A Billionaire’s Simple Method To Identifying Business Opportunities

All enthusiasm and no direction? You’re not alone. While many have a drive to start their own business and create wealth for themselves, the reality is that most can’t seem to get off the start line. People tend to have this grand vision of themselves at a point later in life, with the freedom of working on their own terms and perhaps a nice big house, but aren’t sure how to progress towards that point today.

For many people I know, the problem isn’t a lack of passion. They are completely subscribed to the ideology of entrepreneurship and its goals, which have been highly glamorised by society and popular culture in recent history. The primary issue with their aspirations is that they just don’t know where to start.

Offering a dose of sage wisdom for these individuals is Jay Samit, billionaire and self-professed ‘serial disruptor’. He is the founder of multiple tech startups, including the company that became eBay, and now advises companies like LinkedIn and Deloitte. Put simply, Samit has made his buck by identifying shortcomings in established industries caused by large companies which are not agile enough to keep innovating in step with technological advances. 

The best examples of disruption can be seen in the digital world – such as Uber’s culling of the taxi industry and Airbnb’s shakeup of the accommodation industry. Note just how asset-lean these startups are: Uber is the biggest transport company, but owns no vehicles; Airbnb is the biggest accommodation company, but owns no rooms. 

Samit has been in the thick of this revolution, a point in time which he calls the ‘era of endless innovation’. He likens today’s conditions to those a century ago, where the invention of the tractor and irrigation methods eliminated millions of farming jobs, thereby freeing a workforce to power what became the industrial revolution. Samit believes that artificial intelligence, big data, augmented reality and blockchain have the potential to upheave society once again. 

But do you really have to think that big? There are some remarkably ‘stupid’ ideas that become enormous successes. We recently had a look at five of the most simple products to ever feature on Shark Tank and subsequently make it big – a read of this will have you seriously re-assessing your potential. I mean, the second most successful product in Shark Tank history is literally a sponge which now has sales of US$50 million per year. Not enough? Let’s not forget that some bloke once put holes in a blanket, called it the Snuggie, and sold US$40 million worth in the first three months.  

For those looking to identify opportunities, no matter how trivial, the billionaire recommends a simple method. Every day for a 30 day period, write down three problems you encounter. They can be anything, as long as they are some issue or inconvenience you see in the world. In the first few days, you’ll likely find your problems to be massive and generally vague such as “traffic” or “wasted food”. But as you’re forced to make a habit of noting three issues you find, you’re forced to look more analytically at your environment.

After thirty days, you have ninety problems. But they aren’t just problems, they’re opportunities to provide a solution. If you’ve managed to find these things an inconvenience, that means so have a lot of others: others that are willing to pay for convenience. 

A few days into trying this technique, I realised that it wasn’t really about nitpicking everything that you could. Rather, it teaches you a way of thinking.  Sub-consciously, you begin assessing everything around you for how it can be improved, and this forms the core of a sound business idea. In the word’s of Alibaba founder Jack Ma: “Opportunity lies in the place where complaints are.”

These are a few example problems and solutions I came up with over the period, with the most specific coming later in the 30 days:

As you can see, these aren’t exactly kindling for the next billion-dollar company, but they do illustrate how this analytical state of mind over time can produce an idea that is. So now that you’ve got an idea, how do you know if it’s worth pursuing?

Try your best to kill it. Samit embraces the notion of the ‘zombie idea‘ – the mythical idea that simply cannot be destroyed. Most prospective entrepreneurs have a tendency to shelter their big business idea, either out of fear someone exposes its flaws and they have to start again or fear of judgement. It’s the same reason people don’t practise speeches to their inner circle before presentation day, and it’s completely counter-intuitive. 

Instead, you should try your absolute best to kill your idea. Pitch it to as many people as possible and beg them to critique it. The logic is this: you’d rather find a fatal flaw on Day 0 than Day 100. If your idea withstands these attacks, you’ve found your zombie idea.

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