If there’s a problem, there’s a solution
– Jeff Bezos
Did you know many companies started with a person finding a solution to a problem that annoyed them? Or maybe they didn’t go through the problem themselves but identified it by paying attention to other people.
Actually, some companies were born with a person saying, “This is so annoying! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought about a solution for this?” Then it clicked they could be that someone. That is how Under Armour started, for example.
If you’re into practicing sports or working out you probably know that name; it’s a huge sports and gym clothing manufacturer. Nowadays the company is so great Hollywood star Dwayne Johnson and NBA star Stephen Curry have launched their own Under Armour collections. It all began because the founder, Kevin Plank, had a problem with his clothes.
Plank was a sports enthusiast, and being good at it, he started playing American football during his college years. But there was a problem: he was annoyed by how sweaty he would always become when playing, and how uncomfortable his clothes were because of that.
The solution to that problem was obvious: clothes that were more comfortable for athletes. That solution, however, didn’t exist. So Plank himself started looking for the right materials to make sports clothes that would keep athletes dry, and that is how Under Armour was born.
What Plank and other entrepreneurs can teach us is that you can create a brand out of a problem. That is a possibility worth considering if you plan to found a business. Or if you’re already an entrepreneur, you can use this principle to shape your product or marketing approach.
Before we go any further, though, keep in mind this does not mean solving a problem is the only thing to consider when founding a business; being interested in the idea and believing in what you’re doing are vital.
With that in mind, here are some lessons we can learn from people who started a business out of a problem and some considerations on how to do it.
1 – Remember businesses exist to solve problems
Plank is an obvious case of an entrepreneur who committed to solving a problem he had, but if you think about it, deep down every good business is solving a problem. This is what businesses do: they sell solutions to problems people have. Understanding this will stop you from either creating a product no one needs or marketing your great idea as something “nice,” but unnecessary.
Let’s take Sony as an example. The reason why they sell millions of PlayStation consoles is that they show people their product will solve people’s need for entertainment. “You need to have fun, and we have a product to help you with that.” The same goes for restaurants: people need to eat. And for spas: people need to relax. And for clothes’ stores: people need to get dressed.
Businesses that deal with obvious problems will have little effort convincing people to buy what they sell. So if you sell shoes, your effort will be convincing customers that your shoes are better than the competition’s—everyone needs to wear shoes, after all.
On the other hand, others have to convince people they have a problem before offering them the solution. So if you sell jewelry, you will need to appeal to people’s desire to be more elegant and impress others, since no one needs gold earrings to live.
As you may have concluded, the marketing strategy is essential because that is how you show the need for what you sell. If you can’t explain to people what problem you are selling a solution to, they’ll think it’s dispensable and won’t invest their precious money into it.
2 – Talk to people
An amazing way to find out problems that need solving is by reaching out to people and learning from them. That way you can either pick up a brilliant business opportunity or test if others go through the same situation you face—in other words, if there is a market for your idea.
But bear in mind there’s a way to approach people when looking for ideas, otherwise you will only get large amounts of vague and useless data. Henry Ford said if he had asked people what they wanted, they would simply have told him they needed a faster horse.
Ford’s contemporaries didn’t know they needed a car because it didn’t exist yet, and no one had given the idea any thought. It makes sense: people don’t spend time imagining products and services that could exist: that’s your task as an entrepreneur.
There is one thing people can easily tell you, though: what they don’t like about their current situation. If you go and ask people, they’ll give you an honest answer that you can use as inspiration to create a product or as feedback to refine it. That is how air fryers were invented, for instance.
People didn’t know they could use hot air to fry food, but they did know they hated the strong smell and greasy mess they were left with after frying food. This knowledge led to attempts at creating an appliance that could fry food without oil.
The lesson is: reach out to people, but not to ask them, “What do you want?” because they don’t know that. Ask instead, “What do you hate?” That they know.
3 – Don’t be afraid to talk about your idea
This lesson is related to the one above. In order to get feedback on the problem you identified and the solution you have, you will need to let people know what you’re thinking about. Somehow, this is not so obvious to some people because they are afraid their business idea will be stolen.
I’ve seen people doing it: they have a promising business insight on how to solve a common problem, but are afraid of talking about it. Well, that way they are simply not getting feedback or testing the idea at all. And ideas need to be tested and discussed before execution, because that’s how we avoid committing silly mistakes.
Let me be perfectly honest: unless you are a big business surrounded by fierce competition, no one is going to steal anything from you. You still don’t have anything to be stolen, after all. Besides, random people you talk to will have no idea what to do with your business insight, and other beginners will not take risks with your idea because they are too afraid even to take risks with their own. So if you’re still starting out, don’t worry; no one will really care enough until you’ve got something done.
Plus, getting initial feedback will assess how innovative your business solution really is. You’ll want to know how people feel about the solution you want to sell before you start working on it because if they react with little surprise and say, “Oh, that’s nice,” then you know you need to refine the idea. Few people will buy a “nice” product. You need to sell a “Wow, I’ve never heard about that” product.
4 – Find your own place
Have you ever wondered how Apple and Amazon were so innovative? Because they were making an effort to be so. These companies didn’t start competing with others and selling a solution to a problem that was already solved, instead they concentrated on identifying problems that still lacked a solution. That way their product found a market all for itself. The formal name for this is Blue Ocean Strategy.
It’s simple: as a business you can either go into a red ocean (it’s red because of the blood of competitors eating each other like sharks), or you can go into a calm, blue ocean in which there is no fighting. It’s an easy choice.
Under Armour created their own blue ocean by selling a solution to a problem that was still unsolved, and that meant they were a long way ahead of the eventual competitors who followed their lead. Learn that from them and make sure the solution you are planning to sell doesn’t look so similar to everyone else’s, or you will be diving into a red ocean.
With these considerations in mind, you might be able to join Plank, Bezos, and many other entrepreneurs in the group of big names who started as problem-solvers.
By the way, next time someone complains to you about a problem, don’t find them boring. Instead, write it down because that can be a revolutionary idea.