Have you ever asked a successful entrepreneur how they created their business?
I know many successful entrepreneurs through my work with startups — we typically catch up over coffee and I’ll get to do a little “brain picking” as I seek to better understand what is effective in startup-land.
Here’s what a typical conversation looks like:
Me: So how did you create your business? How did you decide to get started in ____ (industry)?
Them: Honestly, I was just trying to do ____ (complete a task) and no matter what tool I used, I couldn’t quite do what I wanted to do. After experimenting with some ways I could solve this problem for myself, I realized other people experienced this problem too. Then I started helping other people solve the same problem, and voila! I had a business.
Obviously, this isn’t a transcript of a real life conversation, but I’ve encountered this pattern so many times it’s just silly.
The type of entrepreneurship described here is commonly referred to as use case entrepreneurship.
It’s when you experience a problem first-hand, look to see if other people have the same problem, and if there’s enough people who experience the problem and want it solved so badly they’d pay for it (this is important), you can create a solution for the problem and sell it.
Now I’d be lying if I said this was easy.
I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few months while trying to come up with my own ideas for starting a business… and I still don’t have one specific idea that I’m 100% sold on. But it’s a good place to start.
If you’re in your twenties, you may not know what problems an eighty year old grandma might have that need to be addressed, but you probably know (or could discover quickly) what problems someone in their twenties might face in day-to-day life.
So how do you start?
Here are some steps I’ve taken to start finding problems that might be worth solving.
- Think of yourself as a “problem solver.” Commit yourself to finding and solving problems for people. When you self-identify this way, you get into the right frame-of-mind to start seeing the world with fresh eyes.
- Pay attention to anytime you or someone else is inconvenienced or frustrated by something. Pain = opportunity.
- Write your observations down. I have a list of 50+ problems that I’ve either personally experienced, or someone close to me experienced and I noticed it. I only started this list a few weeks ago too. Once you put on your “problem solving hat” you’ll start to notice inefficiencies everywhere.
Worth Noting: Consciously trying to find problems can be hard because for most of your life, you’ve ignored or worked around the problems and frustrations you’ve faced instead of seeing them as possible problems to solve. But now you need to look at every inconvenience, every frustration, every inefficiency as an opportunity to improve something and potentially solve a problem for a specific set of customers.
Here are some problems I’ve faced personally (my own use case entrepreneurship possibilities):
- Get out of debt fast
- Know your business idea is worth pursuing
- Find someone’s email address online
- Get over social anxiety
- Get stuck stickers off your car windshield
- Remove an oil stain from pants
- Remember people’s names better
Notice how I phrase these problems.
I describe them as an action.
I want to ________ (do an action/task).
I’m actually describing the problem in terms of how I would look for a solution.
Your typical customer wouldn’t type “I have debt and I need help getting out of it and sooner rather than later please” into Google.
They’d type “how do I get out of debt fast” or something like that instead.
This phrasing helps position the problem in a way that describes what the customer wants and makes it easy to think and talk about it.
This knowledge will become relevant when you are marketing your solution later on.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve been exploring frameworks and idea generation strategies to apply to my process of creating a business — I’ll talk about those in upcoming posts, but hopefully this use case entrepreneurship approach is something that will help you start taking action today.