What Are You Trying To Solve?
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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What Are You Trying To Solve?
Many people start out in their careers with a desire to start a business. They aren’t sure what, exactly — but they know they want to be their own boss. They have an itch to scratch, and they’re not sure how to go about it.
Having the desire and knowing how to execute are two very different things, though, which might explain why the startup failure rate is so high; entrepreneurs take any idea and run with it, buying into the startup hype.
But here’s the thing — the small biz, startup market is extremely saturated. You need to have the passion, of course. That’s a vital ingredient.
But you also need the killer idea; one that not only sparks curiosity but solves a problem for customers.
Why are we talking about this?
I started thinking about all of this after an incredible conversation with Christian Shauf. He’s the founder and CEO of Uncharted Supply Company, a manufacturer of high-quality survival systems and products made to empower people with the proper gear and education to guide them back to safety in an unanticipated emergency.
From being named Armed Forces Entertainer of the Year by the Pentagon for his time entertaining troops at some of the most dangerous bases in Iraq (he made more than 40 visits over eight years) to surviving a few life or death situations, he is a serial adventurer, athlete, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
On top of that, he’s someone who successfully managed to solve a problem for customers with his survival equipment business: he gives them peace of mind, knowing that in the event of an emergency, they’re covered.
“Our mission is to make the world a safer place. My belief is that every human on earth is going to face at least one emergency in their lifetime, where they’re probably going to need more than what they have day to day.”
Have you got a business idea in the works? If so, what problem are you solving for your customers? You may be scratching your head, and that’s okay — today’s blog post is all about finding your niche and getting started.
So, how do you go about finding that killer idea?
Christian’s story is one that’s full of grit, determination, and a whole lot of hustle. But it’s also one that’s laced with invaluable advice for entrepreneurs — especially those who are just starting out.
Having grown up on a Wisconsin farm, then traveling in and out of war zones as a musician, Christian was no stranger to risk and dangerous situations.
“I went to Iraq and war zones where we would pack not knowing if we’d be coming home that night or three days later. And when I was home from Iraq, we’d be hunting and climbing and doing a lot of things outdoors.”
Rather than deterring him from danger, however, it only inspired the thoughts that eventually led to Uncharted Supply Company.
“One fateful day, I was driving to Colorado to go skiing. It snowed two inches in the mountains behind Orange County. I sat for eight hours in traffic because of two inches of snow, and it just put me in this mindset — if two inches of snow can cause this much disruption, what if something more serious happens?”
“I felt a big opportunity to create a product that was high quality, that people could trust, and that would help them navigate emergencies big and small. So I kind of went headfirst into that.”
Christian’s problem and purpose
Christian is solving a problem for his customers — big time. I was surprised to hear in our interview just how quickly an innocent situation can turn into a full-blown emergency.
“Statistically, 95% of survival situations are resolved within 72 hours. But gosh, if it’s 15 below zero, or if it’s 110 degrees, or you have no food or water, you could die in 72 hours.
So my whole thesis was this — can we create an affordable, lightweight, small thing that anybody hopefully could afford? Something that would change those 72 hours and make them self-sufficient to get through anything.”
It was pretty clear to me in this interview that Christian is not a manufacturer of nick-knacks or trendy gadgets. He’s solving a very real problem for customers, and his passion for the project is evident in everything he does.
Identifying customer problems
If you know your calling is to start a business from scratch, you are in the perfect position to solve a problem for customers. But what are your possibilities? How can you identify the customer problems you want to solve?
1. Brainstorm your passions
Some people would recommend looking at industry markets first, but honestly, I think it’s more important to think about your passions. Use a mind map, write a stream of consciousness — do whatever you need to do to figure out what you’re most interested in.
Why? Because research shows that passionate entrepreneurs are more successful. By far. They’re more creative, they care more, and they’re more likely to stick with it when the going gets tough.
And it makes sense — if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to put more time and effort into it. You’ll be more invested in the outcome.
So start by brainstorming all of the things you’re interested in, all of the problems you’ve faced, and all of the questions that keep you up at night. Once you have a list, start looking for patterns. What are the common themes?
