Great startup ideas solve real life problems. The more intense and frequent the problem, the better. That means it’s a big problem for someone out there. If you can find more people like them, then maybe you have a good startup idea.
We had this problem with v1 of Berlocks. We helped people solve all their personal problems by creating a mind map of all their solutions. We naively thought everyone has problems in life so we would be a big hit. We were wrong (more on this in #3).
Here’s 3 things we’ve learnt over the years on how to think about problems.
- Start with the problem, not the money
Startups are hard. Even Facebook has hard for Zuckerberg. That’s why you should pick a problem that you deeply care about. This is good for two reasons. One, you know at least one person (you) have the problem and it’s not made up. Two, when the days are long and hard, you can preserve because you really care about the problem.
Artificial Intelligence, Cryptocurrency, and Robots are all hot and sexy but I wouldn’t pick them to start a startup around. Why? Because I don’t know anything about them. Also, they’re all technologies, not problems. They’re the medium to solve a problem with. Each industry is worth lots of money, and that makes it really attractive as a startup idea. First time founders may think Artificial Intelligence is hot and now’s the time to jump in. Again, if you don’t start with a problem, and if you don’t really care about the solution, then everyday will be a drag.
Also, if you don’t choose a problem you personally have, you’ll have less empathy for the users. For example, let’s say you want to start Uber for babysitting but you don’t have any babies or haven’t babysat before. You won’t understand the problems parents have resulting in a less superior product.
Steve did it for the love. No money on his mind
Our tip to find startup ideas is to look at problems you have in everyday life. What problems do you have that are difficult and reoccurring? Do other people have it too?
When you start a company, it’s more an art than a science because it’s totally unknown. Instead of solving high-profile problems, try to solve something thats deeply personal to you. Ideally, if you’re an ordinary person and you’ve just solved your own problem, you might have solved the problem for millions of people too. Said Brian Chesky, CEO and Founder of Airbnb
- Solve one problem really, really well
Another thing we’ve learnt is to try to solve one problem really well versus trying to solve many problems badly.
When you fundamentally understand the problem that you’re solving, this makes everything easier, from what to build next to finding customers.
For example, if you want to build Uber for babysitting, and you know the #1 problem parents have is it’s hard to find trustworthy sitters with verified reviews, then that dictates what to build next.
When the inevitable question of what should we build next? comes up, it’s easier to answer. You just ask does this feature help parents easily find sitters with verified reviews? If it does, it’s more important to build than adding Sign in with Facebook, Google, and Apple because some non-paying user said that’s important. Development time is expensive so you want more bang for your buck.
Before you build anything, validate it with existing users, hack something together, and get feedback. If the feedback is good, then you can iterate on it more.
Our tip to solving one problem really well is to use your own product. As the creator, if you’re not using your own product, no one will. If you don’t benefit from it, don’t ask yourself why users aren’t using it. We made this mistake lots in the past. We didn’t use our own product, and no one else did either. Now, I use Today on Berlocks everyday to figure out what to do. If my product helps me, then it can help someone else too.
- Land and Expand
This is the biggest problem we’ve had. To land and expand means to solve one problem that a niche group of people have, then expand to adjacent niches.
Going niche means you start out serving a smaller group of people with a very specific problem. Where we’ve always faced problems was trying to solve everyone’s problem. We thought a bigger market would mean more people to sell to. We found every piece of evidence to justify this.
Are there successful tools with broad applications? Yes, everyone uses messaging, note taking, and productivity tools. Google serves everyone because everyone searches. But it’s just much harder. Going niche, especially for first founders is what we recommend. In fact, we just went niche to serve early stage founders build their MVP, find customers, and charge revenue.
Some companies that landed then expanded
Our tip to going niche is to understand that you can start small and grow over time. Otherwise, you risk starting big and finding it hard to resonate with anyone.
Reuben and I like to solve problems. Starting with a problem we care deeply about, trying to solve it really well, and going niche are problems we faced ourselves. We hope this read saves you time and effort. Happy Shipping.