How to Channel Big Ideas Into Your Startup

Before drawing inspiration from another company, here are some additional questions you need to consider.

Photo: Clay Bethune, co-founder of 9th & Elm; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Clay Bethune, co-founder of 9th & Elm; Source: Courtesy Photo

As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to admit that not all of your ideas are completely original. But the truth is that most people’s “strokes of genius” are actually extensions of something someone else started. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

After all, inspiration rarely falls out of the clear blue sky. It doesn’t hurt to peek into how someone runs a successful business and gather insights to apply to your own. Now, I’m not talking about stealing someone’s product or service; rather, I’m talking about the tangible takeaways that come with any effective strategy.

Look at Target, for example. It does a great job of taking high-end designers, such as Tory Burch, Missoni, and, most recently, Lilly Pultizer, and making their designs accessible for Target’s customers. These designers create exclusive, affordable pieces for Target, attracting new customers for the retailer. It’s a brilliant strategy, and it can easily be applied to your startup by looking at what worked, why it worked, and how it worked.

When you can answer those questions, you’ll inform your own strategy and build a better business.


Find Inspiration to Fortify Your Plans

It’s important to keep in mind that not every strategy will work for your unique situation. So, before drawing inspiration from another company, here are some additional questions you need to consider:


  1. Do you have a plan?

    No idea is set in stone until it’s written out. Make sure you leave your ego on the doormat and craft a plan based on what will work best for the company. It’s time to operate with a company-first mindset.

  2. Can the idea be tested without complete buy-in?

    Something may have worked well in Miami, but that doesn’t mean it will work in Minnesota. Test any and all ideas out before investing your time and money in anything.

  3. Are the people who’ve used the idea accessible?

    Talking to industry veterans is invaluable. An insider perspective may provide detailed insights that can help you build upon the original idea.

  4. How can the idea be improved?

    Don’t aim to copy an idea — aim to make it better. Think about how to spin it so it surpasses customer expectations, and explore ways to link it more closely with your brand.

  5. Do you have the resources to replicate this idea?

    Some ideas are simply too resource-intensive for a startup. If it’s sucking the life out of your company, it probably isn’t worth it. Establish what your limits are before you make an investment, and then evaluate whether the cost merits the sacrifice.

  6. Can you make necessary adjustments?

    An idea may sound great right now, but you need to determine whether it will still be viable in a month, a year, or even a decade. Listen to your customers and your trusted advisors. Some adjustments may need to be made that weren’t part of your original plan. Times change, so don’t get stuck in the past.


A major part of running a successful business is keeping tabs on the new trends and innovations in any given field — whether that’s a new product or service or a new way of running a business. French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard said it best: “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” (Source: Huffington Post) Every idea is valuable, and if you look closely enough, you may find the beginnings of a brilliant new idea.


Clay Bethune is a successful entrepreneur and co-founder of 9th & Elm. Clay has been an entrepreneur for more than 15 years and has started and sold many businesses in various industries. Connect with @claybethune on Twitter.


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