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Recently, I read the print edition of a newspaper. I typically read a digital edition from an app. While reading the print edition, a funny thing happened. I found myself taking out my phone to look up more information about an ad that caught my attention in the print edition. I can't remember the last time I clicked on an ad while reading the digital edition. Digital ads in news apps are ubiquitous, and I tend to gloss over them or ignore them entirely. It was the old printed page medium that got me to act. I suspect there are many other opportunities to stand out all around us that don't require groundbreaking innovation.

That’s the title of an excerpt from Peter Thiel’s 2014 book Zero to One. In the excerpt, Thiel explains: “Creating value isn't enough—you also need to capture some of the value you create. This means that even very big businesses can be bad businesses. For example, U.S. airline companies serve millions of passengers and create hundreds of billions of dollars of value each year.”

Yet, airlines are a notoriously low or no profit business. This reminds me of the famous Richard Branson quote about how to become a millionaire. The paraphrased version goes: “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”

It’s a great exercise to not only consider how your business creates value, but how it captures part of the value it creates. Thiel sums up his point this way: “The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: If you want to create and capture lasting value, don't build an undifferentiated commodity business.”

TRUE: Finding that your business idea already exists isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

ALSO TRUE: Finding that your business idea doesn’t already exist isn’t necessarily a good thing.

If your idea does not already exist, there are several possible explanations, including, but not limited to:

  1. You’ve come up with something truly innovative and unique.

  2. Your idea has been considered by others before but abandoned because it doesn’t have an economically sound business model.

  3. Your idea is unfortunately something it turns out no one wants.

  4. Your idea is something people want, but aren’t willing to pay for. There is an opportunity if you can find an innovative way to monetize what others didn’t. (see number 2)

  5. Elements of your idea exist but have yet to be developed, positioned, or combined in a way that achieves product/market fit.

Determining where your idea sits is where the value lies.

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