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Follow your passion… Build a business around it…
That is your sure path to millions or possibly billions.
As cliché as it sounds that is the only way you are going to keep working 12-14 hours 7 days a week. That is the only thing that will keep you going after repeated failures until you succeed.
Well at least that is the over simplified version of what ‘Gurus’ teaches you.
While I agree 100% that you should religiously eliminate or not do anything you hate… But building a business around your passion…
…IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?
After all, especially if you are building a tech company the odds are that you will be working on it for a long time. Up to 7 years for B2B Company and could be less for B2C i.e. Consumer web.
It can just take 24 months to find your product market fit.
You better make sure that your business is built around providing a great solution to a real world problem. Rather than being a Fool in love i.e. Following your passion blindly.
In this article I aim to give you the steps you can follow to find ideas for your business by identifying real world problems. If you already have an idea, these will also be helpful for you to validate them.
Here we go…
Painkillers Vs Vitamins:
Let me be a genius and state the very obvious difference between painkillers and vitamins.
When do you take a painkiller?
When you have a specific pain e.g. migraine, fever, or an injury. You want to take it immediately to relieve yourself from the pain. Bigger the pain, more quickly you would want to take it and I bet you would pay any price for it.
Vitamins in comparison you should take to keep improving your health. However, sometimes you take them…Sometimes you forget. Most people do not bother with them because it is not resolving any immediate pain.
Think about it…
When was the last time you had a massive headache and thought ‘Oh Jeez I need vitamin C right now’?
Get the picture??
That is the very same mindset you should have when you are either looking for a new idea for your tech business or validating a current one. Look for a problem so big that when you provide a solution (a painkiller) for it, people would be lining up to buy it…
…People would be starving for it.
Rather than providing solution for something which is not immediately needed and instead a nice thing to have.
Providing solutions to massive problems will make it easy for you to acquire customers and they will stay around longer.
Let me give you some examples:
Let’s start with a cliché painkiller example: UBER.
Remember the time you first used UBER and fell in love with it. Apart from the fact that we all hate rip off cab drivers and through Uber it felt like finally we were getting back at them, here is why:
- You do not have to call Cab companies to send over a cab only to wait for 30 mins and it still doesn’t turn up. Instead you can use your phone to request for a ride and Viola! The car is there in few minutes.
- You do not get ripped off and instead Uber charges a fair price for your journey. Also, there is no cash handling.
- You can actually leave a review at the end of your journey so most drivers ensure they provide you with a really good service. Did you have ever get sweets and water bottles in the ancient Cab driver days?
“You will be investing a huge amount of your time on your business. You might as well build your business around a real pain”
It will still take same time to build whether you grow a painkiller or vitamins business.
Here is an example of Marc Andreessen tweeting about the same perspective:
Here are the steps which should be followed to find a Painkiller:
Find a lucrative market that interests you:
Find few industries which are of interest to you and find the most lucrative one out of those.
You need to look for an industry that is growing in size and have decent amount of competition in it. Don’t forget competition does not always mean a bad thing. Competition means there is market for the products within the industry.
Here are the steps you can follow to find a lucrative industry:
- Look for industry publications, white papers and reports to learn about the industry inside out.
- Look for industry influencers online and follow their conversations.
- Go online and start participating in the forum, Facebook groups, LinkedIn Groups and listen to the conversations going on there.
- Use Google Adwords Keyword Planner to find out the number of searches people made on Google related to your market. By this you can estimate the industry size and people interested in it.
- Search on the Google Trends to determine the volume of the search query.
- Analyze the website traffic of the competitors through online tools like Compete, comScore and Ahrefs. If the traffic is 1 million plus for the competitors, that is a lucrative market.
- If you can, attend industry summits, events, seminars and discussions to know more about the industry and see if it interests you.
Once you have the industry locked down. Its time for you go deep and really understand the pain points in it.
Get out and Interview 20 people
Identifying massive pain points and validating your solutions around them is really not that hard:
Before you create any product, solution or write a line of code for an industry, get out and interview 20 people.
20 interviews are enough for you to understand the industry, identify any white spaces and problems, and to identify a pattern in recurring issues and validate your ideas.
Here is how the 20 interview break down:
- First 5 will give you insights on how the industry operates and the common issues in it.
- Interviews 6-10 (Problem Validation) you will start to see patterns in what you learnt in the first 5 interviews. After this you will be able to create your Problem Hypothesis (More on Problem hypothesis later) and create solutions around it.
- Interviews 11-20 (Solution Validation) should be used to get critical feedback and validate your proposed solution. At this point, you should be tweaking your proposed solution after every interview and really getting an understanding of the core users for it.
I will provide set of questions which you can ask at the interviews below.
Few critical things to remember before you start conducting the interviews.
1). Get Out… You really need to get out of your comfort zone and go where your industry users are located. Go where they hang around, where they work etc. You really need to get a feel of how they operate in their day to day lives. You cannot possibly get all that critical information sitting on your desk.
