How to get good ideas for startups

The majority of people in the US would like to be self-employed, according to Dartmouth economist, David Blanchflower. This makes sense because people who work for themselves are happier than people who work at someone else’s company, according to research from Estaban Calvo at the Harvard School of Public Health. However the majority are not self-employed, and one of the most important reasons for this is that people do not know how to come up with an idea for a business.

1. Read all the time, among broad sources and materials.
In a study spanning sixty years of economically underprivileged Harvard graduates, psychiatrist George Valliant concluded (in a great article in the Atlantic) that the only consistent indicator of who will be happy later in life is who did chores as a child.

This information should make almost everyone happy, since obviously just graduating from Harvard isn’t enough to guarantee happiness. It also gave me a burst of hope for our new life on the farm. The type of farm we live on has big cash flow and little incomes. I’m not sure if this qualifies us for the Harvard study demographic, but just in case, my kids do a lot of chores. They take care of farm animals and get rewarded with computer time. Not quite American Gothic. But still, maybe a path to happiness.

2. Ask a lot of questions about a lot of businesses.
You know you’re an entrepreneur if you can’t stop thinking of business ideas. I started thinking of farm business ideas from the day I discovered the farm. I asked about margins on pigs, cost of goods for eggs, cash flow during a bad harvest. At first the farmer was jarred by my distinctly non-girlfriend date-chat. But once he realized I was thinking of business ideas, he said to me: “I will never go into business with you. Ever. You would be a pain, and I’m already doing enough with you now.”

That’s when we were only seeing each other once a week so you can imagine how much he doesn’t want to go into business with me now that I’m living with him.

Still, I run all my ideas by him, which is another sign of a good entrepreneur. You can’t tell if you have a good idea until you tell people. Let others poke holes in your ideas. All ideas have holes in them. The trick with starting a business is telling enough people the idea so you have gain enough knowledge about the holes in the idea so you can see if these are the types of holes you want to figure out how to plug.

3. Identify an emotional need in the marketplace.
So I tell the farmer that I’m thinking of starting a business for kids to learn how to farm. “Chores for the summer, happiness for a lifetime!” That’s my pitch. I tell him it leverages my marketing strengths because I will play to the parents being sick of parenting: They know they should make their kids do chores, but they don’t want to fight about it. I take the fight out of chores.

The farmer says that while marketing is my strength, spending day after day with twenty kids (the number I’d need for profitability) is probably not a strength.

4. No idea is precious. If it’s bad, just move to the next one.
So I keep thinking. Then I meet a guy who wants to invest in a company where I sell cheese online. There are lots of small-town cheese makers who don’t market nationally. I’m thinking about that. The farmer likes that idea more than the chores one because he doesn’t know about cheese so I don’t bug him about it. He also likes the cheese model because he sees how Brazen Careerist takes investor money and spends it without making the money back. “We’ll exit on traffic,” I tell him. And he gets scared that he’s living with a member of a financial cult.

Another idea I had is to buy a herd of Waygu cattle. The farmer laughs when I tell him, and he says. “You’re going to be a rancher?”

“No,” I say. “It’s marketing. I think there’s a consumer market for Kobi beef that’s not being addressed. And an investor will buy a herd for me to get started.”

“But you know sales and marketing. You don’t know cattle. How will you run the company?

I say, “I have a core competency in hooking up with good cattle farmers.”

5. Surround yourself with curious, engaged people
Then the investor sends me an article about Chianina cattle and writes that maybe we should buy these instead.

I send the article to the farmer for a second opinion. Saras Sarasvathy, professor at Darden School of Business, once told me that the key to being a good entrepreneur is not a certain skill set, but the ability to get people to fill in where your skills are weak. Which gives me the temerity to bug the farmer: “Did you read the article?”

“Oh. Yeah. Did you see the pictures? Look at the Angus. The best cuts of meat are at the back, and the Angus has much more meat on them than the Chianina.”

I look.

