The Secret to Finding Your Next Great Startup Idea

Aaron Dinin, PhD
4 min readMay 5, 2020

One of my entrepreneurship students recently came to my office hours asking for advice. He was clearly frustrated.

“Dr. Dinin,” he said, “I really want to start a company, but I can’t come up with any good ideas.”

He wasn’t the first student with that complaint. Ever since I began teaching entrepreneurship, I’ve been hearing the same thing from frustrated young entrepreneurs. They assume, because I “teach entrepreneurship” (whatever that means), I have some magical secret for helping them find billion dollar startup ideas.

For a long time, I felt like I was letting everyone down because I couldn’t give them the secret they so desperately wanted. But, at last, I think I’ve finally discovered it.

Yes, I know the secret to finding great startup ideas. I’m even going to share it here, with all of you. But, before I do, I need to give you the same warning I give all my students: you’re not going to like it.

The truth about “great ideas”

Read the following scenario, and see if it’s familiar:

You were excited. You had a great idea for a new product you were sure everyone was going to want. You even floated the idea to a few friends, and they all immediately said: “I’d definitely use that!” So you started building it.

You spent weeks — maybe months — painstakingly creating every piece of functionality and feature. Finally, after all your hard work, it was ready to launch. You released it to the world, posting announcements for it on every relevant forum and social media feed you could think of. Then you excitedly opened your metrics tools to track buyers or users or whatever other core metric mattered most for your product and saw… nothing.

“It’s still early,” you assure yourself. “These things take time.”

You keep refreshing your metrics on launch day, but the massive spike in new users doesn’t happen. You go to bed slightly disappointed, but you’re still confident there will be an uptick overnight and first thing in the morning.

You wake up the next day and excitedly refresh your metrics. Still nothing. Maybe a couple of hits. Or a download. Perhaps a few signups. But…

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 @