Every world-conquering teenager needs to know how to earn his or her own livelihood and not just through working for someone else. If you spend some time acquiring the skills and smarts to be an entrepreneur – someone who can think up an idea for a business (of course, you will not be entering into any formal business contract until you are legally an adult, or find an adult partner to go into business with), find the money to get it started, execute the business idea, and eventually earn a profit from it – you will always land on your feet! What a wonderful place to be, right?

There is a reason so many people choose not to become entrepreneurs, though. They may be terrified that their business idea will fail, that they will not be able to find the money they need to begin, or that the risk is too high. One great way of overcoming these stumbling blocks is to have experimented with being an entrepreneur when you still live with your parents (like now). By the time you are all grown up, you will have gained yourself tonnes of learning about entrepreneurship in general, which will give you the confidence to try it again.

This is probably the toughest part – finding the right idea for your business. Primarily, is it a product – self-tying shoelaces, a voice-activated recipe reader an automatic garbage-segregator – you want to sell? Or is it a service – performing magic shows at children’s birthday parties, overnight dog-sitting for pets whose owners want to go away for a weekend, being a social media consultant to older people who run businesses from their homes and don’t know how to spread the word about their products online – that you are offering? Here are a few tips for coming up with the right business idea.

Who needs what because why

Never mind that it sounds ungrammatical, this is what entrepreneurs call a problem statement – if you can fill in the who, what and why after you’ve thought of your idea, chances are that it is a good business idea. For instance, in our recipe reader idea, the problem statement would read – Everyone who is cooking a dish according to a recipe (who) needs a voice-activated recipe reader (what) because it is too much of a hassle to constantly switch between cooking and reading a recipe, and it could end up with the dish being ruined, or the recipe book/device on which the recipe is displayed being ruined, or both (why).

Don’t start with an idea, start with a problem

The classic entrepreneur mistake is to start with, “Hey! I have this great idea for a product!” The thing is, you may love your idea, but the point of a business is to create something that other people love. The correct way to do it, therefore, is to find an existing problem – “when people who own pets want to get away for even a weekend, they have to drive for an hour across town simply to drop off their pets because there is no pet-sitting service in my neighbourhood” – and then create a business around a service – “Weekend pet-sitting in your own home!” – that solves that problem. If it is a problem that bugs you personally – perhaps you are a pet owner too – you are likely to find a better solution to it than anyone else, because you understand what’s needed.

Talk to people

You may think you have found a problem to solve, but other people may not think of the problem as a problem at all. For instance, pet owners in your neighbourhood may have figured out other convenient arrangements for pet care when they are out of town – maybe the household help doubles as a pet-sitter, or maybe a relative comes over to stay when they are not around, combining both dog-sitting and house-sitting in one. In that case, the service you are offering will have no takers at all. Talking to people – what is officially called “Doing a market survey” – can help avoid such basic goof-ups. You can even create a written questionnaire that you can hand out or e-mail to friends and relatives. A good place to catch people for surveys is at supermarkets. If you are thinking of starting a cookie business, for example, hang out outside your local supermarket, and ask people what kind of cookie they wish was available in stores.


Your business idea need not be for an entirely new product or service. Instead, look at the gaps in existing products (the gap in our recipe-reader example was “ease of cooking to a written recipe”) or services (the gap in our pet-sitting example was “lack of pet-sitting services in my neighbourhood”) and fill them. SCAMPER is an innovative idea-generation technique, which believes that everything new is some kind of modification of something already in existence. The acronym SCAMPER stands for:

  • S – Substitute – If you were thinking of running a cookie business, you could differentiate your cookies by substituting flour with healthier atta or millets.
  • C – Combine – Since you are good at baking, sell “brookies” (a combination of a brownie and a cookie) instead of plain cookies. That’s an innovation that’s bound to be popular!
  • A – Adapt – Since people like to dip cookies in their milk or their tea, and cookies are often the wrong size to fit into a narrow-mouthed glass, make your cookies narrow and long. The unique shape will help differentiate your cookies, as well as win you some serious chai-dipper fans.
  • M – Maximise or minimise – Maximise what is most popular with your market and minimise what isn’t. If you know that chocolate is a popular flavour among cookie-buyers, make more chocolate flavoured ones – choco-chip, choco-cream, choco-dipped.
  • P – Put to another use – Why not shape your cookies into spoons, so they can do double-duty as stirrers and cookies?
  • E – Eliminate – If your market survey shows that most young children don’t like nuts in their cookies, or shows that many children are allergic to nuts, eliminate nuts from your cookies.
  • R – Rearrange – McDonald’s, when it was founded, ‘rearranged the restaurant’ by getting customers to pay first and eat later (even today, most other restaurants have it the other way round). You can rearrange the cookie business by maybe taking samples of your different flavours around the neighbourhood, and having customers taste the samples before they decide what to order, instead of selling cookies in sealed packages.

Cater to the margins

Don’t think only of people like yourself as customers for your products and services. Think of the other people in your universe – senior citizens, moms with young children, disabled people. What is common to all of them? Reduced mobility – due to old age, a baby at home who needs constant attention, and physical inability respectively. Think of products and services that would make their lives easier, such as bringing them their choice of cookies home. People whose needs are routinely ignored by most businesses are more likely to respond eagerly to any business that addresses those needs.

Excerpted with permission from Ready! 99 Must-Have Skills for the World-Conquering Teenager (and Almost-Teenager), Roopa Pai, Hachette India.