6. Mix and match ideas – two old ideas together equal a new idea.
I say, “But the Chianina has more meat in the front. The brisket part. All the cheap meat the Jews eat from years of living in shtetle poverty is bountiful on the Chianina. The Chianina is the cow for the Jews!”

“No, it’s not like that,” he says. “You need fat and marbling to make good meat and the Angus brisket has that.”

“Look,” I say, “If I show these pictures on my website and say I have the best brisket, it makes intuitive sense.”

The farmer shakes his head and laughs. Then he says this type of cattle is very tall and really hard to manage. They jump fences and crash into short, unsuspecting bystanders. The farmer has bred his herd of Angus cattle to be very calm and easy-going. He says that’s important so he can handle them well. When he says this it always scares me: I hope he’s bored with calm breeding and that’s why he picked me.

7. Stay on the right side of honest, but recognize that there’s big money on the very edge.
The farmer says that in cattle shows (or whatever they’re called – I forget), the farmers often drug their Chianina so they don’t get too wild in the ring.

“How can people tell?” I ask.

“They can’t really. But sometimes one is drugged too much and he lies down in the ring.”

“Is that bad?”

“Yes. Of course it’s bad. People don’t want drugs in their meat.”

“Wait. I have an idea. You could do custom meat. Like, if someone wants Xanax, you give the Chianina Xanax. Or Valium. We could take special orders. Then we have a calm herd with premium brisket and a market niche that caters to the Jewish fascination with psychiatry.”

The farmer says nothing. He is fascinated by the Jewish penchant to do commentary on the Jews. That was what he noticed most at his first Jewish Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. The Jews at the table make Jewish jokes and talk about the politics of Israel like American talk about the politics of abortion: Everyone disagrees with everyone.

It’s the disagreement that fascinates me, though. Paul Graham, founder of the venture firm, Y Combinator, says there are no amazing ideas, there is only amazing commitment to exploring ideas. I agree. So I don’t care if my business ideas are good or not, because entrepreneurship is taking joy in the process of the banter of ideas until you land on a business model.

And I think the farmer likes that, too. I was throwing out some Percocet and he smiled and said, “Hey, wait. Maybe we should give that to the chickens.”

84 replies
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  1. Roberta Warshaw
    Roberta Warshaw says:

    You are too funny! I love the brisket idea!
    Lucky for you you found a husband who knows cows! Now he’s a keeper!
    Remember when Jews knew how to farm? Think Tevya!

  2. Eduard @ People Skills Decoded
    Eduard @ People Skills Decoded says:

    Penelope, this is a great article!

    I think that launching good start-ups has a lot to do with knowing the market and its dynamics. This is where your first tip about reading a lot comes in handy. You can have the greatest ideas in the world – if the market won’t absorb them you’ll go nowhere.

  3. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Ugh. Penelope, I love you but I couldn’t even read this entire post. I will steel myself to do it later. Not that you should care but the last sentence of your first paragraph could not describe the profile of entrepreneur most likely to fail -in my extensive experience of working with them. If someone doesn’t have a good idea to pull them in, stop floundering around looking for one because all you’ll be is an income replacer (and if that’s good enough, then that’s great). A winning combination is an idea that pulls someone in because it is so compelling, not vice versa. It never works in new entrepreneurs.

    It is only serial entrepreneurs who can take the tack you’ve outlined and made a go of it. I think you’ve mistaken the two: you as serial entrepreneur (with a track record and acumen to attract backing) vs a new business owner who has no experience or compelling story to convince anyone. These people are serial start ups, one project after another.

