I was in Mexico City in the 1970s, working for Business International mostly and also for Business Week, Financial Times, and other business publications.

I usually couldn’t get the information I wanted. Or needed. There was no Internet back then, or at least not anything available to anybody normal. And we were in a developing country, with scarce resources, much more worried about having enough jobs and schools than about providing information for business writers.

So I built conceptual crossword puzzles. Connected dots. I’d have one source of government information give me an overall growth rate for a related industry, then find a large company whose annual report gave me information on their particular segment, then an analysis somewhere telling me that the industry leader had 60% of the market, and I’d be able, sometimes, to generate an estimate of something I needed to know.

You can do that today. Find available statistics here and there, look for snippets quoting experts in published materials, find the annual report of a publicly traded company, and look for data to mine.

What can your new coffee house sell? You can use the reverse telephone tree technique to ask people, get an educated guess. Shouldn’t you also be able to find out how much an average Starbucks location sells. How is yours going to be different from Starbucks? Estimate from what you know, and jump from there to what you don’t know.

That’s what I call crossword puzzle information gathering.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.