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Ways to come up with startup ideas – Immerse yourself in an industry

Posted on:February 22, 2024

Something that’s always stuck with me came from middle school French class. My awesome teacher, Madame Henderson, would often say that total immersion was the best way to learn a language. Did you want to fast-track getting fluent? Well, then move to a country where that language is primary, and make it impossible to live without getting routine practice and exposure. Surround yourself with the foreign tongue and let the learning happen by need and osmosis.

I’ve tried to apply this tactic in my life, for other things (like poker and building software) and while it can be hard to do, I think it mostly works.

So what does this have to do with coming up with startup ideas? Well, if you’ve got ambition but you’re uncertain about what to work on, you might want to consider fully immersing yourself in a particular industry! Use whatever skills or hustle you can to land any job in that market. If you’re early in your career, take an internship or entry-level position. If you’re later, maybe take a step backward on paper to get your foot in the door. Just break in any way you can (ethically of course).

Once you’re in, you can start learning the ins and outs of the space. Your immersion will make you fluent in the industry jargon, economics, and players. Plus you’ll form connections with people who can support your future endeavors.

Even if your role isn’t highly paid or glamorous, like customer support, you’ll still gain invaluable insights. Like in that example, by being on the front lines and hearing direct feedback from customers. This hands-on experience allows you to understand what users like and dislike about products, helping you form a strong mental model over time.

As you continue to work in the industry, your intuition will develop. You’ll naturally spot (or be told) the problems and develop ideas. And you’ll do this alongside your coworkers and partners. The network you establish, along with your track record and experience, can help you when it comes time to raise money or find your early customers. You may already know executives or investors who specialize in that sector, making it easier for them to trust in your abilities and invest in your idea.

So, if you’re eager but not sure where to start, follow your curiosity in some industry and lean on the immersion strategy. It might not be the fastest track, but those roads are likely mirages anyway.