Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Why your news business idea doesn’t have to be original

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 24, 2011

OK, so you’re busy thinking of ideas for a journalism startup – hopefully, so you can enter myNewsBiz and win £1000. Or maybe because you’re being brave and want to create your own business.

You’ve read lots of blogs about the future of news, multimedia, startups and tech. And you’re buzzing around with ideas like “innovative” “unique” “remarkable” “world-changing”, “the next big thing”. In other words, you’re searching for an original idea.

That puts a lot of pressure on the grey matter doesn’t it. The good news is there’s really no such thing as an original idea – nor indeed is there a need for one.

Inventions invented many times

There’s a famous (untrue) myth that the Commissioner for the US Patent Office Charles Duell back in 1902 said “everything that can be invented, has been invented.” A look back through the history books shows, firstly, that inventions have come thick and fast since then; but secondly, that some of the greatest inventions were actually invented several times.

The typewriter was invented more than 50 times, the first time way back in 1714. The lightbulb was famously patented by nearly a dozen scientists, before Thomas Edison’s lamp took hold. Even audio recording, originally invented by a Frenchman Charles Cros, was made famous by Thomas Edison in 1877, a year before Cros could get his idea to the patent office.

So: don’t worry about creating something new out of thin air.

The foundation of a great business idea is that it serves a need, fills a gap or cures a pain. For example, someone’s already come up with the idea of starting a multimedia production company in New York. Doesn’t mean I can’t do the same in London, right?

In fact, some of the most successful businesses come from improving on a product or service that already exists. James Dyson didn’t invent the vacuum cleaner, but he made it a whole lot better.

We all thought Mark Zuckerberg had social networking all sown-up; but then along came Twitter.

Four ways to improve on someone else’s idea*

  1. Do something old in a new way which saves your customer time or money.
  2. Do something better or faster than the competition.
  3. Do the same thing but with better quality of service or more promises (‘or your money back!’)
  4. Do the same thing but cheaper…although top tip: you don’t want to compete on price.

To find out more about what makes a good business idea, check out these videos – and then make sure you enter myNewsBiz!

*adapted from The Beermat Entrepreneur by Mike Southon & Chris West