2. Ask your friends and family
Your close friends and family are a great resource for identifying potential customer problems. You can quickly get into conversations with them about what frustrates them, what they wish they could change, and even things they just don’t have time for.
If you’re feeling shy about asking, start by just observing. Pay attention to the conversations your friends and family have — what are the topics that come up over and over again?
The issue that comes to mind for me right away is meal planning. We’ve seen so many food delivery services and pre-made meals enter the market in the past few years because the pandemic took away many peoples’ ability to go out and shop for groceries.
Meal planning is a HUGE pain point for so many people, and there’s still a lot of room for innovation in this area. It’s also an issue right under our noses. What else might you be overlooking because it’s so close to you?
3. Do your research
Passion and ideas aren’t your only resources — data is important, too. We’re surrounded by saturated markets and industries; you can never be too sure that your idea is both lucrative and unopposed.
Think With Google is a great place to start if you’re looking for information on your idea’s validity. Google Trends, Find My Audience, and Market Finder can help you understand whether there’s an audience for your product and how to find them.
Regardless of whether you have a specific idea in mind or not, it’s important to keep an open mind and do your research. The last thing you want is to pour your heart and soul into something that no one wants.
4. Ask potential customers directly
The last strategy I really want to touch on is customer outreach. It’s a bit like user testing — you’re getting feedback from people who are potential users of your product.
There are a few ways to do this; surveys, interviews, and focus groups are some of the best. You can use tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to create surveys, and services like Interview Rocket or Zoom to conduct interviews and focus groups.
The great thing about this strategy is that it gives you direct feedback from potential customers. You can ask them about their needs and wants, what frustrates them, and how they would like to see the problem solved. It’s a great way to get honest feedback and learn more about your target market.
These are all likely tips you’ve heard before, but it’s important to remember them when you’re starting your business. To take a more simple approach, ask yourself: what specific problem does my product solve?
Businesses that solved a problem
Christian’s survival company is of course a great example of a company that solved a problem — but as I thought more about our interview, I realized there are countless businesses, both big and small, that are in the same situation. They all solved a problem for their customers.
Take Warby Parker, for example. They realized that buying glasses online was a pain because you had to take your prescription to an optical store to get them fitted and order the frames. So they created a process where you could order five pairs of glasses online, try them on at home, and then only pay for the ones you wanted to keep.
Or how about Southwest Airlines? They solved the problem of high airfare by creating a model where passengers only paid for what they needed. They also made flying more convenient by offering multiple flights a day to popular destinations.
And a more mainstream example — Uber solved the problem of not having a taxi when you need one (or not having groceries in by dinnertime!) by creating an app that connects drivers with passengers and fast-food customers.
Businesses that missed the memo
Unfortunately, I can also think of plenty of businesses that have failed because they didn’t solve a problem.
Believe it or not, there was a startup venture called Homeless Tours. (Yes, you read that right.) The company’s idea was to offer tours of city areas populated by homeless people. This company didn’t solve a problem — they exploited a problem. And unsurprisingly, it failed.
Amazon has even experienced a few of its own failures as a result of failing to fill a need. The company, for some odd reason, decided to expand into brick-and-mortar bookstores.
But it turns out that people don’t really want to buy books in a physical store when they can just order them on Amazon.com, and stores like Barnes & Noble offer a better in-store experience. So Amazon had to close its stores and focus on what it does best — selling books online.
My point here is that, when you look at businesses of all sizes, the ones that are successful invariably solved a problem for their customers. And that’s what you need to do if you want your business to be successful, too.
So, what problem are you trying to solve? If you aren’t sure, this might be your time to do some market research. Talk to your customers, talk to your friends and family, and see if there’s a pain point to resolve or a gap to fill.
And remember — it’s as much about the execution as it is about the idea. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t execute it well, it won’t matter. So make sure you focus on creating a process and a system that will allow you to solve your customer’s problem as efficiently as possible.
Interested in hearing more about Christian Schauf’s experience starting his own business? You can check out the full interview here — it’s well worth your listen, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not.
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