  4. Tracey Halvorsen
    Tracey Halvorsen says:

    Great article. Especially like point #7, and not because I like the idea of Xanax in my steak (don’t judge me). When you are starting out in business, you do have to push the boundaries in order to make fast progress, and this can be a blurry line when it comes to honesty. I lied on my first few resumes, claiming I had skills I didn’t really have. BUT, I had enough knowledge of the thing I was lying about, and enough access to books, coffee and my computer, that I was confident I could learn quick if I was giving the opportunity. If you are only slightly dishonest but are confident you can rise to the occasion if you get called to the mat, then go for it. Especially if it doesn’t harm anyone. In the case of sedatives in the meat supply, that might bring up another bunch of issues to think about…

  5. Tiffanie @ Office-Secrets
    Tiffanie @ Office-Secrets says:


    Okay, I totally take issue with a point referenced in #2 and it’s all personal. I have such a hard time sharing my ideas, outside of those who know they’ll be killed if they tell it, LOL. But reading this post puts it all in perspective for me. I mean, you (I) have to share and find out if it’s “all that.” Oh and I also agree and can relate to surrounding yourself with curiously engaging people.

  6. grace
    grace says:

    Muwahaha! I LOVE this: "I have a core competency in hooking up with good cattle farmers."

    Great post!

  7. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Loved your story, Pricilla. Mind if I tell one?

    My wife, the nurse, is also an entrepreneur, except she doesn't know it. Nor does she think up ideas, or even think about thinking about ideas. And she didn't tell anybody about her business before she started it, or even AFTER she started it. And she's not into selling, although that's how the business grew. What she really likes to do, is change the interior of our 1700 square foot domicile. As in, rearranging little pieces in a doll house. She loves finding those pieces too, as in, SHOPPING. But there are limits to treasure hunting, as in, money to buy them and places to put them. So when the nurse brought home two vintage end tables she found at the Salvation Army and we already had two end tables, it became obvious that for every thing that came into our house, something had to go out. So she ventured into the antique store across the street from the Salvation Army and consigned our two tables. Three weeks later they were sold. The nurse was ecstatic, because she was going to GIVE them away – to the Salvation Army, where she found a lamp we just had to have, replacing the one we already had. Back to the antique store she hopped for a second consignment. Bingo, old lamp sold!

    To my nurse-wife, this was more fun than selling lemonade on the corner. So a few weeks later, half of our stuff got moved into the front yard for a blow-out sale. And of course it all got bought up. Now with empty space back in our house and cash in hand, tax free, it was time for more SHOPPING. So the nurse took off for the fancy antique stores on the West Side and found some absolutely wonderful must-have stuff, – €˜cept was OUR stuff, which she had sold it in the yard the week before! It looked so rich and tasteful, mixed in with all the really old stuff, and marked up five times, she almost bought back all our things. But she didn't. Instead, the idea was born – €“ buy low, sell high – €“ and start at the Salvation Army. What's considered give-aways there become antiques when consigned across the street. And so, her business was born, and our house has never stopped changing since, except in my office. (That's a guy thing.)


  8. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Now I called you Pricilla, Penelope. Have no idea how that happened. And I spelled it wrong too! I should not write before my morning coffee.


  9. Kelli
    Kelli says:

    If you want to talk about great business ideas and marketing strategy, check out the history of Certified Angus Beef. It all started with a simple idea to create a marketing company. Now, more than 700 million pounds of Angus beef are sold each year in the United States. There’s a reason you don’t see the Chianina burger listed on Sonic, McDonalds or Burger King’s menu or as the featured product on 13,000 restaurant menus.

    But my opinion might be a bit biased. Ha! I do work for the American Angus Association.

    Great article! I always learn something!

      • Kelli
        Kelli says:

        Yes, someone from the Angus Association is always excited when her Google Reader has a Penelope Trunk post. Let’s just say you’ve been a break room topic on more than one occasion. Happy Farming!
        PS-That farmer of yours sure sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. ;)

  10. Oscar Baltazar
    Oscar Baltazar says:

    Great post, Penelope, very meaningful and relevant for all, not just startups. I especially like point #5. I’m in the real estate industry, and surrounding yourself with good people who are creative and open to other ideas, and who are willing to implement and mix and match (#6), has been key to the success that I’ve had in this market. Thank you.

