Dubbed as the next Mark Zuckerberg, Ashwin Gowland, a six-year old, gap-toothed boy, blew everyone away at Seattle Startup Weekend. Gowland started his one-minute pitch by clearly stating the problem: “One day Mommy went to an event and put a name tag on. But when she came home she forgot to take it off and then threw it in the wash. But the sticker never came off and ruined her favourite shirt.” With this, Gowland came up with stickers that can be dissolved when exposed to water.
What Gowland did so well was to start his pitch by clearly stating the problem before describing a solution to the problem. The biggest mistake people make when pitching an idea is not painting a clear enough picture of the problem. What is the bleeding neck problem? Who does it affect? What is the result if the problem is not solved?
A common trap for entrepreneurs is to fall in love with their solution. There are many ideas out there in the world. There are ideas for mobile apps, websites, social tools, new gadgets and gizmos. Steve Poland, a serial entrepreneur and a writer at Tech Crunch, pushes this point further by listing out 100+ web startup ideas. But, all of these ideas are nothing if it’s not solving a problem.
Ash Maurya, founder of WiredReach and Spark59, experienced this: “a common trap for entrepreneurs is falling in love with their solution. I did this with my first company which was built around a technology vision. After our first attempt at solving a customer problem failed, we kept building more. Over time, we became a solution looking for problems and the legacy of our solution became a limiting constraint,” he said. “With Spark59, I took a completely different path. I fell in love with the problem instead. That simple mindshift allowed me to more freely experiment with all kinds of solutions and only keep what works.”
When there’s a cool, new idea, people almost have this knee-jerk reaction to just start building it and become a copycat of a trend. Consider 148Apps’ breakdown on the number of iOS apps in the App Store by category. As you can see, Games, Books, and Entertainment apps dominate in terms of sheer numbers. That’s because with the recent trend in Angry Birds, Temple Run or Zombie Sweeper mobile phone games, developers perceive a demand. “Hey, people love games, so I guess I’ll build a Fruit Ninja for ice cream fanatics” This type of thinking leads to nowhere.
Focusing on the problem also helps you determine if the problem is big enough to solve. You want to make sure that you need to look at the following three aspects:
- You are tackling it for a sizable market
- People are willing to pay for your solution
You can spend thousands of hours each year trying to think of the next big thing. You might be out there looking for that one great, billion dollar idea. But the reality is that an idea is worthless unless it’s solving a problem. If your idea isn’t the solution for a problem, then you need to reassess your business plans. Customers are more likely to open their wallets and pay you if what you’re offering is a solution to an annoying problem.
Be passionate about your problem
Be passionate about the problem. Instead of brainstorming for ideas, brainstorm for problems. Having a problem to solve focuses your energy, resources and time. Once you’ve identified the problem – you can truly start searching for a possible solution.