Ideas Galore


If you followed my previous two blogs on ideas and if you are anything like my students, you and/or your team have had a great time generating ideas. You have been on a tear. The juices were flowing, bolts of creativity were flashing and new, innovative and sometimes crazy ideas kept popping up as you discussed your passions, likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations. Sometimes the ideas shifted and changed as you built off of each other. You may have a sheet or two or more of ideas in front of you. “The game is afoot,” as Sherlock Holmes would say. Like Sherlock, you have to sift through a lot of ideas to find the one that is worth digging deeper into. We will introduce you to I-BET, the Initial Business Evaluation Tool that will help you sort your ideas.

Warren Buffett, the well known investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is known to decide within five minutes whether to do a deal or not. He can do this because he has spent a lifetime thinking about what he wants to do, what his competence is, what kind of people he wants to work with and what the financial returns will be. Mr. Buffett is one of a kind, but we can learn from his discipline and approach. With a bit of practice and experience, you too will get good enough to sort through ideas quite rapidly.

The Screening Filter

You will need to screen your ideas to settle on your starting idea. They are five filters or steps in I-BET (Initial Business Evaluation Tool). You will go through your list of ideas and settle upon your initial best idea using the filters. Please note that there are many ways to do such a screening, be it Canvas that is used by Eric Ries’ Lean Startup adherents, or  Business Model Generation as enunciated by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur, just to name a few. Use the method that works best for you. I have personally found the I-BET screening filter easiest to use.

We will discuss each filter in detail in upcoming posts.

Till then, let the creative juices flow and keep building on that list!

Verinder Syal, author: Discover The Entrepreneur Withinnow also available in an audio version.

Beyond Mentoring

“How did you decide to teach?” I am asked sometimes. Serendipity is the quick answer. I guest lectured at a friend’s class, loved the experience, and decided I wanted more.

That was more than decade ago. Why have I continued, what have I learned, and why am I even more passionate about teaching today? Let me tell you my story of discovery and finding a passion I did not know I had.

During that guest lecture, my focus was on not letting my friend down. Perhaps it was on not failing and looking like an ass. I worked on my presentation for several weeks making sure that each slide was picture perfect. The presenting part comes easily to me as does answering questions. So, when the students applauded, I beamed. I had not let my friend down, and the students had liked me. I had done well. 

When I started teaching my own class, I combined a fair bit of lecturing with a dollop of student participation. I expected much from my students and they rose to the occasion. At the end of the quarter, I begged them to be honest in their teacher evaluations, so I could decide whether I should continue to teach or not. I held my breath; they gave me high ratings and urged me to continue. I heaved a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. I had done a good jobs.

A few years later, a friend suggested I use “cases” in my classes. I took a Harvard class on how to teach such cases. I was astounded to learn that most class lectures are forgotten in a few days. But when people participate in the conversation– as the case discussion necessitates – the learning may last for a few months, and sometimes for a lifetime.

Concurrently, I read Education for Judgment, and the two articles by C. Roland Christensen – perhaps the best teacher of the case method – brought tears to my eyes. I realized that teaching was not about how hard the students worked, or how brilliant my presentations and lectures were. Rather, it was about what the students learned. And, the more they participated, the more they learned. Everything had to be about the students and their learning.

This process also brought me closer to the students. I make myself readily available outside of the classroom. They have many questions, but they are rarely related to what is discussed in class. They want to talk  about their lives, their aspirations, their fears, their highs, and their lows. I even hear from them after graduation. Without meaning to, I had become a mentor.

Then, I learned something new. Many of these students, who were superstars in high school, now start seeing themselves as average, because every one else seems smarter. They focus on all the things that they are not good at, rather than on the many things they are exceptional at. This, then, has become my new focus: helping them embrace the great gifts that they have been endowed with. All human beings have a need to be believed in. Sometimes they need more than mentoring. They need a helping hand to light their inner candle. It is said that a candle is not diminished when it lights other candles.

So, go beyond mentoring, my friends. Light candles. Other people’s candles. In all walks of life.
What do you think? I welcome your thoughts.

Verinder Syal, author: Discover The Entrepreneur Withinnow also available in an audio version.

Jumpstart Your List

Do you want to become an entrepreneur? Then you need THE idea; for which you need a list of ideas to shortlist from. But how do you get this list ready? Consider etching this mantra on your mind (or perhaps get a temporary tattoo):

Problem + Solution = Possible Idea.

Develop a list of ten or more ideas, that you believe are potential problems in need of a solution, that you would enjoy working on. The list can also include items that would add delight.

Below are some suggestions for this process:

  • Spend a few days developing the list.
  • Whenever an idea occurs, and it will often, jot it down.
  • Stretch your mind, even far-fetched ideas are fine for now.
  • Yes, why not change the world?
  • Do not limit yourself just because you do not know how to solve it.
  • If you already have a team, have each member of the team go through this exercise. Then sit together and develop a joint list.
  • Meditate, exercise, watch TED, cry, laugh, connect with nature, do whatever it takes to make the creative juices flow.


One of my colleagues suggested this exercise:

  • Write down as many dreams as you can remember, the more the better. Is there a theme that you can see? Is there a passion that keeps cropping up? Is there an idea that is yearning to be liberated?


Another colleague suggested the following:

  • Spend time with people you care about and draw inspiration from them. What bothers them? What drives them crazy? How could you help?
  • Do the things you love: run, hike, cook, drink wine and understand what about those activities makes you feel fulfilled. Can that insight be used to provide fulfillment to others?
  • Go to a museum or someplace filled with art. Be inspired by the creativity surrounding you.
  • Do you have enough ideas to start? Then go crazy in a non-crazy sort of way.