  11. Liz
    Liz says:

    Great post P. We just returned from our local county fair (in Wisconsin) where my daughter showed a Hereford steer. I think of them like big dogs, very gentle. So if you decide to launch into becoming a rancher…your children may learn ethics. We don’t use or even consider drugging our big babies, but those with Angus sometimes do. My daughter was quick to tell her dad that it was never an option. She refuses to sell meat that is “tainted” in her opinion. Secondly, she won’t show anything that needs a cooler environment to grow a better coat for fair. She prefers a quality of life for a steer who gets to run outside versus being in an air conditioned room all summer. In showmanship when the judge asked them to trade up steers and the one she got went a little bonkers but she held her own…I was proud of her guts to hold her own with him. Finally after a couple years of showing, she took over this year and did it all with her parents just watching. A proud moment…but nothing beat watching her skip out of auction with her steer running alongside realizing forty more cents a pound than her best price. She had already calculated her profit before she tied him up. I know my city friends wonder how we can do this, but on the other hand…the beef our buyers bought come from a steer who was feed well (mainly hay, some grains), exercised, sang to (by a gaggle of girls) and groomed regularly. All of this may not translate into later happiness for her, but I like how she is making ethical decisions for her steer and her college fund gets a boost every summer.

  12. Van
    Van says:

    Like Irving’s wife, The Nurse, I’ve been researching taking baby steps towards becoming self employed as an antique reseller. I love all of your writing, but this is the first article I’ve read by you with practical advice I’m going to apply immediately. Especially sharing my ideas with everyone possible so I fill the holes in my plans with their input. And of course, I’ll keep reading, reading, reading –
    Great post, and I love the photo your son and the brown cow.

  13. P. Jennings
    P. Jennings says:

    There are a couple of cautionary tales about ‘great new ideas’ and ‘marketing’ related to China.

    One is from when silk was a much-desired commodity. Clever entrepreneurs bought cocoons, silkworm cocoons, figuring they would take the raw product and turn it into silk. Easier said than done. (Does anyone know how to make real silk?) This might comparable to raising Chianina without prior knowledge.

    The other is called “Chinese marketing” among ad people. In the, hmm, maybe 1950’s — China was perceived as a vast untapped market for all sorts of Western goods. In one case, it was a kind of soft drink. The thinking was: “If I can sell just ONE CAN of [insert product name] to every man, woman and child in China, I’ll be rich beyond belief.”

    But they didn’t manage to sell to hardly any Chinese.

    Chinese marketing. Cocoons into silk.

    Thinking up new ideas is fine. But broad general experience of manufacturing, marketing, distributions systems, profit-and-loss — those help a lot when it comes time to make the dreams real.

  14. P. Jennings
    P. Jennings says:


    “But they didn’t manage to sell to hardly any Chinese.”

    Awkward. Meant . . . sold almost none of their product, let alone as much as one to every man, woman and child.

  15. Marsha Lacko
    Marsha Lacko says:

    Three cheers for this post! It’s nice to see your real sense of humor emerging…not all obsessed with the whackjob east coast definition of success (money, plastic surgery, mental illness…yikes, how they can get anyone to live in NY, Boston or DC is beyond me!)

  16. Patti Murphy
    Patti Murphy says:

    Can’t go looking for a farmer because I’m married, but your post makes me want to consider living on a farm–except my family is allergic to everything farm-y: hay, horses, ragweed, cats, dust…Maybe we could raise reptiles or grow salad greens.

    I really like seeing how your entrepreneurial ideas take shape. Cheers.

  17. Will Marlow
    Will Marlow says:

    Great post – I especially like the quote “There are no amazing ideas, there is only amazing commitment to exploring ideas.”

    It reminds me of my favorite quote from Steve Jobs about how to build a business: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

    I’m the founder of a startup and I can say that there is no shortage of viable ideas, but viable doesn’t say anything at all about how much effort it will take to get the idea off the ground.

