In fact, that kind of process only produces ideas that people inside the Bay Area bubble are interested in. To truly innovate and think of novel startup ideas, you need to get outside of that.
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My co-founder and I are thinking about this now: what we want to do next, and how to go about deciding that.
How to find new startup ideas
What we’ve found is that inspiration doesn’t strike in an ideological silo. Rather, it requires a lot more work and even more strategy. And, often, it requires studying and visiting other countries and cultures.
Look outside the United States
My background is in gaming, and one thing that became clear to me early on was this: from game mechanics all the way to entire product ideas, what’s popular in many of the games we play in the West originated in the East.
Simply put, a lot of the innovations we’re seeing today were actually first popularized––or at least conjured––in other countries.
Here are some examples across industries:
New startup ideas in gaming
“Free-to-Play In mobile (and now console) gaming, “Free-to-Play”––where users download games for free and companies monetize through in-app purchases––was huge in Asia before making its way to the U.S. Giving away games for free was actually controversial in the U.S. at first.
Free to play games: new startup ideas
Free to play games. Photo source: Digital Trends
“Loot Boxes.” Many of the mechanics around “loot boxes” (also called Gacha Systems) came from Japan. They learned that a system of Variable Rewards was the most powerful way to create an addicting compulsion loop. You also saw this system of variable rewards with Pokemon card packs––you never knew what you were going to get and that made it exciting.
New startup ideas in ride-sharing
Innovation in bike sharing
Bike borrowing was popular in China and European countries long before it was popular in U.S. cities. That’s partly because bikes have been a more major method of transportation elsewhere than here.
The concept behind Chariot
If you’ve taken Chariot in San Francisco or New York City, you’re familiar with the concept of hopping on a bus with a predetermined route. My co-founder, Dennis, tells me that this method of rideshare has been popular in Eastern Europe and Russia for decades.
New startup ideas in food production and food delivery
The concept of “Cloud Kitchens”––through which restaurants are opting out of physical retail locations in favor of delivery-only models––are gaining prominence here in the states. Travis Kalanick, for example, recently bought CloudKitchens.com. With the rise of on-demand options like Postmates, DoorDash, and Deliveroo, which can facilitate delivery, this strategy promises to save business owners a ton of money because they can focus solely on food production.
But none of this originated here. It’s been popular in India, for example, since 2011, where companies like Faasos operate all three stages of a “food-on-demand” business: ordering, distribution. and order fulfillment.
New startup ideas in live streaming and live video
Live streaming feels like a recent phenomenon here in the U.S., what with Instagram Live, Facebook Live, and Twitch. But this, too, has been huge elsewhere for a long time. In China, for example, people have been live streaming themselves doing everything from eating to playing games for years. Its relevance was proven years ago. Companies in the east are even rolling out streaming innovations.
These innovations allow people to purchase or order clothes, games, and toys they’re seeing on a stream. Look at what ShopShops is doing, connecting retail stores in the U.S. with Chinese consumers via live streaming bloggers.
New startup ideas in microfinance
Muhammad Yunus started and popularized peer-to-peer microlending in India by way of the Grameen Bank in 1983.
The West, by and large, initially doubted whether lenders would be paid back. They were proven wrong, and microlending has since become huge in the U.S., giving birth to companies like Lending Club and Kiva.
New startup ideas in digital currencies
Years before digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum made quick, inexpensive money transfers possible at scale, such a transfer system already existed in Kenya: M-PESA. M-PESA is, in fact, one of the primary means of payment in Kenya.