A natural and good tendency for entrepreneurs is to “do what you know.” It helps if you actually have the problem you are solving because it brings you deep insight into the pain of the problem. Many founding stories begin with the ah-ha moment when the founder kept bumping into the problem she would ultimately build a company to solve.
The problem with solving our own problems is it limits your context to what you know and experience every day. And that leads to the abundance of “white people problems” being solved by startups right now. It’s not that the problems aren’t real, it’s just that most people have much bigger problems than how quickly they can get a healthy glucose-free meal delivered to their doorstep with a few touches of an app.
Naturally, solving a problem you don’t have will involve additional risk, because you’ll have to learn to empathize with it, rather than truly feeling the pain. But I’d argue that you’ll also unearth markets that software has yet to eat and people who will adopt quickly because they don’t have an abundance of choice in solutions to their problems.
To get the ball rolling, here are some places I believe are fertile ground for startups:
- Tech-enabling traditional industries – focus on older industries that are major economic drivers in your part of the world where you can build an unfair advantage
- The blue collar workforce – people who sit at computers all day already have a ton of companies building tools for them, but the smartphone is penetrating has penetrated the service economy opening up new business models and creating opportunities
- The emerging independence of the labor force – the on-demand economy is only possible because of the risk-shift that companies are taking advantage of with a independent contractor workforce. In the same way co-working spaces, freelancing tools, and entrepreneurial education have helped knowledge workers move from corporate jobs to freelancing jobs, there is opportunity in the shift of the skilled and unskilled labor markets moving from corporate employment to independent contractors.
So, when looking for a problem to tackle, consider looking beyond your own problem set. There are a lot of problems people have in the world that technology can help solve.