  18. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thanks for the links to the two articles at Paul Graham’s site. Very good articles. They reminded me of what it must have been or still is to some degree for you and the Ryans at BC. Specifically, the dip and all that stuff, where perseverance and patience is critical for success.
    I keep looking at the Chianina and Angus images above and think – are these images to scale? Whatever, I went to Wikipedia and the American Angus Association site today and read about Angus and the various cuts of meat. I had some Angus for dinner last night and it was good but I have to believe not nearly as good as the farmer’s grass-fed beef.
    I’m looking forward to reading about your next venture on the farm. You have a lot of good stories and tell them well with humor.
    Edutainment advice.

  19. JenG
    JenG says:


    While I can see how the majority of the people in the US would think they would like to be self employed, I don’t actually think they’d be happier if they were. You of all people know how much work is involved in running a business. When most people dream about self employment, they’re engaging in fantasy, not real desire.

    I’m an idea person and never run short of business ideas. Once I really started to pursue one though, I realized the detail work involved just wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was the personal financial investment needed to outsource it. Freelancing I think is a good fit, but not entrepreneurship. Now if I could just find a way to sell my ideas…LOL

  20. Amy
    Amy says:

    Just fyi…this post did not come through as it usually does on feedblitz. Just letting you know in case your traffic is not what it usually is….

  21. Tom T
    Tom T says:

    Hi, Penelope. Just to let you know, the reason why Jews use the front half of the cow is that the Sciatic nerve (found in the thigh) is not kosher to eat. This kosher law results from Jacob wrestling with the angel of Esau, who struck Jacob on the thigh when the angel saw that Jacob gained the upper-hand in the fight. Since the Sciatic nerve is so complex and intricately woven into the back half of animals, the general practice in kosher slaughter is to only use the front half of the animal, and sell the back half to non-Jewish butchers.

    Shana Tova!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh! I’m so excited that you wrote this, Tom. Thanks. I was telling this to the farmer and he absolutely couldn’t believe it. I’m going to read your comment to him.


  22. Nowgirl
    Nowgirl says:

    What does “we’ll exit on traffic” mean?

    I read the linked piece, and I think it means “someone will want to purchase the community BC built in order to market to them.”

    Is that right?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Short answer: yes.
      Long answer: A lot of companies that have investors are built on the idea that the company will build something very valuable to another company. So, FriendFeed was very very small, but Facebook bought them for what the engineering team learned how to do. Or Monster bought HotJobs because Monster wanted access to all the resumes listed on HotJobs. So, I guess the point is here that a lot of companies are sold for something besides the amount of revenue they have. When I say, “We’ll exit on traffic,” it’s sort of true and sort of a joke. It’s a joke because it’s a cliche: seems like every startup that isn’t making money says that.


  23. Mailynne
    Mailynne says:

    You may also consider looking into networking marketing for business ideas. To contrast what some the other comments, I too believe that being self-employed is MUCH better than having a job because that’s my personality to be self-motivated and I saw large flaws in some of the traditional job systems. There may be some who like having “just a job” but I don’t think those people are reading this blog. Yes, it is hard to run a business sometimes, but if you have the proper experience or training those things are par for the course. That’s where network marketing can be a benefit to those that seek to be self-employed but lack the experience or training. Training comes with a reputable direct sales company and help turn “jobbers” into “entrepreneurs” if that’s what is their goal.

  24. Albert Maruggi
    Albert Maruggi says:

    you had me with everything, except I’m not sure about one fact. Which cow actually has better brisket that has fat and marbling, The Chianina or the Angus. From the way I read it, the Angus has the better brisket, but you would not know that from looking at the picture of the Chianina, correct?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s unclear. The farmer thinks the Angus. But he’s never tasted the Chianina. I’m convinced that the Chianina LOOKS like it would have better brisket. And I wonder, really, if people can tell. Like, I’m not sure even the farmer could tell Angus from other grass-fed beef. I don’t know. We should do a taste test on the blog or something….


