So you want to start a business that’s going to be a wild success and change the world? I know I do! But let’s face it, that sh*t is hard.
It seems to take some super-secret combination of determination, luck, and smarts to build a successful business. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do to make the process less insanely difficult or exhausting for you.
What I can offer you, though, is a single piece of advice that, based on my experience, will greatly improve your chances of not failing. And the longer you manage not to fail, the closer you’ll be to success.
My advice: Build a business that solves a personal problem.
When I say “personal problem,” I don’t necessarily mean something that you personally struggle with, though it usually is.
A personal problem can be anything that you’re deeply connected to because of something you’ve experienced in some way — whether that be something that has impacted you, a loved one, or even society. It’s something that speaks to you and draws passion from you.
There are obviously many paths to success, and this approach isn’t necessarily best in all situations. But based on my experience, it offers definite benefits that will help you in numerous ways.
You Are Your Customer
When you build a business that solves a personal pain point, you are your customer. This is important for several reasons.
Solving a personal problem means that you can be a critical user of your product. Starting with the very first line of code, you can begin testing, iterating, and polishing in a meaningful way to ensure product perfection.
For all intents and purposes, you are your very first beta tester — you are your own superuser. After all, if you’re building something that solves your own problem and you don’t find utility in your own product, why the heck would anyone else?
When you’re building a solution to your own problem, getting outside input is still important, but it’s not vital in the initial stages of development.
You obviously can’t account for the variety that exists among your users this way, but there are some serious upsides. Not only does this save time, but it also gives you a much stronger starting point than a competitor who doesn’t deeply understand the problem you’re solving.
When Groove (the startup I co-founded) was first building our period tracker, it was supremely beneficial that I just happened to be a member of our target market. It always annoys me when I can tell that a competitor app was built by a team made up of precisely zero of their customers (i.e. none of them have a period or female reproductive organs) AND they didn’t do the work to understand their customers.
I’m not saying that men can’t build a great period tracker or that you can’t build a great product unless you’re solving your own problem, but it takes a lot more work to understand your market and make something amazing. Be prepared to face that.
You Know You’re Solving a Real Problem
Many first-time entrepreneurs make the lethal mistake of building a solution in search of a problem: I built this cool thing … now who can I sell it to?
While this approach isn’t necessarily doomed for failure, a lot of companies do fail because they simply can’t find product/market fit.
Solving your own problem definitely won’t eliminate the possibility of failure, but it omits a lot of the wondering about whether people actually want what you’re making. If you need it, you’re almost certainly not the only one who does.
In my case, there are tons of other period trackers out there, and I knew I wasn’t the only one who just wasn’t finding what I was looking for. Turns out, I was right. Our app has rave reviews, and I regularly get emails from grateful customers who love what we’ve built. And it feels great.
You’ll Build Smarter
Building a minimum viable product (MVP) is no small feat, and you can expect the level of difficulty to be compounded when you don’t have a good sense of what your customers need.
But when you’re one of your own customers, it’s easier to employ a lean methodology — you can be more confident when you’re cutting the fat and deciding which features you need to include in your MVP and which you can safely eliminate.
There are dozens of features we could have included in the Groove app, and dozens that other period trackers have that we don’t. But since we built a product that solved my problem, I knew which features we didn’t need at all and which we could do without in an MVP.
There was a specific set of features we knew we wanted to work up to, and, interestingly enough, we’ve only ever gotten requests for the ones we were already planning to add. We built smarter.
You’re Working on Something You Care About
I’m a huge advocate of investing your time in things that make you happy.
I’ve spent enough hours to last a lifetime doing work that I didn’t find fulfilling. Working on something I love (which I do) not only makes me happier at work, but it makes every other aspect of my life better, too. When your problem is significant enough that you want to build a solution for yourself, you know you’re emotionally connected to it.
I love coming to work every day because I have a deep connection to the problem Groove is solving. I’ve been in the same position as our customers.
I know how frustrating it is using app after app and finding yourself constantly offended or annoyed by it. I know how disheartening it is to be chronically confused by what’s happening in your body. And I know how good it feels to have those problems solved.
You’ll Stick With It
I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again: building a business is flipping hard. Sooner or later, someone will probably tell you that your idea stinks. At some point, you may have to pivot. Eventually, you’ll probably struggle to find new ways to grow and attract new customers.
You’ll regularly be overworked or sleep-deprived (or both). And you’ll undoubtedly — whether you’re willing to admit it or not — have moments when you’ll question your entire business … even if those moments are fleeting.
At least for me, having a mission that I’m insanely passionate about has helped me overcome many of these tough situations. In those moments, I’m able to take a step back, reevaluate the situation, and think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Having a connection with the problem Groove is solving helps me focus on what’s important, instead of on the millions of minor things that go wrong every day. There are so many times that I’m confident I would have given up if it weren’t for solving a personal problem.
Having an emotional connection with your work is a powerful thing. It adds a kind of determination that’s otherwise hard to find. The kind of determination that comes only from solving a problem that speaks to the depths of your soul.
So, go ahead: find a problem that speaks to you, build a freaking awesome solution, and change the world.