The Number One Mistake That Kills Most Startup Ideas

Is your business solving a problem that doesn’t exist?

Yesterday, I bought a phone charger, earplugs, and a bottle of shampoo. What do all these three products have in common?

They solve a problem I already had.

Foreign plug sockets, lousy sleep, and an inclination to look and feel clean: I was aware of my existing needs. These three purchases all solve a problem or realise a desire I already had. That made the buying journey simple: I typed the product into my browser, visited an online shop, added what I wanted to the cart, and paid. Done.

From the business’ point of view, that’s an easy sale.

They didn’t have to convince me why I needed the product, and they certainly didn’t need to show me that it existed: all they needed to do was being in the right place, at the right time.

Yet, most entrepreneurs do the opposite: they come up with a random idea that no one is looking for, thinking that there is no competition (and all of a sudden the whole world will need their new idea).

Here’s what happens. The entrepreneur-in-the-making spots an invisible pattern: they find a problem so specific that no one has noticed, and create a solution around it. Usually, the entrepreneur invests way too much time in the solution before anyone has expressed interest in it.

To come up with an example, I Googled “worst Kickstarters ever”.

From a (patented) bulky iPhone cover that can brew you an espresso to a t-shirt with a zip pocket for vomit, examples abounded of someone who invested a lot of time and resources into a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. These are extreme examples. But when you create products or services that solve “invisible problems”, your marketing will be incredibly difficult. You’ll have to find an audience who doesn’t know they need your solution, convince or show them that they have a problem, and then sell them your solution — all without appearing slimy.

Do you pass the ‘Invisible Pitch’ test?

Imagine if I came to visit you at your home, and I start the conversation by telling you how I noticed that you have a problem. I then described that problem you didn’t know existed and then told you that, by the way, I could solve it for you in exchange for money. Are you going to jump on the offer? Likely not. You’re probably going to think it was an unnecessary trap to make you pay for a solution. By shining light on it, you’ve created the problem, and then given the solution.

Imagine instead, that you already are experiencing a problem. You talk to me about it when I visit you at your home. I listen, and at the end, I say “Look, I have the perfect solution for your problem”. All you have to do is pay me money. Aren’t you much more likely to agree this time? The sale becomes much easier.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Focus on solving an existing problem that people already recognise (or enabling a strong desire). Then, have friendly conversations with your target market leveraging your network, forums, and social media (you can find my templates to reach out to your audience here). Through the chats, you want to understand exactly what is the obstacle that is getting in the way of their dreams, and how they perceive it. Then, focusing on solving that.

You might think that existing solutions have left no space for your offer. Remember that people are different: they’re at separate stages of the same journey, and they will resonate with different methods, stories, and language. Your offer and message, may not be for everyone, and that’s ok: you want to focus on finding your tribe.

Remember, next time you want to jump in on creating a new “perfect solution”, take a step back and study the problems and desires of your target market. That’s how you create a solid business that sells without having to convince your customers that they actually have a problem.

They already know, and they’re eager to buy from you.

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