Before you build a website. Before you write a business plan. Before you even tell your parents what you’re doing. Ask yourself one question: Are you solving a problem people actually have?It seems almost too simple. But the answer will determine whether you enter the hallowed halls of successful entrepreneurship, or join the long list of failed founders. Sounds harsh. But it’s true. According to market research firm CB Insights 47% of all startups fail because there’s no market need for what they’re making. So if you want to make sure you’re in the 53% who actually solve a problem people have (and end up building a successful business), what can you do?
You’ve got an idea. Now what?According to Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham, you only need 3 things to build a successful business:
- Good people
- Something customers actually want
- And to spend as little money as possible
Want to make sure you’re solving real problems and get your first paying customers in just 30 days? Join us and entrepreneur coach Ryan Robinson in 30 Days to Validate.
Are you the user?While there’s more than a few ways to find out whether or not you’re creating something customers actually want, Nir Eyal, entrepreneur and best-selling author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has probably the most simple method. He calls it the Manipulation Matrix. And it’s composed of just 2 questions:
- Is what I’m working on materially improving people’s lives?
- Am I the user?
Do you care about what you’re making?While you can find a lot of inspiration on the types of businesses you should consider starting, you shouldn’t pursue a random idea just because someone told you it’s a good idea. In that same study from CB Insights, researchers also found that 22% of founders cite the main reason their company failed as their lack of interest in what they were building. Take Nir’s example: Do you care about big brand advertisers? No? Well then you probably shouldn’t spend any more time on that idea. Kill it before it kills you. As author and Entrepreneur coach, Ryan Robinson explains: The best business ideas come from your strongest areas of interest.
“When the going gets rough (it will), you need to be motivated beyond just the lure of dollar signs.”To find these passions, ask yourself these simple questions:
- What are your hobbies?
- What is the most meaningful part of your day?
- What are some topics you could enjoy writing a 1,000 word article about?
- What is an achievement that’d make you feel particularly proud of yourself?
- Are there any specific aspects or functions that you love about your job?
- How about any childhood dreams you still find intriguing?
- If you had to choose just 1 thing to be remembered by, what would it be?
Do other people care about what you’re making?Being your own user and caring about what you’re creating will help you get through the dark days of building a business. But to build something truly successful, you’ll need to ensure other people care about it as much as you do. For Chris Guillebeau, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup, this means using the power of observation.
- What problems do you hear people bring up time and time again?
- Are there other people who are feeling this pain?
- Are there a group of people who would benefit from solving these problems?
Are you solving a meaningful problem?The best businesses solve not only problems people have, but meaningful problems. The difference is often hard to see. Allison Arieff, writing in the New York Times, asks in her incredibly poignant essay Solving All the Wrong Problems: “When everything is characterized as ‘world-changing,’ is anything?” So how do we identify meaningful problems to solve? For CloudDevs and Unsplash founder Mikael Cho, it started by looking at the things that bother you the most in your own life. If it’s a regular occurrence, you just might have found something. “It’s just being aware of things that you’re doing in your life that suck. And the ones that really suck? Those are the ones you go after.” Mikael Cho explains how to find meaningful problems to solve. “Because you can relate so well, you can solve the problem in a totally different and likely better way that almost anybody else who’s going to try it.” Cho explains that it comes down to research. You experiencing a problem over and over is the same as doing user research. At Pixar, the studio sends its animators to do the jobs they’ll be depicting so they can truly understand the pain points those people have in their day-to-day. For example, for Ratatouille, the film about a Parisian rat with culinary ambitions, the movie’s artists were sent to intern in French kitchens for the summer before production began. Taking this approach you at worst get a deeper understanding of someone else’s life and problems. And at best, find a new solution for a real problem. “When you have that moment of ‘ahh, this sucks!’ write that down. You might not know the answer to it right away, but you’ll start to think up solutions.”
Want to watch the full interviews with Nir, Chris, Mikael, and more successful founders? Join us in 30 Days to Validate—the course that teaches you the step-by-step process for validating your business idea and finding your first customers.
Are you solving the most important problem your users have?If you’ve come this far and still think you’ve got a winner, there’s one final step to get through. There are usually tens if not hundreds of problems you can solve for your user that you care about and they care about and are meaningful. So how do you choose? A great business idea starts with the basics and solves the most important issue first. When we first started CloudDevs, the goal was to fix all of the problems that freelancers faced. We were ex-freelancers ourselves and so we understood the problems. We cared about the problems. And we knew there were millions of freelancers out there who wanted a better way to work.
- How do you find a client?
- How do you price your work?
- How do you work well together?
- How do you continue to work well together?
Every business is built on a problem. But it’s the weight of that problem that determines how much we’re willing to spend on the solution. Need a basic necessity like shelter? We’re willing to spend significantly more on solving that problem than on having whiter teeth. So before you go off and spend your time building anything, make sure you have a problem worth solving. Step outside your ego and ask yourself these questions. The answer might just be the difference between the life and death of your business.