2). Find real industry experts, and users. Rather than interviewing your friends, family or people in your network (unless they are real experts in the industry).
3). Go for Brutal Honest Learning. That means listen more than you speak and ask the right questions. As an entrepreneur, we often fall in love with our own ideas and try to enforce them on others. Normally what ends up happening is that the person you are speaking with gets sucked into your enthusiasm and gives you false positives.
Also most people are nice and they will agree with you just to not offend you. That might be great for your ego but does not serve the right purpose. Your Idea without real customer validation, Sucks….. You have to be completely dispassionate when conducting interviews.
4). Be prepared to get battered… Not all interviews are going to be positive. Such is life, keep going and sure complete your 20 interviews.
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How do you find the right people to Interview?
Step 1: Find them Online
Make a list people using social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to find people in the industry you are targeting. LinkedIn can be especially helpful for this purpose. Look for people who are actively bloggers, active in LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups and on Twitter as they will be the passionate experts in the industry and likely to help you the most.
Once you have created your initial list. Go through it and shortlist the ones you think are most active. Always shortlist a lot more than 20 candidates as you will need to reach out to a lot of them and qualify them before you can be ready to interview the final 20.
If you can spend some money, skip all the grunt work and find them on Clarity.fm and just pay for their time.
Step 2: Reach out to them
While I find that most people are very nice and are willing to help, it is always odd if you just start contacting them out of the blue. Depending on where you find them, start leaving comments on their blog posts; contribute in LinkedIn, Facebook groups and retweeting their tweets.
After you have contributed positively, reach out to them and ask them to possibly get on a call with you. Be very polite and explain what you are trying to do and why you would like to speak to them.
Here is a sample template you could use:
Dear [First Name],
I hope you are well.
I just read your [blog post/social media post/social comment] and wanted to reach out to you.
I am currently working on [your project name here] and have few ideas I would like to validate with [Enter your industry] experts.
Would it be possible for us to get on a short phone call? I appreciate you must be really busy but I promise it won’t take more than few minutes.
Here is more on how to get the expert’s advice:
How To Connect With Mentors
Needless to say you will not get immediate responses from everyone. You should follow up with the ones that do not reply multiple times. However be considerate and do not follow up so much that it becomes borderline spamming.
As you get positive responses, start booking short 20 minutes call with them.
Step 3: Qualify them on the phone
Rather than meeting the candidate in person, it is a lot more efficient if you quickly qualify them on the phone first.
Your job now is to have a short 20 minutes call and find out if they are the right person to meet. Otherwise you will be wasting yours and their time.
When you get on the call with them, after you’ve introduced yourself and honestly told them what you are trying to do, here are some sample questions you can ask them to qualify them in or out.
Here the list of questions you should ask them whether to qualify them or not:
- What are the challenges you face in the industry?
- How recurring are those challenges and how they impact your business?
- What goals your customers are trying to achieve?
- What issues or pain your customers experience in their goal achievement?
- What is the intensity of that pain/issue?
- What is the frequency of that issue?
- How much knowledge of the market do you have to understand that issue? (Source)
Again what you are looking for here is:
- Do they have in-depth knowledge of the industry?
- How passionate they are about the industry?
- How willing they are to help you understand the pain points of the industry?
Typically, I have found that who have in-depth knowledge of the industry are willing to help you without expecting anything in return. However, don’t forget that these people are busy so respect their time. It would be nice if you could offer them something in return.
Step 4: Meet them for Interview
This is where the fun starts and things get really interesting. You have done the boring work of finding, reaching out and qualifying them.
Now is the time you will really understand the ins and outs of the industry and figure out if there is a viable solution you could provide.
As ideally suggested, you should book the interview at a location where they typically work. On the day of the interview, get to the meeting place ahead of time and really try to understand how things are working there.
Don’t forget the breakdown.
Read More: How To Interview Industry Experts?
Here are the questions you should ask the industry experts in each stage:
Understanding the Market (Interview 1-5)
If you are in the first stage of your interviews i.e. your first 5 interviews, make sure you extensively research the industry before an interview. You should have gathered a lot of data while choosing your industry. Leverage that but also dig deep.
Here are the things which you should do before the interview:
- Find and read publications.
- Go online and research the industry on LinkedIn, Facebook groups, Forums etc. Try to understand the things they are talking about. Contribute and get some feedback.
- Find the biggest companies operating in the space and research them. At this point, simple Google search should suffice. Look for the companies that appear in the top 10 results of relevant keywords and look for the ones that are heavily advertising using Google Ads. Get some intel on those companies.
By the time you get to your first interview, you should have a fair idea of the industry and you should not come across as a complete novice.
At the interviews listen very carefully to everything they say and take extensive notes. Discuss and validate all the things you learnt during pre-interview research.
