The Unconventional Path To Discovering Great Ideas That Could Turn Into Startups Investors And Customers Would Love.

In my work with startups, particularly when talking with founders I have come to observe a pattern that almost seems to surface whenever you dig deep or probe the origin of the founder’s idea.

What you’re about to read might sound crazy(and a little bit weird), but it's not and if you observe your ideas or those around you as well you may find a similar pattern.

The principles I’ll share today can be applied to so many other things, but my focus is business (startups in particular). 

My goal is to help aspiring or existing founders identify and become aware of the ideas that exist around them disguised as basic, unattractive problems with huge rewards.

…and when I refer to ideas I don’t necessarily mean “idea stage”, but rather inspired thoughts that bring about business breakthroughs.

Remember, that ideas don’t come fully formed, just like jigsaw puzzles, they require all the pieces to come together for the picture to become clear…

And in most cases, the pieces are not in your possession, but definitely within your reach if you’re observant enough.

Which brings me to the “follow the white rabbit” concept…(a metaphor  culled from the 1999 movie The Matrix)

"Follow the white rabbit" is a phrase that became popularized by the 1999 film "The Matrix." In the film, the main character, Neo, is given a choice by the mysterious Morpheus to either take a blue pill and continue living in a simulated reality, or take a red pill and "follow the white rabbit" to learn the truth about the world.

Following the white rabbit is therefore a metaphor for taking a journey into the unknown or embarking on a path of self-discovery. It can also mean taking risks, exploring new ideas, or breaking free from the confines of one's current reality.

And this is the reality every founder must embrace…stepping into the unknown. 

Now, here’s a caveat…

There might be exceptions to it, but my intention is for you to use it as a guide.

However, it's almost as though ideas are born at a certain frequency or state of mind. In other words, the chances of you creating something great depend on how aware you are about it and the things that constitute this occurrence so you can turn it into an advantage.

If you read no further, understand that the basis of this article is to let you that the breakthrough idea you seek is probably already around you… 

Just waiting patiently to be discovered. 

… we'll touch on this further down. 

Not only that but there’s also a connection with that and founder-market fit because there’s a personal connection the founder has with the problem or opportunity they want to solve.

And that connection gets them curious enough to find want to find answers to the questions lurking in their minds.

In my opinion, as a founder, there are basically 3 factors that contribute to or inspire the birth or of an idea (that you understand):

  • Your experiences
  • Your background
  • Your environment

Let’s take it one after the other…

Your Experiences

For some, the experiences they encounter at a particular time in their lives spark the idea that would evolve into a great startup.

And such experiences could either be positive or negative, but it inspires a thought process that builds up to something great… 

One great example within the African startup ecosystem is Zuvy, a Nigeria-based invoice financing company founded by Angel Onuoha and Ahmad Shehu in 2021.

Zuvy recently closed an equity and debt funding round of $4.5 million to provide SMEs with invoice discounting and an invoice management tool to manage their businesses.

What’s really interesting is that the idea stemmed from a personal experience Onuoha had while helping an aunt run her food catering business.

"When I first came to Lagos, I was helping one of my aunties run her food catering business, and I saw just how much of an impact that invoice financing could have had on her business. This was primarily because most of her work is determined by large contracts that she would get from large oil and gas companies. They wouldn't pay her for 30 or 45 days at a time, and I found that a lot of these payment delays are very common for vendors."

That experience sowed the seed for what would later become Zuvy.

Your Background

Your personal background can also play a role in inspiring your startup idea. For example, Adewale Opaleye, the founder of B2B e-commerce startup Alerzo.

Since being founded in 2019, Alerzo has gone on to become a Series B startup that raised about $20 million to serve over 150,000 informal mom-and-pop stores in Nigeria and processes more than 400,000 transactions per month as well as an annualized transaction value of over $155 million back in September 2021.

But Adewale’s idea for Alerzo was birth out of the need to help his single mom who ran two informal retail stores in Ibadan to support him and his three siblings.

Not only that but Adewale also had previously built an e-commerce platform while in China to help Nigerian businessmen buy stuff from China as well as working on several mobile games for a couple of years.

All of these experiences made the perfect foundation and contributed to what Alerzo is today.

Your Environment

Finally, your environment can also inspire your startup idea. This can include your physical surroundings, the people you interact with, and the culture of the place you live or work.

A great example would be that of Mounir Nakhla, CEO and co-founder of MNT-Halan built by leveraging what I call “opportunity stacking” (more on that soon and why it's important for every founder to understand). 

Earlier this year, Egyptian startup MNT-Halan, headed by Mounir Nakhla raised $400 million in an equity and debt financing round from local and foreign investors to become Egypt’s first unicorn.

As with most great ideas, they often evolve and the story behind MNT-Halan is no different. As a matter of fact, it has been 12 years in making a solid microfinancing playbook for underserved markets.

In 2000, Nakhla joined his Uncle’s consulting firm Environmental Quality International (EQI), which was focused on sustainable development and microfinance.

Nakhla first playbook was executed with the formation of  Mashro’ey, an asset financing joint venture between EQI and GB Auto (exclusive assembler and distributor of Bajaj motor tricycles) to provide access to credit to tricycle riders in Egypt which became a huge success.

Next was the formation of Tasaheel,  another joint venture between EQI and GB Auto, to provide short-term group lending to female micro-entrepreneurs which hit its 5-year milestones after 2 years in operation.

The success of both joint ventures led to the merger of both Mashro’ey and Tasaheel which became MNT Investment.

The third opportunity was an idea from David Halpert to  Mounir to build a super app given his success in mobility and microfinance. This led to the birth of Halan the first mobility app in Egypt to focus on motorcycles and motor tricycles.

Halan later included food delivery and on-demand courier/logistics services and later evolved to become a platform offering digital financial services to Egyptians.

MNT Investment later acquired it and that became what we now know as MNT Halan.

If you noticed the strengths of the different ventures Nakhla pioneered all had one thing in common…his microfinance 

Conclusion

In conclusion, startup ideas can come from a variety of sources, including personal experiences, backgrounds, and environments. By paying attention to the world around you and being open to new experiences, you may be able to identify an idea that could turn into a successful startup.

Remember that ideas don't come fully formed and may require some experimentation and iteration to become successful. So, don't be afraid to take risks and follow the "white rabbit" into the unknown. Who knows where it might lead you!

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