Xbox for cats . . . Airbnb for airplanes . . . eBay for selling ice cream . . . we’ve all heard a crazy business “idea” and rolled our eyes before. Well, the fact is, this is how many businesses start. The founder falls in love with some big idea that, to them, is a total gamechanger.
Here’s our take on this phenomenon, though: big ideas are fairly common.
(Heck, a night of drinking usually spawns a half-dozen of them.)
Solutions to actual problems, on the other hand, are far more valuable.
Ideas are very specific, and often become ends in themselves. This can be very limiting and blinding when it comes to development of a viable business. In contrast, solving a problem is an open-ended journey that travels from brainstorming, to practical experimentation, to development of marketable solutions, and never really stops.
Companies that solve problems have a much better chance of filling a real void in the market, whereas companies that develop ideas may just be playing in their own sandbox. (Of course, this can lead to great businesses, as well, but we think this is the exception, not the rule.)
Listening to yourself vs. listening to the market
Now, passion is critical when building a startup. The amount of motivation required to get through all the doubt, rejections, and hard work is sometimes astronomical. But turning a big idea into a successful business almost always requires dedication to one key task:
Listening to your future customers to see if your idea addresses a real problem.
Your idea of a solution may be on the right track, but only actual customers that are willing to pay for a particular solution can prove the rightness of a big idea. And the way to build such a solution is to listen to them before, during, and after you’ve designed your business. Get their feedback on your initial ideas. Ask them to try your proposed solutions. Tweak your offering after getting their take on things as you’re ready to go to market. Focus on the problems that people will actually pay for solutions to.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If you focus on real problems, you’ll be on your way to a real sustainable business. If you focus on a big idea like a “gamified social pet adoption app,” however, you may find that the market had no need for such a thing. What stops the needy pet population from being adopted might not be the lack of knowledge about available pets and an engaging app to promote information, but rather the simple fact that the amount of pets needing homes is way beyond the capacity of pet lovers to take them in.
You can see that there’s a problem there to be solved, but the “big idea” doesn’t fit the needs of the market at all.
In other words, don’t try to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem.
We built Bizness Apps by focusing on what businesses actually needed in terms of functionality by working with them and listening to their feedback. At the end of the day, the customers knew what their business needed better than we ever could. So we revised and revised and revised until they were happy with our product. And as we said: we knew we were moving in the right direction when customers were willing to pay for our offering. Which means one thing is crucial:
Show immediate value to your customers.
(Notice we said “customers” here, not “users.” Focus on building a product that solves a problem, shows immediate value, and that people will pay for.)
Willingness to pay is a solid indication that your solution delivers value – certainly, it proves that there is perceived value. And that’s what we think startups have to focus on. A big idea can be blinding, and if you follow the idea, especially your own vision of it, you can sometimes miss out on what customers actually want. Better to be ready to adapt your idea to the actual needs and wants of customers than to see your “initial” idea come to life.
When you do this, markets will emerge.
For example, Airbnb solved a real problem and created a completely new market for short-term renting of personal spaces. Uber has revolutionized the way people use taxis in many cities. And eBay brought auctions onto the Internet and wound up creating an incredibly robust global marketplace where almost any item can be purchased.
Starting a business is one of life’s most humbling experiences. But if you’re willing to swallow your pride, correct mistakes, and detach your ego from your vision, there just might be a viable business waiting for you down the line. (And, better yet, a market you can call you own!)
Good luck out there, entrepreneurs – and remember – listen to your customers. Believe it or not, they’ll tell you exactly what they want.