How to Come Up With New Product Ideas (That Don’t Suck)

So you want to find a new product idea to sell online? Well, chances are you typed something like “new product ideas” or “good product ideas” into Google, hoping you’d find the answer.

Nothing wrong with that.

However, the problem is you’re searching (and finding) the exact same thing as everyone else. These “new” ideas really become what everyone’s already doing and selling.

We’re not going to list out a bunch of product ideas here—that’d defeat the purpose of you finding what your customer needs.

Instead, we’re going to show you how to come up with new product ideas (that don’t suck) you can sell online. Your brand-new ideas might be inspired by products that exist, but you’ll be empowered with creativity and freedom to make them your own.

Remember good ol’ Henry Ford? There’s a quote attributed to him that goes like this: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This article will help you give your customers what they need instead of just faster horses.

What Makes a Product Idea “Good”?

First, let’s help differentiate the good product ideas from the bad ones. Here’s a few tell-tale signs of each:

Signs of a Good Product Idea

  1. Addresses a Need: Good product ideas solve problems. These can be huge problems (like Elon Musk battling climate change) or minor problems (like alleviating someone’s body odor). Don’t set out to find a product. First, find the problem. Next, find (or build) the perfect product to solve it.
  2. Provides Solid USP: Your product needs a unique selling proposition (USP) that makes it better than any other product on the market. That USP could be related to features, pricing, scalability, or even speed of delivery. A good product could be exactly what’s on the market, but maybe your manufacturing is more scalable, so you can drive down prices for customers? That’s a new product idea.
  3. Has Profit Potential: The best idea is just a notion unless you can make a plan to (1) create it and (2) make it profitable. That means you’ll need to consider expenses, pricing, supply and demand, the size of your addressable market, and current competition.
    Can Be Easily Communicated: You’ll likely need to secure funding from lenders or investors. If your idea’s too complex, you will struggle to get financing. Plus, your customers will face a barrier to entry.
  4. Makes You Happy: Don’t start selling a product you don’t care about—that’s a recipe for a sleazy MLM. You should be able (and excited) to attach your name and photo next to your product. That’s a sign you’re proud of it.
  5. Is Worth Paying for: There are plenty of products out there that make you think, “Oh, cool!” However, you don’t want to just impress passing-by customers—you want them to open their wallets. Ensure your product is worth paying for and not just a fun concept.

Red Flags of a Bad Product Idea

  • Offers No Identifiable USP: Your customers should be able to identify your USP. If they can’t figure out what makes your product different from the rest, then it’s likely inadequate.
  • Confuses Customers: If you have to convince customers it’s a good product, it’s probably not. Your product should be able to market itself without a 60-minute infomercial.
  • There’s No Demand: Some problems aren’t worth solving. You’ll need to validate your product idea to ensure your target market doesn’t just think it’s a good idea, but they’re willing to spend their hard-earned money to buy it.
  • It Already Exists: Do your research. There are many entrepreneurs out there, so ensure your new product idea doesn’t already exist. If it does (or did), learn more about it. How’s it doing? Why did it fail (or succeed)? How can you do it better?

Write these ideas down, and share them with someone you trust. If you come up with a product idea you’re in love with, you’ll likely see all the good and none of the bad. It’s natural. However, if you give your idea an objective look-through, you could discover fatal flaws before it’s too late.

How to Find Your New Product Idea

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start searching. If inspiration comes from mountain meditation or long hikes in the wilderness, go get after it. But if those product-finding methods let you down, here are some places to start:

1. Ask Your Customers

This approach goes against Henry Ford’s famous quote, but your customers almost (almost) always know best. Start there.

If you have customers, send out surveys or conduct interviews to figure out their problems. If you don’t have customers yet, identify your target market and start there.

You could even find a subreddit you’re interested in and open up conversations there. For example, if you’re into hiking and want to find a product idea that solves hikers’ needs, you might join the r/Hiking, r/Backpacking, or r/Ultralight subreddits. Browse the conversations there, probe into complaints, or just flat out ask people what they want.

You could start by asking what’s challenging them or what they would like fixed. Dig deeper and ask what they think could solve it. They might not always know the answer to the second question, and that’s OK—that’s ultimately your job to figure out.

Once you identify a problem, start determining your customers’ willingness to pay to fix it. If it’s nothing (or not a lot), it’s probably not an issue worth solving.

If the problem is worth solving, start thinking of a product. Don’t worry about perfecting the design and all the components just yet. Once you have a prototype or a draft, ask your customers if they would be interested in something like this. If the answer is “yes,” then you know you’re on the right track.

2. Spot What’s Hot

Look for what’s trending on ecommerce sites or social media platforms. What’s doing well? Why? Can you replicate it and make something better?

For example, if everyone is raving about online learning, is there a course you can create to solve a need? If a course already exists, can you make one that’s better or more affordable?

Remember, fads come and go. If you jump into a trend early, you can capitalize on the moment and get out before it cools off. If you join too late, you might end up investing in a product with quickly diminishing demand.

One way to ensure you stay on track is spotting needs within the trends. For a while, air fryers were a hot topic across the news and social media feeds. However, they didn’t solve any desperate needs—they just gave people new healthy-ish ways to cook food. After a while, the hype petered out, and now there’s a bunch sitting unused in consumer’s closets.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Steal

“Good designers copy, great designers steal.” These famous words spoken by painter Pablo Picasso apply to much more than design. You don’t need an entirely original idea—you just need to copy, steal, and iterate to make the next best thing.

Even smarty-pants Elon Musk didn’t do anything exceptionally revolutionary—he just took a popular model of cars (which have been around for over a century) and made them electric, powerful, sexy, and exclusive. OK, he did more than that, but you get the idea.