      • Margaret Goerig
        Margaret Goerig says:

        Ohhhhh, you should! You guys do eggs there, too; right? You could branch out and do taste tests of all sorts: your farm vs. grocery store free-range/grass-fed/organic vs. grocery store conventional …

      • Albert Maruggi
        Albert Maruggi says:

        I raise the question because it’s part of the art, science, and reason why I sometimes regret being in marketing. quick background journalist, political PR advisor, technology marketer, social media early adopter.

        Now here’s my point. Does it really matter which is actually better? It’s such a nit. And besides it’s so subjective. So I show the picture, I do a little video of succulent, mouth watering sandwiches and a couple of old ladies saying, “oh I never had such wonderful brisket” and poof there’s your international “best brisket” – I’m conflicted, the journalist in me says, “hey really how can you make that claim” – the communicator in me says “hey it’s subjective, are you kidding, here taste, enjoy, come sit down.”

        The Jewish thing – while not Jewish, I grew up in the Bronx a haven for great Knish found no where else in the world. Now I live in St. Paul, MN, a couple of blocks from Cecil’s Deli where my daughter works. Home of the medically proven effective Jewish Grandma’s Chicken Soup. or so I espouse on Yelp.

        All the best.

  25. Karl Sakas
    Karl Sakas says:

    “I asked about margins on pigs, cost of goods for eggs, cash flow during a bad harvest. … he said to me: ‘I will never go into business with you. Ever. You would be a pain, and I’m already doing enough with you now.'”

    It sounds like you were considering all the angles, brainstorming product ideas, and focusing on profitability. Isn’t that what anyone would WANT in a business partner?

  26. Jason
    Jason says:

    Interesting post but I have a question. What in the world does the text under Item #1 (having children to chores) have to do with the heading,”Read all the time, among broad sources and materials”?

  27. Trista
    Trista says:

    Great post! Although I’m working for someone else now, it makes me more determined to be self-employed in the not-so-distant future. Thanks for encouraging all of us budding entrepreneurs, Penelope!

  28. Clare
    Clare says:

    #4 – oh yes. I like the Steve Jobs quote from one of the comments, too.

    Half of what I’ve done I’m too emotionally attached to so I can’t just ditch it. Whereas my husband, man of many ideas, is ruthless in pruning out what doesn’t work, and moving on to the next. Is this a male vs female thing?

  29. Rich Kazmierczak
    Rich Kazmierczak says:

    You suggested another idea yourself in an offhand way … if the farmer has bred a uniquely docile herd of Angus, market the breed stock itself (I guess in the form of weaned calves to minimize production expenses) to the hobby farmer (they are the fastest growing segment of farming, and perhaps are looking for livestock that are more like pets than food animals).

  30. Lori
    Lori says:

    you really hit the jackpot with the farmer. he’s smart and funny. he deserves you!

    i believe it’s Kobe beef. it’s where kobe bryant’s mom got his name!

  31. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    Ha! I was thinking that about the Kobi beef too (watching something on foodtv @ Kobi). The farmer is right, though. The farm down the street from me have the most wonderful Angus herd. I love them. Wonderful to work with, delicious to eat.

    farming is in my family’s near future and this is the stuff I think about, now.

    also, having started up three businesses, two got tossed, one is flourishing beyond my expectations. Our ideas come about at the kitchen table, with friends, and much talk like, “I don’t have ___. I need ___. There is none like/where we need, so let’s start something.” Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t.

  32. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    The lack of an idea? I’m pretty sure the reason most of us don’t work for ourselves is fear of the risks, especially once we have families depending on us for income and benefits.

  33. Corinne
    Corinne says:

    Awesome article! I feel like a lot of people who want to start their own business get stuck when it comes to what the business should actually be. These are great tips for places to get ideas that many probably haven’t thought of.

  34. Frank
    Frank says:

    “They take care of farm animals and get rewarded with computer time”

    Good grief. I’d rather take care of the computer and get rewarded with animal time!!

