We started a venture studio at the beginning of 2022. Ten months later, we’re excited to share that we’ve brainstormed 1,044 startup ideas so far. (Without a single Post-It.) How did we do it? Read on.
In a typical week, we generate 16 ideas, with slow weeks in the single digits and great weeks at 50+.
We also killed most of our ideas. Here’s how they break down by stage from definition (writing a one-pager) through exploration (talking to potential customers):
And here’s how the ideas break down based on quality at our first screening rubric, on a score ranging from -1 to 3, with 1 as the quality cutoff (we ice ideas scoring 1 or lower):
And here’s how the 44 ideas we developed and fully scored break down based on quality from -10 to 50, where 25 has potential to become an average portfolio company at a good VC:
That’s nice, but what about some examples?
Here are a few ideas we liked enough to flesh out (not necessarily our top ideas, but promising ideas that fit EIRs we’ve worked with):
Neobank concept – we know the market seems crowded but, we used a “white space grid” to systematically analyze the market and understand what opportunities still exist (this technique involved listing out dozens of potential customer segments and three product categories – deposit, lending, transfer – and researching which combinations had been tried before). This let us identify dozens of possible neobank ideas. (More on this one soon, but we rated our top Neobank 1.5 and 28 points.)
Some of our worst ideas:
TV station rollup (1986 called and wants this idea back)
St. Louis geospatial (yeah we don’t even know what that means ?)
Cluck coin: fractional livestock ownership through crypto (cut out the middle man for your egg production!)
Lead gen for yachts
🤮 Espionage marketplace: spy on others all the time, and get paid if you contribute valuable information
Deep fake zoom: change your gender, age or race on zoom calls
Group lending for startups: debt financing for a group of startups, with collective responsibility for defaults
HVAC cleaning robot
Some of our weirdest ideas:
Coffee filter paper that removes caffeine
Crowdsourced domestication of plants – 50k edible plant species exist; we consume 150 of them
Litigation marketing: ID public data sentiment to find businesses that have significant consumer harms, then do customer / litigant acquisition for law firms
JeanBot: distributed manufacturing for personalized luxury jeans
The idea process
Sometimes inspiration comes on a run or in the shower. We record those too. But we have systems, habits and rhythm. Quantity leads to quality.
Here’s what we do:
Go for quantity and reserve judgment. We separate out scoring from ideation. In ideation, we focus our energy on improvement, variation and new ideas.
Write everything down. Almost half our ideas came when we’re not “trying to have ideas” – while speaking to customers or entrepreneurs, reading, talking to friends or listening to podcasts. We have an “idea inbox” where we jot everything down.
Structured time. More than half our ideas come during our weekly 2 hour brainstorming call. We use different techniques – from brainstorming grids to spitballing, but just showing up gets us 5-10 ideas on unproductive days.
Recognize when an “idea” is a theme or problem. Often, we’ll come up with an idea like “New underwriting sources for SMB” that isn’t really a business idea, but a theme to explore or problem to solve. We categorize them as such, and reuse them as brainstorming prompts in future sessions.
Go with the flow. Sometimes, a particular technique or topic runs dry – that’s OK. In our idea sessions, we follow energy, and move on to another technique, theme or potential customer problem.
The review process
In a separate regular meeting, we then triage the ideas. Without additional research, we rate on a scale of 0 to 3. Factors we take into account include revenue opportunity, viable go-to-market, mission alignment and ease of de-risk quickly inside the studio without too many resources. We also will take into account the “why now?” We then discuss ideas with divergent ratings.
We define the idea more with a one-pager. Key topics include explaining product, market sizing, go-to-market, key assumptions or risks and how to validate them.
We score including a rubric of 5 dimensions. We try to norm each dimension around 5 (for example, a potential enterprise value of $1-10 billion earns 5 points). So 25 is a good score. We expect the rubric to evolve but now it includes mission, GTM, enterprise value, ease of validation and risk. With points off for headwinds.
Purpose Built venture studio brings together pre-idea entrepreneurs, capital, coaching, and resources to turn the best ideas into great companies focused on fintech, upskilling, and the future of work. We support our founders' personal and professional development while building companies that help people reach for economic opportunity. Purpose Built was started by 3-time founder and investor Miles Lasater and 2-time founder Taylor Thompson (that’s us!).
We often work with founders who are not yet committed to an idea. We generate ideas that they can choose from or we come up with one together.
We have dozens of ideas that are ready for founders to work on. If you want to build a startup and haven’t yet selected an idea, we want to talk!