Or take a look at Jibbitz. Jibbitz capitalized on Croc’s popularity (still don’t understand why people wear these shoes) by creating charms to let wearers personalize their footwear. Jibbitz essentially piggybacked on another brand’s success to hit it big, and Crocs ended up buying the tiny startup for $10 million.

You could also think about all of today’s social media apps. Remember when Instagram stole Snapchat’s model and added Stories to their platform? And then every other social media platform did the same thing?

Or remember when Bird and Lime started littering every city in the US with electric scooters? A couple of months later, Uber, Lyft, and several other brands were already on the scene.

You don’t need to come up with something brand-new. Borrow, steal, and Frankenstein your own product idea—just make sure it has a USP that beats out the competition.

4. Think of Upsells and Cross-Sells

If you’re already selling goods, you don’t necessarily need an out-of-the-box product. A closely related product has the potential to succeed, and it also could boost your existing merchandise sales.

For example, if you sell shoes, you could expand into shoelaces or socks. If you sell online courses, you could expand into e-books or in-person classes.

While you’re thinking about it, look at ways you could improve your existing product. Are there simpler, cheaper or more robust, costly versions you could provide? For example, you can find about 3 different models of every new soccer footwear: budget-friendly, middle-of-the-road, and premium.

Can you do the same thing with your products? If you sell an online course, you could have a condensed cheaper version or a more comprehensive expensive version.

5. Find Your Own Problems

You (yes, you) are a consumer, too. What problems do you have? Is there a day-to-day issue you wish you could solve? There’s a good chance your personal persona belongs in a niche market—if you can find a problem you want to solve, there might be other individuals (hopefully lots of them) with the same issue.

Don’t worry—we’ll get into validating your idea later to ensure it has legs to stand on. But don’t discount your problems. This method doesn’t take long processes or intensive research. Just think about what really bothers you and how you wish you could solve it.

Take Airbnb, for example. Founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky struggled to pay rent, so they decided to rent out airbeds on their living-room floor to conference attendees in San Francisco. The next day, the pair created a website—6 days later, they had 3 tenants sleeping on their floor.

Codeacademy started as a Columbia University programming club. Cofounder Zach Sim struggled to learn new coding skills on his own, so programming native (and cofounder) Ryan Bubinski used Sims as a guinea pig to create a self-paced learning experience that became Codeacademy.

Don’t overlook your own problems. Create a solution that’s worth paying for, and you’ll likely find other customers just like you.

Validate. Validate. Validate.

Have an idea for a product? Fantastic! Don’t do anything with it yet.

Hear us out.

Before you go off to the races or start digging down deep into rabbit holes, validate your product idea. You don’t want to devote any time or money (or worse—get personally attached) to an idea that’s going to crash and burn.

While we can keep asking theoretical questions and playing with ideas, sustainable businesses are only built when money changes hands. If it’s going to succeed in the long-term, it needs to pass a stress test. Here’s how to do it:

Smoke Test With a Landing Page

Build a landing page that highlights the benefits (and pricing) of your product. Drive traffic to the page with organic (social media and email) and paid (PPC ads) strategies, and then see what your customers do.

Do they click the “purchase now” button, or do they leave without taking action? Set a click-through rate goal for what you want the page to achieve. If it hits that goal, then you can feel confident in actually creating and scaling the product. If not, then you might want to rethink your idea.

This smoke test helps you find out if people are really willing to buy your product. Friends, families, and colleagues might say your idea is great, but a real audience with real money will give you the cold, hard truth.

The whole process for your smoke testing landing page should only take a few days. Don’t spend too much time making a fancy landing page—keep it minimal with the basics.

At Foundr, we’ve launched a lot of online courses, and we make it a practice to validate every one before we put in the time and money to make it a reality. Learn the step-by-step process we use to validate each course idea (without spending a cent).

Flesh Out Your Entire Strategy

GTM. Manufacturing. Shipping. Financing. All of it. Figure out the logistics of how your new product idea is going to come to fruition. Do all of this research before you start building prototypes and websites.

You might find a logistical component that shuts down the whole product idea, so do your due diligence:

  • Sourcing Your Product: How are you going to build or buy your product? Do you have enough money and resources? If it’s something like an online course or e-book, do you have the skills and bandwidth to bring it to fruition? If not, can you hire someone?
  • Go-to-Market (GTM) Plan: How do you plan to launch and market your product? What price does it need to be to beat out competitors, draw in customers, and help you earn a profit? What channels will you need to use to reach your audience?
  • Shipping: How will you get your physical or digital product from you to your customers? Will it be through email or the post office? Will they need a login, or will it be a downloadable product?
  • Financing: Where are you going to find the money to make this happen? Do you have a rich uncle, or will you need to ask a bank for a loan?

It’s a lot to think about. We know. Yet it’s critical you think about all of these things before pursuing a new product.

The best idea could check all your boxes, but if you don’t have the money, time, or means to make it happen, it’s not going to be a good idea.

Make Your New Product Idea Come to Life

New product ideas are great and all, but they only live in your brain and on the back of a used napkin until you launch them to the world.

Sound intimidating? It can be. Well, without the right mentors and processes, that is.

Let us help accelerate your new product idea and launch a profitable online store in 12 weeks (or less). Sign up for our free masterclass to learn the 5-step process for bringing your big idea to life.

The class is taught by Gretta Rose Van Riel, an entrepreneur with 4 multi-million dollar ecommerce brands under her belt. It’s safe to say she knows a thing or 2 about successful product ideas and launches. Learn how she did it and (more importantly) how you can, too.

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