How to find the idea for your start-up

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From an early age, I enjoyed starting things. In grade 1, I started a pigeon club. The objective? To catch the seagulls that were running amok in our school yard during recess. Don’t judge. I recruited six members. In my senior year of high school, I planned a boat cruise on the Toronto harbourfront for the graduating class. Even though I stupidly named the event, “Explosion”, I earned CA$2,700 and split the amount with two classmates who helped me organize the celebration. Not bad for a high school student. At university, I established the Richard Ivey School of Business’ first marketing association, naming it “Branded”. I used a common clipart of a cow that had its rear end stamped as the logo. I know. Creative. The club remains 20 years later but the name and clipart did not.

When it came to my last year of university, my classmates were busy interviewing for full-time jobs, many of them already securing prestigious full-time positions at banks, consulting or accounting firms. As for me, I toyed with the idea of starting my own business given that I seemed to have some entrepreneurial flair. There was just one problem. I didn’t have an idea. So, I decided to embark on a more traditional path of finding an employer, thinking that when I finally found that idea one day, I would have gained enough experience to help me in starting and managing that business. Or perhaps I just thought this more linear path was the safer route. Either way, running my own business was always in the back of my mind.

During those many years working as a marketing professional for brands and agencies, just like Sauron’s mind was bent on finding the one ring (yes, I’m a LOTR fan), my mind was bent on finding a business to start. Many ideas came and went. These included an alcoholic bubble tea franchise (one of my favorite drinks in the world but I wasn’t sure of its legality); a luxury mobile shoe van (which made for a good EMBA project but wasn’t a passion of mine), and a marketing consultancy or advertising agency (certainly up my alley but something I realized I didn’t want to do as a business). None of them felt right. It wasn’t until I started feeling frustrated by my own lack of creativity at work did an idea start to form.

In trying to search for a solution to overcome my own creative blocks, I found that this was actually a common occurrence among adults. As we go through childhood, we are constantly encouraged to think more practically, and soon, our creative spirits wane and our fears take hold. I thought about whether there was a business that could help nurture and cultivate creativity in children. Around the same time, my older daughter was born, and I started to watch an ungodly amount of Super Simple Songs, Little Baby Bums, and Peppa Pig, which admittedly brought me a lot of joy (not only because of the few minutes of sanity it afforded me but also because I grew an affinity towards the light-hearted characters and storylines). I also started reading beautifully illustrated picture books to her every night, which reminded me how much I loved art and stories as a kid.

My idea soon morphed into the direction of a “choose your own adventure”, where art would serve as a critical component to stimulate creativity and storytelling. Paraphrasing Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement speech, “the dots had finally connected.” I decided to start a self-publishing platform for young writers and artists. I knew this was the one because I felt energized by the idea. I felt inspired whenever I walked into bookstores and thought about whether kids could be authors and illustrators of their own books. I was motivated that this could potentially help people learn creativity and literacy. Even though I tried to quell these feelings and get back to the safety of my full-time job, the voices in my head only grew louder, to the point where I could not ignore them anymore.

I have spoken to many people over the years who are interested in starting their own businesses but haven’t quite settled on an idea. I’m not suggesting you need 20 years or to birth children to figure this out. Everyone’s journey is different and mine just took time. What I am suggesting is that if there are a number of ideas you are mulling over, then you need to pay close attention to what excites you, moves you, and gives you energy. And when that voice inside you starts to nag at you, it is telling you that you may have found the one.

So, go ahead. Listen to yourself. Then think no further and take the leap.


Dreamwriters is a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists. The platform is currently under development.

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The founder of Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists.

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