To Change The World Solve A problem – Just Not “Your” Problem

As founders we’re generally told the best way to build a business is to solve a problem in the world.  Find a problem, create a solution and someone will pay you money for it.

Great, I think we can all agree with that.

Issues arise when you are advised to solve “your” problem, which I have noticed happens quite often.  And on the surface it makes sense – the easiest problems to find in the world are the one’s right in front of your face.  So we are told to look at our life and determine what needs to be fixed.  Next step, we go out and build our solution so our lives can be made better.  Then we think, “if I have this problem, then others must have it too!”  We dream about getting lucky, the moment others figure out they have this problem as well, and think we just might hit the home run and cash in on our new idea.

I started thinking about this the other day when I read or heard on video someone mentioning the fact that this is precisely why we have so many copycat startups around Silicon Valley.

Think about it (yes I am generalizing): pretty much everyone in the valley is of the same demographic and has mostly the same problems in their life.  It’s hard to argue we are in a relatively small bubble and can only see our own groups unique problems.  Simply put, we all have the same problems in our small little startup world.  That ‘s why we have so many founders trying to make an incrementally better photo sharing app, food ordering app (or input-any-cliche-mobile-app-example here).  We are too narrowly focused on what’s in our palms each day we don’t lift our heads towards the rest of the world and see what they are dealing with.  We all walk around with smartphones in our pockets and cannot stop thinking about how to make our lives 10% better with this new app, or that new website.  This is how we get 10 Pinterest’s and 50 Instagram-wannabes.

That’s all fine and dandy for the 1% in our bubble but what about the 99%?  What about the person that doesn’t have a smartphone or doesn’t want to think about being plugged in it 24/7/365?  The problem is we don’t know what all the problems are out there in the world because we aren’t really thinking about the rest of the world.

So how do we get away from all the copy cats and towards real world changing ideas?

We need to start solving problems, just not “our” problems.  We need to start talking to other people outside our network and our little bubble, maybe they aren’t as fortunate as us and still have challenges we aren’t aware of but could help solve.  We need to shut up and listen to what they are struggling with and then start thinking about how to bring a solution to them.

Real customer development happens when you have many conversations – hundreds or even thousands – and you find random people are all having the same problems but lack a viable solution.  That’s when you know you are onto something – not when you have a thought in the shower about this thing in your life that really needs to be fixed.

Uniqueness will come when you look outside of yourself and your little bubble and discover issues people not like you are dealing with.  If you have the problem as well, even better!

So If you really want to change the world, solve a problem.  Just don’t solve your problem because it’s probably not something the 99% aren’t even thinking about.

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