Question :
I have a background in working successfully within a government sector. I achieved highly here and developed a reputation. Outside of the structure of an organisation I don’t know where to start. I am female in my mid 30’s and so many women I speak to also have ideas, but don’t know what to do exactly. I currently have my Masters of Psychology and would love to do something in the mental health arena. I can FEEL what it is (this is exactly the language many of my female colleagues also use) and I know I have the professional skills to execute at a high level…but I don’t know what to do. How do you “unlock” and clarify what is a very instinctive knowledge about what you want to do? Where do you start? I feel many strong female leaders in my sector also feel this way, and it feels too difficult to start something, so we sit on our “hunches” and never develop our ideas. I’d love to have some advice on how to get your ideas out into the open and to take action!

Question submitted 16/08/20 @ 10:39pm
Industry: Start-ups
  • Morena – well done on sharing, thank you. Getting started is and can be challenging! Here is a great blog around starting – https://www.ycombinator.com/library/4D-yc-s-essential-startup-advice – and what I would think about is potentially using the Lean Startup Canvas tools to work through some ideation of where you could start. What you could also do is talk to some people in the market, to understand where the opportunity for your focus could be? Basically you are looking for where there is ‘pain’ in the market that you can solve and start your business around that.

    We talk about finding a problem that is like an aspirin, and not a vitamin pill – e.g. something that is painful for people that they will want a solution too.

    Hope that helps and I will think about another blog that might be useful – just need to find it!

    Here is another good blog for you to look at – https://www.ycombinator.com/library/61-order-of-operations-for-starting-a-startup

    Hi there,

    I think in-depth market research is a perfect place to start.

    Many businesses fail due to inadequate market research (in terms of market need/willingness to pay, demand and already active competitors). https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-reasons-top/. Market research will help clarify your thinking and firm up some of your ideas (even if your ideas are very vague at this stage).

    I find these tools very helpful. https://moz.com. There are tutorials to get you started, and a free 30-day trial will be more than enough for you to get some insights.

    First, think about the sorts of problems you might want to solve. Then, consider how people might type those problems into Google to try and find help or a solution. In other words, come up with lots of “keyword” ideas (keywords are the phrases that people might type into a search engine).

    Next, enter your search phrase ideas into the Keyword Explorer tool in Moz. This will help you assess “search volumes” for your phrase ideas (indicating whether there is a demand in the market). Take a good look at what results are ranking on Google for your phrase ideas. This will give you an indication as to what type of solutions that are out there and what you would need to compete with or position against. ( https://www.disruptiveadvertising.com/marketing/positioning-in-marketing/).

    NB)You can pick the region you want search results from, I recommend the US to start with.

    Moz also offers a Keyword Suggestion tool to give you ideas on some other search terms that may be related to your idea.

    This may sound complicated but I promise you it isn’t once you get started.

    Be warned, it’s easy to get sucked into the research and spend hours on it at a time (which in your case wouldn’t be a bad thing because it will help to stimulate your ideas and refine your thinking). I recommend opening up lots of browser windows as you go and using the https://www.one-tab.com/ to save everything when you need a break or to put stuff aside for later. I later sort my One Tab content into “Competitors”, “Competing Content”, “Possible Partners”, etc. (You can drag and drop and add titles to One Tab saves).

    Much of the start-up advice out that is to “just get started” and “commit” and “go hard”. However, most start-ups fail. In-depth market research at the beginning gives you the best possible chance of success.

    Don’t worry if you find competitors in the space. Competitors aren’t a bad thing because they indicate there is a market for your idea. You just need to find a way to do it better and “position” yourself against them.

    Also, remember there is no shame in deciding that your idea doesn’t have merit (once you have done all the research) and you need to go back to the drawing board. It’s much better to come to this (informed) conclusion before you start then when you invested your heart soul (and bank account!) into an idea that has been poorly researched.

    I have personally researched many different ideas and ended up back at the drawing board. Still, these ideas have a way of coming back to you in a different form and you have to learn to embrace the process of idea and business creation (which is often two steps forward three steps back five steps sideways and finally a step ahead).

    Be well, good luck, and reach out if you need any more help.

