the Startup Owner’s Manual, a global bestseller, with startup legend Steve Blank. Now in 18 languages, the Manual details every step in transforming an idea into a repeatable, scalable, profitable business. Bob focuses particularly on training programs for the startup educators, coaches, and investors, and has done so repeatedly in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and many more. Hes also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Columbia Business School. Earlier, Bob founded seven startups--“two homeruns, two base hits, and three tax losses.” His 30+ angel investments delivered 7 IPO’s and six disasters. Learn more at www.bobdorf.nyc or contact bob via bobdorf@gmail.com