A common excuse I hear from people who say they want to start a company is that they don’t have any good ideas. I call bullshit. People have good ideas for a new business every single day of their lives. Each time you complain about something you have identified a business opportunity. Most if not all ideas are borne of problems people had with the current state of their world. Can’t find a cab in this town? Uber. Parking sucks? Luxe. Hotels too expensive? Airbnb. No cash to split the bill? Venmo. All of these ideas were inspired by seeing something that was broken and wanting to fix it. Because if you are complaining about it, then you just might be willing to pay someone to make it better. And if you’re willing to pay someone to make it better, it’s highly likely that many other people are willing to do so as well. $ x Demand= Revenue.
As an entrepreneur, one of my habits is to maintain a running list of my complaints and pain points. These may be opportunities in my personal life or my professional life. When we were planning our wedding, I had ideas for wedding registries because I was so frustrated with the lack of selection and all of the wasted money our guests were paying for packaging and shipping. When I was managing display ads on multiple networks for my previous startup, I wanted to build a unified integrated marketing dashboard because I was sick of bouncing around to dozens of dashboards. When I was planning large events for a founders group I started, I investigated a plan for a group booking service. Now that I’m a new dad, I’m constantly thinking up ideas for better baby products. Are all of these ideas viable businesses? Probably not. But you don’t need them all to be, you just need one or two that work. The goal of this exercise is to put the ideas down on paper (or Google Docs or Evernote) and do some research. Sometimes you find that someone else already beat you to it. Other times you find that no one is doing a damn thing to fix the problem: That’s your opening. That is the rabbit hole that you should start going down. Once you start on that path you will learn more about why you should or should not continue. Every great company starts with discovering the rabbit hole and going further and further down and before they realize it, they have a real viable business.
I was inspired to write this post when a friend posted on Facebook about his experience buying a new car with a service called Roadster. For decades, people have dreaded buying a new car because it means having to go to a car dealership, where trust and honesty go to die. I do have a few friends who love buying a new car, because they love the thrill of negotiating a deal. But for most, they hate it because it’s a terrible experience. COMPLAINT = OPPORTUNITY. The dealership system is corrupt and broken, but it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Their revenue model is based on trying to trick people into paying more money than they want to or need to. Roadster and other companies like Beepi and Carvana are making the process better. People are willing to pay to not have to feel like they need to take a long shower after leaving a car dealer. They give people the peace of mind that they got a fair deal and the car they wanted without having to visit multiple dealerships and haggling. That’s worth a lot of money. My current company Pared does something similar by taking away the pain and stress of recruiting and turnover in restaurant staffing. Car shoppers complain about the car buying process. Restaurateurs complain about staffing. Every complaint is a potential business opportunity.
Comparable Income + Increased Happiness = No-brainer
Does your idea have to be a billion dollar idea? Not at all! Everyone always complains that the Korean food in San Francisco is terrible. I guarantee if you opened a Korean restaurant even half as good as the ones in Los Angeles here that you could make a lot of money. Another friend has gained a ton of experience in building customer service teams and organizations. I told him to go start his own consulting company because I know plenty of founders who complain about not knowing anything about customer service. He has loyal followers and he has the domain expertise that startups would be willing to pay to outsource their needs to. It doesn’t matter how big the idea is, the decision should be whether or not you’d be happier opening a Korean restaurant, a consulting company or a billion dollar business. Do you think you could make at least the same amount of money you’re making today from that business? Then what are you waiting for? Comparable Income + Increased Happiness = No-brainer.