For most of my 20s and into my 30s I was a convinced that “all of the good problems to solve” had been taken. I told myself that I would’ve been the perfect person to start airbnb or Birchbox if I had just had the idea sooner.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. There are countless problems out there that need solving. You just need to train yourself to see them. Then you need to make the commitment to solving it.
There are lots of types of companies but they mainly fall into 2 buckets – the ones that entertain you and the ones the solve a problem for you. I’ve always been most intrigued by the latter and the impact they can in the world, so that’s I’m going to talk about. I’ve always believed that the best companies to launch are based on problems that the founders see around them and that ideally, they’ve experienced themselves.
Easier said than done. How do you “see” problems?
You need to see the friction that everyone feels every day but just chalks it up to “the way it is”.
What do I mean by friction?
The official definition is: the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another.
Translated, I mean:
The resistance, the pain, the frustration that people encounter when they interact with a process or a product that wasn’t built with them in mind.
It’s all around us. Everything from trying to cancel your cable or newspaper subscription to needing to track down all of the paper and forms a 5-year-old needs to responsibly attend kindergarten to having to throw out food that’s gone bad because it was forgotten or we didn’t do the meal plan well. These are all real examples from my life recently. Places and instances that I’ve felt frustration and friction in how I wanted to proceed productively in my day but wasn’t able to.
Point is, it’s everywhere. And it’s impossible to solve them all. Equilibrium is not something that is ever possible in our ever-changing lives.
So how can you teach yourself to start seeing friction this week? Try these things that work for me:
1) Where is there negative emotion?
The easiest and fastest way to find friction is to tune yourself to pay attention where you feel any negative emotion: frustration, anger, sadness. Where do you find yourself swearing and ranting? I’ll bet money there’s solid problem there creating the issues. Carry around a little notebook and start writing these ones down.
2) Which are the ones that this happens to a large number of people, often?
Next, start observing the ones that are happening to others. Note the ones that you can see (eg. check out lines at the grocery store or waiting in the line of the DMV or sitting in a cafe) but start having conversations with friends and acquaintances about the ones you can’t see because they’re the ones they’re experiencing behind the walls of their home. This isn’t to say grill everyone you meet. Have conversations filled with curiosity. Note when you “hit a nerve”. When people start picking up steam to go off on rants. Jackpot. Make a note of the ones that people say they run into on a daily or weekly basis – that’s your first clue to a potentially big opportunity.
3) Which ones are big and painful enough that people might pay for a solution?
Money is simply a vote of value. Consumers pay money for anything because they believe there is some sort of value in what they are paying for. At this point, you’ll have a long list of issues and problems. You may have even stumbled upon a couple that seem to affect a lot of people, often. As you start thinking about a couple you want to further explore, you’ll want to start thinking about the business model side. Not a perfect approach by any means but if your intent is to build a company that solves a problem, then I’m a big believer that you should have a couple ideas of how it can create value and how you can capture value, right off the bat. Start asking people how they currently solve the problem and how much they pay for those things. That’ll give you a sense of how important the problem is really to them.
This is a really different way of looking for startup ideas than say, sitting behind a laptop and researching “verticals” and market sizes. That approach works well for many situations (especially if you’re working on say cryptocurrency or biotech). But if your motivation in building a company is in solving everyday people’s problems, I believe deeply in finding the fiction and focusing on solving it.
Once you start seeing the world this way, I promise you-you won’t be able to stop. It’ll then be so much easier to take the next step: Taking the leap and making the commitment.