When you have developed ten or more ideas, take a deep breath, take a bow and congratulate yourself on your start.


Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within


The Search For Ideas- Part 2: Look at the Big Picture

Ideas are everywhere. In the previous blog we discussed the various opportunities that can arise just from looking at our personal lives. If that did not strike a cord, let us look at the big picture to search for more ideas:

  1. Demographic Trends: What are some of the key trends you see? There are many, but let’s look at a few to get started:
    • An aging U.S. population: Their needs and wants will be many: healthcare, housing, finances and travel to name just a few.
    • A much more diversified population: Hispanics are now 17% of the population and growing. Asian Americans are now close to 6% and are also one of the most affluent groups in the country. What do these groups need and want? What kind of foods, groceries, restaurants, medicines and health clubs, and services related to CBD and Fitness are needed to support their needs and wants?
  1. Perceptions / Beliefs: There are people who believe that being a vegetarian or even a vegan is the best diet. Others feel strongly that a low carbohydrate diet is the way to go. Understand that each of these areas is rife for adding value in the form of a product or service.
  1. Things that just don’t make sense: iTunes was the answer to not being forced to buy an entire album when you only wanted a few songs. I discovered a new company called Clear ( whose slogan warmed my heart: “Travel Better. Faster. Smarter. Skip the line and get to your gate in half the time.” As soon as the service becomes available in Chicago, I will sign up.
  1. Food and Fashion: Forty years ago, the only upscale restaurant experience in Chicago was limited to French cuisine. For the more plebeian palate there were two additional choices – Mexican and Chinese. Today, that is certainly not the case. On the fashion front, a recent business headline blared Nasty Gal just raised a $12.7 million round. Sophie Amaruso was 22 when she started the Nasty Gal store on eBay in her garage to appeal to stylish, young, women who couldn’t afford premium fashion labels. The company was incorporated in 2008 and in six short years, it has grown 10,000 percent. At 22, she saw a problem and offered a solution. Do you see any problems?
  1. Connections: People are more connected than ever before in the history of the world thanks to Tindr, Yik Yak, WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook. Air travel, made quite affordable by the likes of Southwest, Spirit and Ryan, extends this connectivity even further. Undoubtedly there are still many more opportunities to be developed in this space.

You are only limited by your imagination.Looking Externally

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

The Search For Ideas: Start With Your Own Life


So, you are eager to take the entrepreneurial plunge. But how and where do you begin? I suggest you start with your own life and experiences:

  1. Frustrations: Things that frustrate you in your immediate life, where you say to yourself, “Why do they do this or why do they not do this?” I wonder if this is how Zuckerberg started Facebook when he could not get a date? On a less jocular note, Dropbox came about because Drew Houston found himself in a place where he wanted to work, but had forgotten to bring his flash drive containing the files he needed.
  2. Improvements: There is this app that you use, all the time, but something about it always irks you. Maybe you need to develop a new app. If you have such a need, others probably do too. Babylicious, a UK company, was started by a mother who was not satisfied by the convenience of the baby food available. She decided to develop a baby food in the form of ice cubes. 
  3. Hobbies: This is a fertile area. Do you like playing games? Is that how Candy Crush came about? Instagram was a hobby before it became a big business. Do you have a hobby that would enrich the world and you?
  4. Passion: This drives many of us. What are you passionate about? Photography? Helping the indigent? Scarce water resources? Teaching? Saving the whales? Whatever it might be, what could you do to actually make a difference? Patagonia has combined its passion for the environment with its clothing business. Kiva allows people to provide help to the needy with microloans.
  5. Cross Pollination: Perhaps you saw something in your travels that you think could be used in your hometown; or you saw an idea on the web that could be applied to another business. Nowadays, ideas float freely across borders. Flipkart is attempting to do in India what Amazon has done in the United States and Europe.

There are other ways of searching for new ideas too. We shall discuss these in the next post.

It All Starts With the Mindset!


Ideas are all around us. Often they are within us, but we do not see them. How then do we develop a systematic way of collecting ideas? It starts with the mindset.

The Mindset: Don’t get annoyed. Smile.
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Therefore, you need to start looking at the world with a new set of eyes and developing a new thought process. Every time something does not seem right – be it a product you have bought or a service that has been unsatisfactory – instead of getting annoyed, smile. You have just been handed a gift- an opportunity. You have encountered a problem that may require a solution, which has in it, the seeds of a possible business. Given the craziness and ineptness of the world at large, you may find yourself smiling a lot.

Tina Seelig in her book: What I wish I knew when I was 20, has the following suggestions to expand your mindset:

• Take off your blinders.
• See problems afresh.
• Question all rules.
• Don’t wait to be asked.
• Give yourself permission.
• Failure is not fatal. This is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley.

Seth Godin, the author of Purple Cow in a blog post observed:
• Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide.
• Ideas fear experts, but they adore a beginner’s mind.
• Ideas come from nature.
• Ideas don’t need a passport.
• Ideas hate conference rooms, particularly where there is a history of criticism.

This is the mindset of the entrepreneur that you must embrace! You must give yourself permission to think and act differently and be open to ideas and thoughts from everywhere. Hope this provokes some thought in each one of you.

Be sure to read: Discover The Entrepreneur Within by Verinder Syal