Grandpa Dave’s Old Fashioned Recipe for Zesty Business Ideas

Now that I’m doing it again, I am remembering how cooking up a good idea for a company is harder than finding a pro athlete at Comic-Con. So I find it helps to follow a recipe. This one was adapted over time from conversations, experience and observations cobbled together from other entrepreneurs.

Experience can help the process — “pattern recognition” helps the experienced folks understand what works and what doesn’t. On the other hand, some veterans (for example, me) have seen so much that they’re jaded and knock down their own ideas before they try them.

After a long slog, I’m learning the right formula: part process, part mindset, part art, part science. Enjoy!


  • 1 cup youthful idealism (keep on hand; I run out a lot)

  • 1 good network of relevant people

  • 3 handfuls creativity / ability to connect disparate ideas

  • 1 premium partner (note: can substitute meditation and/or therapy)

  • 1 helping of presentation skills

  • 3 fistfuls fire in the belly

  • 1 pinch compartmentalization of life / focus

  • 1-3 ideas (half-baked)

  • 3 crates patience and self-appreciation (note: don’t substitute alcohol here)

  • 1 set of blinders (to protect you from worrying too much about competitors; can substitute more youthful idealism if you run out)

  • 1 blog to use as therapy

Cooking School


  1. Take out all your motivations, and set them on the table. List your goals and motivations for starting a business. What do you need (e.g. short commute, less travel, caffeine drip) and what do you NOT need (e.g. small number of customers, overbearing board, haters).

  2. Then take out all your assets, and put them next to your motivations. Who could you pull together on a team? Advisors? What are the big gaps? Do you have seed capital? Or access to capital? What are your strengths and experiences? In what area could you be the best in the world?

  3. Assemble your current ideas. Make a list of 30 (it’s possible).

  4. Start working through the ideas with your partner. If you don’t have a partner, set up brainstorming meetings with good people. Too much solo time and you’ll end up with a lopsided mess. Consider a personal board of directors. Turn your 30 ideas into five.

  5. Shape them. Connect the dots between new technology and business model trends to your area of choice. See what happens. Then add in the seasoning of your experience and background.

  6. Sift through your ideas. Use a good sieve to filter out the excess (but nothing so tight that prevents everything from getting through). Consider the strength of the idea, your passion/purpose and your ability to execute on it. Once you start adding things like your personal brand, your existing network and potential competitors, you’re over-sifting. Ideally, one idea will naturally rise to the top, but you can take two if needed.

  7. Step back. Instead of forcing everything through a rigid process, occasionally remove yourself to look at where people (you, your partner and anybody else you have involved) seem to be heading on their own. Is there a natural gravitational pull that you’re missing? I recently had the head-slapping V-8 moment when I realized how I was forcing ideas onto a likely team who wouldn’t love them.

  8. Research other businesses in the space. But avoid getting overwhelmed. Too much reading about competitors makes the idea lose its flavor. Inspirational reading preserves the taste.

  9. Form the raw materials into a functional presentation. Turn the idea into a practice pitch. This doesn’t have to be TED-worthy. Just good enough to get the feedback you need.

  10. Do a taste test. Find good people who understand the space and present the ideas while asking as many questions as possible.

    1. Keep an open mind. If the conversation starts going in another direction, consider running with it. This kind of intuition is what you need to make a great idea.

    2. Capture pain points. As they come up, latch on to them like a lamprey giving a hickey. Keep asking questions to dig in on that pain point. Note: without this step, the whole recipe could fail. Ideally you want to start matching up pain points from various potential customers.

    3. Stay on the lookout for something small but solvable. If you find those small pain points that affect everyone, but haven’t been solved, you’re on the right path. At least in Silicon Valley, too many people look for the billion dollar idea. But the path to a billion always starts with a million-dollar idea.

  11. Be open to serendipity. Once you start moving with purpose in a direction, you leave yourself open to luck. The week I started looking at hospitality software as an option, I came across a mid-sized hospitality software company 10 minutes from my house that was willing to sell itself. It didn’t go through, but these things happen surprisingly often when you’re on the right path.

  12. Run the idea through the Stop / Start / Continue machine. Is the idea on the right track? You can either stop and move on to the next idea, start building this idea or continue on the process of validating this one.

  13. Bake. Congrats. You’ve now gotten your idea to the point where you’re ready to start cooking. It won’t be perfect (it never is). It will likely change many times along the way. But it’s good enough to put in the oven.

Now go eat.

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