What is your problem?
Be your first user
Businesses start with an idea to address an unmet desire or need. Such ideas can come about by spotting a trend or observing others struggling with a problem. However, the best way, arguably, is meeting one of your own unsatisfied needs.
Why scratch your own itch?
The advantages of scratching your own itch include:
There is at least one customer for your product; that’s more than most startups get.
You are ideally placed to know if the product is any good.
The product/user feedback loop is optimised. There is no waiting around or need to try to get inside someone else’s head.
You can iterate as quickly as you want without having to consider anyone else.
Your personal problem gets solved.
The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build and that few others realise are worth doing. - Paul Graham
💡 How to surface ideas
To come up with ideas, Sara Blakey (Spanx founder) suggests the following. Go home and note down 15 things in your life then identify how and why they could be better. She believes we’ll probably have at least one big idea right there. Almost certainly, if you have this unmet need then others do too.
In an organisational context, one way to identify a problem is to challenge conventional assumptions and thinking. Ask questions no one has asked before to probe their validity. Scratch below the surface, asking a series of why questions, and you might unearth a great idea. How to Find Counter-Intuitive Solutions explores this approach further.
🎁 Turning our problems into products
I am developing the Nip To app which will show users on a map where the most convenient public amenities can be found, e.g. toilets, bins and benches. This is a need that I have and, I believe, others will too.
37 Signals, a website development company, were struggling to find the right tool to manage projects for clients. CEO Jason Fried says, "We went looking for a tool to do this. What we found were ancient relics. To us, project management was all about communication. None of the software makers at the time seemed to agree. So we decided to make our own." 37 Signals solved their own problem then transitioned their business to sell that as a product, Basecamp, to customers.
Slack, the collaboration app, grew from a game development company’s need to coordinate activities with remote colleagues.
Dropbox, the virtual storage drive, was born out of the founder’s frustration and fear of losing data he carried around on USB drives.
➕ Other resources
How to Get Startup Ideas essay by Paul Graham
What’s Your Problem post by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
The Minimalist Entrepreneur by Sahil Lavingia
How I Develop App Ideas post by Phil Martin
This post suggests why we should scratch our own itch. Until next Sunday, note down ten challenges you faced yesterday then how they could be addressed better. Pick the top one. There is your opportunity.