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you so much for your reply…and so quickly too. You’ve given me some concrete steps to take, which is really important as starting in a completely new field is overwhelming due to so many possible actions that may be taken, so I appreciate that. The links you suggested are a really good place to start and being connected with them is helpful as there is so much advice available it’s difficult to wade through. I really appreciate you taking the time to offer advice. This site is brilliant. Reading through all the other responses has also been fantastic learning for me. Thank you. Greatly appreciated!

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you greatly for this. I loved the article you linked to, and your advice follows on perfectly from the number 1 reason start ups fail – lack of a market. It’s really good for me to keep this data forefront in my mind during starting. Being very aware that many start ups do fail, I am launching mine with trepidation. However, this data is useful as it allows me to ensure I have done my research on market demand. Thank you, also, for the tools to do this. It sounds so simple to thank you for this. However, the advice we receive from experienced business people is so significant in helping us to cut through the all of the information that is available. Practical systems, such as what you’ve shared, are so helpful. If I can learn from the way you’ve done it, then all the better! I also like your advice r.e. going back to the drawing board. Flexibility and adaptability are so important to keep forefront in our minds…although once emotions are involved, this can be hard, so thank you for your time and for the reminder. I really appreciate it!

    PS Asking friends and family for feedback is OK but remember that Kiwis tend to be too nice and may not give you the blunt feedback you need. Also, they may not “get” your idea because they are not your target customer profile and/or you haven’t got good at explaining your idea yet. Long story short, friends and family feedback is a start but should be taken with a huge grain of salt and is not a substitute for the research I have suggested above.

    “I know I have the professional skills to execute at a high level. … I achieved highly here and developed a reputation.”


    The great news is that execution and your network and reputation are crucial components of startup success — probably more important than ideation!


    “How do you “unlock” and clarify what is a very instinctive knowledge about what you want to do? Where do you start?”


    Starting can be the hardest part. Andy’s comments on finding and solving for pain points in the market are spot on. I wouldn’t get too hung up on finding the “perfect” idea — it’s too easy to fall into analysis paralysis. There comes a point at which you need to take a leap of faith with a bit of a “ready, fire, aim” approach.


    The key to the ready, fire, aim approach is to be prepared to respond to feedback and pivot your product and business plan on a regular basis (sometimes on a week-to-week basis!). In that regard, I would read about lean startup methodologies.


    Your leap of faith doesn’t need to be an Evel-Knievel-leap-over-a-canyon jump. It can simply be defining a set of goals that you work towards on nights and weekends. Define a minimum viable product; whatever is the absolute smallest amount of work to test a hypothesis of adding value in the market and solving a pain point. Spend a few days (not months or years!) executing on “building” that minimum viable product and testing it against your proposed target market. Set parameters about what success looks like, and be prepared to completely dump the idea and product, or to tweak it and test again.


    In the earliest days of testing your idea, what you are looking for is product-market fit (is it aspirin rather than a vitamin, per Andy’s metaphor). A great survey to add to the hypothesis-testing phase of your product development is the “Sean Ellis” test. That is, ask your early customers/test subjects: “How would you feel if you could no longer use the product/service? a) Very disappointed, b) Somewhat disappointed c) Not disappointed”


    Per the test, building a product or service where more than 40% of respondents would feel very disappointed if they could no longer use it, is an indicator that you have found good product/market fit.


    Long story short: take all of your hunches, brainstorm ways to productize them, and then work out a low-fidelity way to operationalize those products/services and test the ideas. Be ready for a lot of the products to fail. But failure is great! It’s a form of feedback that will inform your next experiment.

    Hi Sarah,

    This is great advice r.e. moving beyond the field of friends of family for feedback. Thank you!

    Hi Sam,

    Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom and advice with me! In the “preparing to launch” phase there is so much to think about that it becomes overwhelming, especially during these Covid days. You have reminded me of key areas to focus attention on, and this subsequently releases pressure from other focus areas. An important take away is defining a MVP and executing it quickly and being prepared to pivot. The act of discussing my idea with you all has been really helpful in itself. I very much feel like this business sector is a foreign land with the core structures and language being known but not mastered…so thank you for helping a stranger out. It is greatly appreciated!

    WoW. What a freaking amazing stream. So many insights. Thank you all!

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