“The happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them.” — Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston.
I’ve met a number of people in my professional career that are would-be entrepreneurs but has never been able to get a business off the ground. A few of them have come to me for business startup advice and we sit down to talk about some of their obstacles to success.
What I’ve found most of the time is that rarely are these people unmotivated. They are also intelligent, creative, industrious, and hardworking. Basically, they possess all of the traits that you would associate with a successful entrepreneur. Over time, however, I came to realize that there was usually one commonality among all of them. Quite simply, it was their approach to business.
After a while, I realized that in all of these cases, the startup advice that I was giving over and over again was to tell people to stop focusing on creating a product. Instead, create a solution to a problem. That, I would tell them, is what successful, long-term business models are based upon. There are some very good reasons why this is so too.
A Solution Sells ItselfLet’s start off with something purely pragmatic. To put it plainly, it is just easier to sell a solution than it is to sell a product. You have to convince people to buy your widget. With a solution, you can use the much more effective approach to explaining the benefits of what you have to offer. And there are all kinds of data out there showing that telling people how something will benefit them, how it will solve a problem in their lives, is one of the most persuasive selling techniques.
This is a particularly good tip for entrepreneurs, because, when you start your business, you are going to be selling it to everyone. To the banks and other investors, to your customer-base, to prospective partners, the list goes on and on. If you have created a business model that solves a problem, then half the battle is already won. You will already be viewed as someone who has something of value and a vision.
A Solution is a Business Waiting to HappenAnother important reason why I recommend the problem-solving approach when I am giving tips for startups is that there are so many worthwhile problems that need to be addressed. It’s the fastest way around the question of, what kind of business should I start? Just take a look at the industry you’re in, or your own life, your home, your car, and start identifying problems. See if there are niches available for a business by solving them.
You don’t necessarily have to send anyone to Mars or bring quantum computing to the masses. If you want to dream big, that’s fine, great even. But it can also just be an everyday problem that you would like to personally solve for yourself. Countless successful businesses, too many to even start listing, were begun in exactly this manner.
Finding Solutions is the Best MotivationTo me, this bit of business startup advice really gets to the crux of the matter.
Many people approach the idea of starting their own business with the mindset of, what is going to allow me to make the most money in the quickest way possible? I understand that feeling; finding financial stability is an important thing when you are starting out. However, there are a couple of problems with that approach.
The first problem is that it will lead you into poor decision-making on a regular basis. Your decisions will too often be oriented toward, how do I make money right now? Rather than, what is a lasting and sustainable model for my business?
The second issue is that you will eventually find the motivation to purely make money is insufficient. Starting up a business is an endeavor that requires a tremendous amount of energy, passion, and enthusiasm. As much as you may be motivated by thoughts of a comfortable lifestyle, it will not be nearly as motivating as putting all of your passion, resources, and energy into finding the solution to a problem that really matters to you. It is only through adopting this mindset that you can truly tap into everything that you have at your disposal in terms of energy reserves.
Problem Solving Becomes a HabitThe final item of business startup advice that I want to bring up is that when you begin your business with the idea of solving a problem, then the skill of problem-solving becomes integral to your business itself.
In other words, solving problems becomes a habit for you. When your startup faces challenges—which it inevitably will—you will already have the right mindset and skill set to meet those challenges. Instead of becoming stressed and shaken by adversity, you can simply look at as yet another problem to be solved.
The film director Stanley Kubrick once said, “I think that if you get involved in any kind of problem-solving in depth, on almost anything, it’s surprisingly similar to problem-solving on everything else.” He went on to explain that he bought his first camera as a very young man and went about solving the problem of how to take pictures with it. Then he went on to how to build a dark room, how to develop pictures, etc. From those humble beginnings, and without formal education beyond high school, he went on to have one of the most acclaimed films directing careers in history. He maintained that he viewed his daily life while directing classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey as nothing more than going from one problem to the next and finding solutions.
Adopt this habit of finding solutions to problems as early as possible in your business career. Trust that it will lead you to discover the core of a successful business. It will be a business that you are able to pour all of your passion and energy into because you believe in the solution you are providing. Potential investors, business partners and customers will respond to you because they will see that you are providing something of benefit to everyone.