Don’t forget every person you interview, you might need to speak with them again in the near future to get more information. They could be your early evangelist for the solutions. They will be the ones helping you most whilst you develop your solution.
So…Always end the interview offering them something in return i.e. early access to the product, or any other service you could provide.
Here is a list of sample questions you could ask:
- How your business operates?
- What is your day to day work routine?
- What does your customers wants?
- What extra element you want to add to your work routine?
- What is the size and the growth prospects of the market?
- What are the market’s key growth drivers?
- What is the ideal condition in which your business can work best in the industry?
- What is the major issue or the pain faced by the customers in the market?
- How many customers are facing this issue?
- How the competitive landscape looks like?
- What is the position of your firm in the industry?
By the end of 5 interviews, you must have a clear idea of the industry and audience in it. You must have a list of big problems you identified. You must know how the industry operates.
Go ahead and create your problem hypothesis.
Read more on Problem Hypothesis here.
Problem Validation (Interview 5-10)
At this stage, you are validating the recurring patterns in problems you recognized in the first stage.
Repeat the same process in the first stage and here are some important sample questions you could ask:
- Tell me more about the issues faced by the customers.
- What are your proposed solutions to the customer’s pain?
- Explain your proposed solutions and how will this benefit in customer pain reduction?
- How differentiated are your solutions to the ones that are already available in the industry?
- What thing is facilitating your differentiation; is it technology, innovation, service or process?
- What expertise you possess to solve these customers pain?
- What were the industry needs that led your organization to come up with the offered solution?
- What is the main reason behind offering solution to that particular problem?
- What is your strategy your market-entry strategy to provide the solutions?
- What were the other issue or customer pains you let go?
- What you value the most among the customers pain?
- What you are actually trying to achieve by focusing on that issue?
- What you don’t like about the industry’s environment and norms? (Source)
By the end of Interview you should have validated ONE Massive problem in the industry that needs a solution. Problem so big that, you see clear frustration from the people you interviewed. So big that you clearly see providing a solution would really make life easier for them.
At this point you should be ready to create a solution for the problem you found.
OK, don’t let me scare you here.
What I mean by the solution is just about creating something on paper.
Whether you think the problem needs a technology product or needs a service around, just write it up on paper in the form of a prototype.
Here is more on creating a solution prototype:
Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation
Solution Validation (10-20)
Now that you have nailed the customer pain and created a solution around, it is time to ‘Fail Fast’.
Here is a story for you….
Back in 1903, wright brothers were looking for another chance to get their flying machine off the ground. The brothers along with few more men took the machine on top of a hill and placed it on a 60 foot monorail. They had already failed few days earlier breaking most parts of their prototype.
Something different happened that day. The flying machine prototype didn’t crash, instead its way down the monorail, pick up speed and left the ground.
It was one of the most inspiring moments in the human history.
The brothers finally achieved success. However, they did not get to it without many failed tests and constant improvements.
If you are not failing fast, you are not learning fast enough.
At this stage, you will rigorously test your solution in the form of a prototype against target audience. You should be improving your prototype after each interview.
Constantly ask the question ‘Does this solution really solve the problem’?
Maintain your lack of passion for the solution and constantly discard/add features after getting critical feedback.
Do not make the mistake of asking people for a solution. Henry Ford’s famous quote applies really well here. You are validating the solution at this stage, however that does not mean you can ask people to give you the solution.
Most people may or may not know about the pains they are facing, however they definitely wouldn’t know the solution for it.
It is your job to understand the problem and propose a solution. Interactively get feedback on whether you are proposing the right solution.
Asking your audience for a solution would be similar to a doctor asking his patients about what treatments they are looking for after they have described their symptoms. It is doctor’s job to prescribe the right treatment after learning about the symptoms.
The ultimate test of whether you have found a winning solution is that by the end of this phase, in the last few interviews, you should presell the solution.
If you manage to get few sales, you know you have at least a viable solution which you can resell over and over again. If at this stage, you struggle to pre sell, it’s time to go back and repeat this stage.
It means that you have not found your winning idea (solution).
Here are some resources that should help you:
How To Presell Your Product With 80% Conversion Rate
How to Pre-Sell Your Product by Offering Tantalizing Samples
The 5-Step Formula for Effectively Pre-Selling Your Product to Your Audience
If you follow the process of finding your industry and conducting 20 interviews, it is inevitable, very soon you will find your winning idea.
It is far better than blindly following your passion and spending a great deal of time pursuing something that does not make any impact.
With that approach, eventually you will end up falling out of ‘passion’ once you realize you are heading towards a dead end.
Let me reiterate, if your passion resolves a real pain in the world. I say go for it. However, you can still run the 20 interviews and see what you get. It won’t cost you much but will save you a lot of hassle and grief in future.
(Note: How about a Questions Cheat Sheet you can use to carry out instructions given in this article? Grab this cheat sheet to get the most out of your expert interviews here)