Find a problem worth solving

problem solving launch tomorrow

Take the right decision at the right time.

By definition, if you want to start a business, you need to sell something: the product, the customers, or the company. The sooner you start selling, the faster you’ll get useful feedback. Delaying the decision to sell takes away one of the most powerful feedback loops required to build a new business.

Ideally, you want to be selling something that a particular group of people actively wants to buy.

There’s a very simple reason for this.

People hate being sold to. They want to enjoy the process of buying, or just do it and move on. That’s how they will always see it.

Your riskiest assumptions are probably related to your prospects and customers. Establish empathy quickly with your target prospect, figure out what's valuable, and get your innovation into the market.

The more you go against that simple assumption, the more pain you will feel. To scale this up to a full startup, you’ll have to think like that about everyone you interact with. Your prospects. Repeat customers. Even investors. When they deal with you, they all want to feel like they are buying from you.

The most difficult first step is deciding on a particular group of customers that you want to serve.

Each group will have a defining set of needs. By choosing a customer, a startup team chooses to focus on those needs. Everything else doesn’t count. Whether they test the product by creating a paper prototype, or they build out a massive chunk of enterprise software in anticipation of their first customer, the startup team dedicates themselves to fully solving one problem better than anyone or anything else–for one particular customer type.

So if it’s unclear, from a strategic point of view, the first step is always to find a problem worth solving. In and of itself, this is more complicated than it might seem. The customer needs to be aware of the problem. Selling to someone who doesn’t think–or even know–they have a problem, is hard. It’s always easier to sell things that your prospects already want.

To find out more, check out my book Launch Tomorrow.

Extreme accountability: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower

Most startups fail. About 1 in 2 survive 5 years. In IT, that’s probably more extreme.

How many companies do you deal with today, which are over 10 years old? Remember how many search engines there were in the late nineties, most of which don’t exist, or at minimum, don’t exist any more as a viable alternative to Google and Bing.

Enter the entrepreneur. He is a visionary, a dreamer. He sees what others don’t see. Or he is just deranged.

How does this happen?

Eric Reis has a theory: “Hidden among these mundane details are a handful of assumptions that require more courage to state-in the present tense-with a straight face: we assume that customers have a significant desire to use a product like ours or that supermarkets will carry our product. Acting as if these assumptions are true is a classic entrepreneur superpower….If [these assumptions] are true, tremendous opportunity awaits. If they are false, the start-up risks total failure.” Typically, this refers to assumptions that everyone else overlooks. That’s why it takes guts, cojones even. At the very core of being of an entrepreneur, you will find someone who has the guts to face reality how it really is, and constantly test his assumptions. This is not necessarily difficult intellectually, as you can have an army of accountants keep track of systems, models, and spreadsheets. You can even build it into the product, such a system to allow you to test refinements of your business idea.

Your riskiest assumptions are probably related to your prospects and customers. Establish empathy quickly with your target prospect, figure out what's valuable, and get your innovation into the market.

At the very core, this is about courage, not spreadsheets. It’s the very essence of creating a new business, when nothing existed before. It’s equally applicable to the pimply-faced php hacker trying to create a “social network” in his bedroom, as it is to the clean tech industry veteran who needs to raise 500 million in order to take a punt.

It’s been called various things in the past. In Steve Jobs’ case, it was called a “reality distortion field”.

Here is a conversation between Andy Hertzfeld and Bud Tribble, the guy who coined the term:

“Bud, that’s crazy!”, I told him. “We’ve hardly even started yet. There’s no way we can get it done by then.”
“I know,” he responded, in a low voice, almost a whisper.
“You know? If you know the schedule is off-base, why don’t you correct it?”
“Well, it’s Steve. Steve insists that we’re shipping in early 1982, and won’t accept answers to the contrary. The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek. Steve has a reality distortion field.”
“A what?”
“A reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules. And there’s a couple of other things you should know about working with Steve.”
“What else?”
“Well, just because he tells you that something is awful or great, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll feel that way tomorrow. You have to low-pass filter his input. And then, he’s really funny about ideas. If you tell him a new idea, he’ll usually tell you that he thinks it’s stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he’ll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it.”

This ability of Steve’s has even been parodied by a Dilbert comic strip.

What would it take to get you to that level?