    Now I know that I’m really becoming an adult

  35. Lisa Wallace
    Lisa Wallace says:

    Too funny! Did you know that you can also put birth control pills into potted plants as fertilizer? That’s if you have left over BC pills.

  36. groovecat
    groovecat says:

    “I asked about margins on pigs, cost of goods for eggs, cash flow during a bad harvest. – he said to me: ‘I will never go into business with you. Ever. You would be a pain, and I’m already doing enough with you now.'”

    i went into business w/ my best friend,and he told me i asked too many questions. bottom-line, he wanted my talent and expertise, but not probing questions into what and how he did what he did. so i dis-associated myself from that project for the sake of our friendship. never go into business w/ your wife, brother or best-friend. duh.

  37. Marthas
    Marthas says:

    Another good place to look for start ups is to go to business brokers! Or places where you get buyers bidding for a business

    Especially the online ones.

    We want to reduce the amount of risk by the greatest extent possible when starting any business. By going and looking around at businesses that people are actively bidding on and buying up – you get an idea of what’s actually in-demand by the market place. And more importantly, you can see what type of business has an actual customer base, market and demand for it.

    Because the very worst thing you can do, is put all this effort into starting up – and then realize (after its too late) that no one wants your product/service.

    So make it easier on yourself. Go to business brokers, go to business auctions – see what business buyers are buying. Because if a business is being auctioned off at a good price, then usually – the business is making money, and is otherwise solid. And the seller wants it for money now.

    Come to think of it – thats how most business brokers work. The business itself must be turning a profit…before it can even be considered for sale.

    If you want to take a step further – consider what the business is actually doing. IE – does it move people and freight? does it facilitate communications? Does it make people happy? Smile? does it entertain? And if you’ve got an idea that can do what the business is doing, and that can do it better – then your odds of success increases.

    Example – Landline Telephone company. Facilitates communication via phones. The “Big Idea” – having cordless, wireless phones so that people can communicate without landline phones. Result? A multi billion dollar Cell phone industry, and cell phone service industry.

    Or a railroad company. Moves people and freight economically over great distances. If you’ve got a device that can move people and freight more economically, and faster over long distances…by a significant margin…you win!

    And so on, and so on.

    Hope this helps along with this article!

  38. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Been a long time since I’ve read a post I wanted to comment on Penelope, but this one’s fab. Your way of thinking outside the box (xanax in beef? brilliant!) is what every start up needs. The obvious idea is rarely the best one – it’s the ideas that pop up when you’re half serious that are the most interesting. I’ll be looking for the “drug-fed” beef in my local grocery…

  39. Birdie
    Birdie says:


    I hate to blunt but your posts have really begun to suck! Not only are they few and far between now, but your seldom updates has me on the line of deleting your blog from my bookmarks list. I used to enjoy your posts so much but now, you lack the substance, luster, passion, and essence that keeps your readers wanting more. I don’t know if you are going through a dry spell in your life or what…but it’s time to get your but in gear if you want to maintain your readership.

  40. Eva
    Eva says:

    Your comment about being happy based on chores we do as children reminded me of M. Gladwell’s book “Outlier” which alludes to the fact that good work ethic also has a hand in being successful in later life. Not sure about happiness, but true for success. Your entertaining and interesting as always. Thanks, Eva

  41. cheska
    cheska says:

    Glad I saw this very interesting and releveant article on ideas for start up since I’m about to start one myself. I agree with all of the things that was mentioned above. But personally, #1, #2 and #5 were my favorites. I’m not sure if it was also mentioned but Passion or doing something you really want or of most interetst with you is also one important factor. Hope to hear more write-ups about this. thanks penelope. P.S. I suggest you also check out it’s about 10 ways to advertise your business. something we can think about later on yes? but might be a good read as early as now.

  42. Karen
    Karen says:

    I’ve read the Atlantic article on Vaillant (not Valliant) twice before, and it says nothing about chores. The seven predictors of a good life are:

    “Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight.”

    It’s an excellent article- well worth the read even though it’s long.

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