Class notes: How-to

How to generate fresh ideas—and act on them

Dan Gigante, social entrepreneur, partner and digital director at 19 IDEAS

Interview by Lauren Newkirk Maynard

Illustration by Gwen Keraval.

Illustration by Gwen Keraval

A staunch advocate for Buffalo’s tech and startup industry, Dan Gigante studied computer science at UB in the early 1990s, joined the Air Force as a programmer, and then spent the years between 2000 and 2010 launching clevermethod, a Buffalo-area web development company, and growing it into a multimillion dollar business. In 2014, he joined 19 IDEAS, a marketing and communications company launched by his fiancée, Katie Krawcyk, in 2011. He is also a founding organizer of Startup Weekend Buffalo, an annual, 54-hour brainstorming session for entrepreneurial teams.

While at clevermethod, Gigante discovered social entrepreneurship via a documentary about TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie, who spoke at UB in 2012. “I realized how great it would be to weave giving back into a business plan,” says Gigante. Several projects with a community-minded twist ensued, including You is Who, an online T-shirt retailer he started in 2010. Its “buy one, give one” model, while ultimately unsuccessful, became the foundation for 26 Shirts, a rapidly growing sports T-shirt company he developed three years later with business partner Del Reid. For every limited-edition shirt sold, 26 Shirts and a sponsor donate $8 to local families in need in 40 cities, including Buffalo. A UB Bulls-inspired shirt is now in the works. We asked Gigante how to keep pushing that creative envelope.

Banish fear

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep in mind it’s not win or lose; it’s win or learn, and we can build on that when approaching the next idea. If there’s no losing, only learning, then there is no risk. So go for it!

Use your pain
The best ideas are ones that solve a problem you are experiencing yourself. If you encounter a problem or “pain point,” think about how to improve or solve it. Odds are, someone else is also having a problem and could use a solution. 

Find your passion 
Passion will drive your pursuit. When you’re truly invested in an idea, you are likely to put your heart and soul into it.

Talk it up 
The more you talk about your idea and get feedback from others, the more you can improve it. Don’t be afraid that someone is going to steal it. Once you start talking about it, your idea can become a reality.

Welcome competition
It’s OK if others are trying to solve the same problem you are. What you can do is analyze their attempts and work to improve on them. Plus, if someone else is working on a solution, it just validates that you’ve found a problem worth solving.