by David Waring
“…by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”
-Paul Graham, YCombinator
Paul Graham is a venture capitalist who has funded hundreds of startups through his business incubator YCombinator. If anyone knows what separates the good ideas from the bad ones, it’s him…
Why do so many startups make this mistake?
Because they come up with their business ideas by thinking about what would make a good business. Ironically, this is a backwards way of thinking that leads many startups into coming up with ideas that sound good in theory, but that there is really no demand for.
So how do you avoid “the most common mistakes that startups make”?
By starting not with the business idea, but with the problem that you are trying to solve. As Graham also states:
“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.”
By coming up with a list of problems that need solving first, you can then proceed with a higher level of certainty that you are not making the most common mistake. If your business idea solves one of those problems, then there will likely be demand for your product.
How do you come up with a list of problems that need solving?
- The natural tendency for most people is to ignore the things that bother them to avoid getting upset about them. With this in mind the first thing to do is to reverse that process and start being on the lookout for problems as you go about your day to day.
- Another natural tendency is to tune people out who complain. Start paying attention to those people and see if what they are complaining about is a problem that others have too.
- Most people keep their problems to themselves but are usually happy to talk about them if they are asked.
Coming up with the business idea is the last step.
Now that you have your list of problems that need solving, start coming up with ideas for solutions to those problems. Then go out and start talking to people about your solution and ask them if they would buy it if you produced it. There is no surer way to prove that a business idea is good, than going out and seeing if you can find some people who are willing to buy from you.
David Waring is the co-founder of Marc Waring Ventures and editor-in-chief of Fit Small Business. Here are some related articles by the author: How To Test A New Business Idea In 3 Easy Steps and How To Come Up With A Business Idea In 5 Steps.