Solve A Problem. Preferably Yours

By Daniel Scocco

Most people don’t start a business (be it a brick and mortar business, an online app or even a website/blog) because they can’t find the right idea to pursue. They think about it regularly (i.e., about starting something), but no spark of inspiration comes, at least not one that will motivate them enough to wrap up the sleeves and start working on it.

One of the causes of this pattern is that people tend to associate businesses with money. When they think about starting a business, they start thinking about how they can make money. And while the money aspect is important, focusing on it right away might not be the best strategy. Why? Because no business exists solely to make money (except banks perhaps…). Businesses exist to solve problems.

In other words, if you are looking for that next idea to pursue you should think about what problem you want to solve. Only after you figure that out you can start thinking about how you can actually make money while solving that problem.

The question then becomes: whose problems should you solve? The problems of the eskimos’ kids on northern Alaska? The problems of the members of the UK Royal family?

How about your start solving your own? As they say in business circles, how about you scratch your own itch? Simple as it sounds, this strategy created some of the largest fortunes on earth.

Here’s an example: Back in 2005 Chad Hurley and Steven Chen shot many videos on a dinner party they attended in San Francisco, and they wanted to share those videos with friends over the Internet. They tried some of the solutions available, but none worked well, so they decided to create their own website where people would be able to easily upload and share videos. That website was called YouTube.

Another one: In the early 1970s, a 20-something Steve Wozniak fell in love with computers. The problem was that only large mainframe computers were available at that time, so you needed to either rent computer time from corporations (which was very expensive) or use one at a university (which had time and other constraints). The solution? He decided to build his own personal computer so that he could use it at his home. His friend Steve Jobs figured that many other people would want to have a computer at their homes as well, and they decided to found Apple Computer to start selling those.

Practically speaking, here are some exercises you can make to come up with that next idea:

  • Think about businesses/websites/apps that you would love to use but that don’t exist yet.
  • Think about services and products you already use but that make you mad because one aspect or another.
  • Think about stuff you would like to do but are not able to because there’s no product/service for that in the market.

Now go solve that problem!




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15 Responses to “Solve A Problem. Preferably Yours”

  • Andi the Minion

    Interesting angle, I love the saying ‘go scratch your own itch’ never heard of that before, I guess I am in the wrong circles…

    You are right though, many big businesses have come from trying to solve a problem, whether it be your own or other peoples. As daft as it sounds, the famous banana guard is a simple solution to a problem people were having. Still available to buy and people do buy it so it was a success.

  • Chris Nosal

    This is an awesome post, I’m a huge fan of Apple and have studied their work intensely, and one thing Steve Jobs said when asked about the one piece of advice he’d give to young entrepreneurs he said,

    “I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.”

    That says it all; and there’s a reason he grew a company from the edge of bankruptcy to the most valuable company in history at the same time as the rest of the world’s economy collapsed, because he always wanted to do something new and revolutionary, and he put his passion for great products first.

  • Young

    Totally agree that it is a good idea to solve the problems you meet, and if you can’t solve them right away, you can and have to put them down first, for example, my current problem is that how to convert epub 2 to epub 3, which seems impossible after many searches and tests.

  • SWH Energy

    Among the various (funny) business models I have come across, there are certain companies that create problems for their customers and then charge to solve it. But the funniest business model was : A company sold itself, not by taking any money in return, but by offering money to its buyer. You may not believe it, but it sort of made sense because they wanted to reduce their losses!! πŸ™‚

  • Court Tuttle

    This is a really important post. Almost all of the best stuff comes from this concept. People build plugins and software, create sites and build awesome offline businesses because they’re trying to solve their own problems.

    I’ve built multiple successful businesses online and every one of them has started because I wanted to have a solution for one of my own problems. Sometimes that’s been informational and sometimes it’s been software but it’s the same idea.

  • Mark Llego

    If at first you donÒ€ℒt succeed, try try try it again and again until you are fully satisfied with your results. Keep it moving. Steve Jobs inspired me, he showed us all that despite the odds he kept on going. He paved his way to success.

    I would like to share this quote from Steve Jobs – “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But
    that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)

  • Freedom Jackson

    good topic Daniel,

    Another good example is the fact that the garbage collector no matter what always will be paid to remove trash.

    Its a service that is needed and is valuable so therefor whoever provides the service will get paid.

    VALUE > MONEY

    Want money? Create value.

  • Steve

    Hi Daniel,

    Certain posts compel me to write a comment, and this is one of them. As simple as the concept is, so many people don’t understand it.

    I completely agree with you… people start businesses thinking about the money first instead of trying to come up with a sustainable business model. The business model should solve a problem, or offer some sort of value to users.

    Some people just don’t have the right mentality to run a successful business.

  • Slavko Desik

    Great concept my friend. Most people start exactly as you said- asking “what can I gain”. I will advise the opposite- ask “what can I offer”.
    As for figuring out the needs, thus opportunities as well, you are right, we should just scratch our own itch.
    But this happens only if we are passionate about something, or really just put some thought into it.

    Cheers,
    Slavko

  • Rohit Sharma

    Thank you Daniel for writing this. Expectations of honorariums block the space for prerequite passion, and then we complain about the situation πŸ™‚

  • Richard Ng

    Hi Daniel,

    Another great post with interesting points. Definitely agreed with you that solving specific problem(s) should be the core of any business’ existence.

    To get into it slightly deeper, I would think that we can personally breakdown the problems into:
    1. Money problem
    2. Health problem
    3. Spiritual problem
    4. Time poblem
    5. Educational/Knowledge/SKills problem

    Thanks.

  • musicjaan.com

    A company sold itself, not by taking any money in return, but by offering money to its buyer. You may not believe it, but it sort of made sense because they wanted to reduce their losses!

    Great concept my friend

    musicjaan.com

  • SchemaByte

    Absolutely agree that the best way to build a sustainable business is to do it out of real personal interest and to solve a problem you yourself have. Saves a bundle on user-testing at the least. πŸ™‚

  • Dean Saliba

    Go scratch your own itch is a fantastic saying which I had also never heard of before but it is definitely going to be used by me in 2013 as that is the year I finally start sorting my own online business ventures out myself.

  • Daniel

    Some food for thought, Daniel.

    True, most great ideas probably came from someone being annoyed with how something did not function the way they envisioned, or due to there being no product available to fulfill their needs…so they invented it…re – invented it…(or just made it work better)……

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