The Terribly Dull Way to Find Your Next Billion Dollar Startup Idea

The best entrepreneurs have a very specific process, and it’s not nearly as exciting as you’d hope.

Aaron Dinin, PhD
6 min readAug 17


Image courtesy Yan Krukau via Pexels

How do entrepreneurs find billion dollar ideas? If pop culture gives us any clue, the process involves a group of dudes sitting around a living room, possibly smoking weed, and blurting out ideas until one of those ideas seems brilliant enough to excite everyone.

But that’s not actually how entrepreneurs find their most successful startup ideas. The process isn’t nearly as interesting or quick. Instead, a better way to understand how successful entrepreneurs find their startup ideas is to read this article sharing the recent news that the United States Air Force signed its first ever contract to hire third-party, commercial aerial refueling tankers.

Yes, I’m suggesting you read an article about aerial refueling. It’s basically about creating flying gas stations. You may have seen them in movies — they’re the big planes with long tubes sticking out for fighter jets to hook into and get more gas while they’re flying.

I suspect the business of aerial refueling is a topic you’ve never considered from an entrepreneurial perspective, and that’s perfectly fine. You don’t need to know anything about the business of aerial refueling to appreciate how news of the US Air Force’s new aerial refueling contract is a perfect example of how entrepreneurs actually find billion dollar startup ideas.

Teaching an impossible class

To add a bit of context about why I’m suggesting we explore the US Air Force’s aerial refueling contract, I should mention that I teach a class at Duke University on the topic of entrepreneurial discovery. It’s a class for helping students learn to discover interesting and/or compelling startup ideas.

In case you’re curios, a class about discovering great startup ideas is nearly impossible to teach. To understand why, think about the fundamental logistics for such a class by comparing it to, for example…



Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @