The founders who made Inc.’s list of the 25 most disruptive startups of 2017 know a groundbreaking idea when they see one. They’re working on everything from growing diamonds in a lab to transporting people from Chicago to Detroit in just 25 minutes. So Inc. decided to ask these innovate founders where they turn to for creative inspiration.
Some entrepreneurs say it’s out ideas with a trusted friend or colleague. One thing they can all agree on: you often get your best ideas when you least expect it.
1. Get moving.
“I ride my bike. I’m constantly thinking about work, but riding clears your head and allows you to approach problems in a new way.”
–Mike Cagney, co-founder and CEO of alternative lending startup SoFi
“Sailing, walking, skiing, paddle boarding etc. Probably anywhere outside, taking exercise, with a big clear sky overhead. Gives a great clarity of thought.”
–Richard Jenkins, founder of autonomous boat startup Saildrone
“While I love the buzz and energy of our offices, I usually don’t get my best idea sitting at my desk. My breakthroughs to tough problems and creative ideas that unlock value usually occur during my Saturday walks on the beach with my dog, Sunny. Everyday is the best day of her life, and I try to approach life like my dog.”
–Emily Leproust, co-founder and CEO of biotechnology startup Twist Bioscience
2. Enjoy the outdoors.
“I do something that has nothing to do with technology. One of the reasons I love being in New Mexico is–and this is going to sound really hippie of me—but I’ve begun to form a personal relationship with the mountains here. There’s a certain energy that I really enjoy. The rhythm of nature is something I go and listen to. I don’t make a plan, like I don’t have a book I’m gonna read up there, I don’t have work problems I’m going to work out. That quiet time in nature is really important to me.”
–Mark Johnson, co-founder and CEO of satellite imaging startup Descartes Labs
3. Let your mind rest.
“Lying in a hammock on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. I unplug everything and completely ‘undigitize.’ That’s when I can truly clear my mind and think through ideas.”
–Daniel Schreiber, co-founder and CEO of insurance startup Lemonade
“My best ideas come to me in the middle of the night or in the shower; when my brain is completely void of work. I could be at the theater, watching a musical or in an art museum. I keep an iPhone by my bed to jot down notes. The notes on my iPhone are hysterically funny to me weeks later because 9 [out of 10] don’t get done.”
–Steve Goodman, co-founder and CEO of recruiting software company Restless Bandit
“Usually my best ideas occur either in the shower (long showers) or when I’m falling asleep. In both cases, you need to have primed the situation by reading about and thinking about the problem ahead of time. It doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t always work quickly. If you keep working on problems and continue to think about them, on and off, for weeks or months, then the brain sometimes connects things in ways you will be surprised.”
–Tom Knight, co-founder of synthetic biology startup Ginkgo Bioworks
4. Turn up the volume.
“I’m usually at home in Lexington, Kentucky, driving in my car and listening to music. I like everything from old school hip hop and gangster rap to classic country. (e.g.: Hank Williams Jr., Goerge Jones, Tupac and Biggie Smalls).”
–Nate Morris, founder and CEO of waste management startup Rubicon Global
“My best ideas come to me when I’m listening to or playing music.”
–Noah Kraft, co-founder and CEO of smart earbud startup Doppler Labs
5. Get a sounding board.
“Having conversations with smart people (anywhere). Not that others directly gave me my best ideas–but in many cases they inspire them.”
–Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of agtech startup Blue River Technologies
“My best ideas often come from discussions with my [four other] co-founders. I feel like our ability to riff off each other, challenge each other, and force each other to really think through our thoughts and arguments help to crystallize my thinking and oftentimes leads to totally new ideas of what to do.”
–Reshma Shetty, co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks
“I get my best ideas [when I visit] prisons. When I see and feel the needs and problems [of prisoners], I start to see ways we can address them. When I interact with our Entrepreneurs-in-Training and hear their stories, they give me innovative ideas for solutions.”
–Catherine Hoke, founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship skills to prison inmates.