What all effective methods for coming up with business ideas have in common is that they focus on finding problems over ideas.
To quote Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit:
"Customers don’t pay for ideas; they pay for their problems to be solved."
Far too many aspiring entrepreneurs still do it backwards and start with an idea, a solution looking for a problem. After months of working on their product, they start to wonder: "How do I find customers for this thing I built?"
Using clever marketing tricks, they might be able to convince a few people to buy their product. But generally it will be an uphill battle and something that can and should be avoided.
It's far more effective to de-risk product creation by starting with a painful problem (ideally one that is well-understood but currently poorly solved).
Focusing on problems also makes sense because the most dangerous kind of product idea is what the folks at YC call "sitcom startup ideas". These are the kind of ideas that sitcom writers come up with for one of the characters that sound somewhat plausible but are actually bad. Sitcom startup ideas are "cool" ideas that in the real world, no one is willing to pay for.
[T]he way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. [I]f you make a conscious effort to think of startup ideas, the ideas you come up with will not merely be bad, but bad and plausible-sounding, meaning you'll waste a lot of time on them before realizing they're bad." - Paul Graham
The key question now of course is: what are some painful problems that are waiting to be solved right now?
Since my goal with this newsletter is to provide research-as-a-service, I spent hours digging through all kinds of sources and interviewing people to find promising pain points.
I approached the problem from four angles.
- Common pain points that result from a big cultural shift or trend (e.g. the rise of remote work).
- Pain points that are common for a specific group of people (e.g. newsletter creators).
- Pain points that are directly related to a specific product (e.g. SumoMe )
- Pain points reported by a specific person (e.g. a bicycle repair shop owner)
Each angle has certain advantages, and thus I included specific examples from all of them below.
But before we dive in, an important request: If you find the following research useful, please let me know by clicking here (takes 20 seconds). Depending on your feedback, there will be further pain points reports in the future.
With that out of the way, let's start.
🏡 Remote Work Pain Points
Difficulty of managing team members.
- "Working hours and availability are more difficult to manage because it's hard to tell who's working and who's not."
- "There can be a lack of accountability, especially if the work is not visible."
- "Remote team members find it difficult to stay motivated when working on a project without the ability to see the impact their work has on the company."
- "Remote workers are often unable to receive timely feedback from their supervisor or coworkers."
- 💡 One potentially very interesting solution to some of the issues outlined here is the VR office software Immersed. However, eventually the winning solution won't just be a digital carbon copy of offline offices but a completely new way of working that's specifically enabled by remote work.
Difficulty socializing with coworkers.
- "Less opportunity to socialize with coworkers."
- "Limited network of personal connections outside of the office."
- "It's hard to maintain a sense of camaraderie."
- "It can be tough working with people who don't have the same cultural values."
- "A cohesive culture is challenging to build from the global perspective."
- "Cultural differences make it difficult to understand team members from different backgrounds."
- 💡 There are many attempts to create digital water coolers and virtual social activities for remote teams. However, if you ask remote workers about their experiences with these tools, it becomes clear that this is still a problem to be solved.
Difficulty of making use of location independence
- "There is a lack of tools that help with the cross-cultural challenges of living the digital nomad lifestyle."
- 💡 A fun weekend project could be a website or app that has videos and articles about cultural norms in different countries, a glossary of words and phrases to help people communicate with locals, and a library of other resources that helps people understand the culture of the country they are in. One step beyond that could be a marketplace that connects workers with people who have traveled to many countries, or local experts who can answer questions about different cultures and provide feedback from a local's perspective.
Lack of a good physical space to work in.
- "The lack of a physical workplace makes it difficult to get away from distractions."
- "Remote team members are less productive as they have more distractions and interruptions if working from home."
- "Loss of work/life balance."
- "It can be tough to get work done when there is no office, and no one to motivate you."
- "Workplaces at home are often not designed to be conducive to remote work."
- "Limited access to company resources, such as conference rooms or meeting spaces."
- "Limited access to company resources, such as printers, fax machines, etc."
- 💡 A company could create a customizable workstation or mobile offices that would allow remote workers to work from their home without having to sacrifice any of the productivity and autonomy they would have in an office.
Alternatively, a productized service could help remote workers set up a suitable workspace at home. For example, these guys are doing this for video chat setups which is, of course, one important component.
- 💡 Another interesting opportunity could be a B2B version of Focusmate that randomly matches accountability partners but only within a given company.
Difficulty of understanding team members.
- "The ability to communicate effectively with a remote team is challenging. Time zones, language barriers, lack of eye contact, and the lack of being able to read body language make it difficult to understand when someone's not happy."
- "A lack of face-to-face communication, which can result in some people feeling isolated and overlooked."
- "It's hard to know when you're overworking an employee because there are no cues to pay attention to."
- "It's hard to know what's going on with team members because they're not in the office to be supervised closely."
- 💡 I honestly have no idea how this problem can be solved. Lots of important cues get lost when most communication happens online. But tracking team members' wellbeing using sensors etc. seems rather dystopian.
- "With more time spent in digital spaces, staying healthy and productive is more difficult."
- "I often feel sluggish when I spend too much time in front of a screen."
- "It's so easy to feel overwhelmed by the digital world and I often feel guilty when I disconnect."
- 💡 A startup could help companies manage digital hangovers by providing a service that would give employees time to disconnect and have an offline experience. For example, an employee could gain access to this service through their company’s wellness program. The service could offer guided offline experiences in a variety of settings, including wilderness, art, and cooking. This service could also provide online wellness tools, such as a social media tracker to measure digital addiction and a digital detox course.
📰 Newsletter Creator Pain Points
No easy way to analyze subscribers.
- "I want to find out who my most engaged subscribers are and reach out to them. But currently I have to do everything manually and this taking up a lot of time."
- "There is no automated way to find out if influencers or important people are subscribed to my newsletter, even though this could be invaluable information."
- 💡 Build a tool that helps newsletter writers find out who their most valuable subscribers are. Ideally the tool would connect directly to various email service providers. But to start with, it would be sufficient if users can simply upload their subscriber list manually.
In any case the software should then enrich it will all kinds of useful information (for example, number of Twitter followers, company affiliations, ...) to provide interesting insights.
No reliable open and click analytics
- "There is no way to if people actually read my content or just open the emails to remove them from their inbox. I do this myself all the time."
- "Open rate and click-through statistics have become extremely inaccurate since Apple started blocking tracking pixels."
- 💡 The desire of newsletter creators to understand their reader's behavior better and the readers' privacy rights are clearly in conflict.
One way to actually benefit from this development could be to "create a privacy-first newsletter alternative (kind of like Plausible is to Google Analytics)".
In any case, the takeaway is "to not base any of your automations on opens (or clicks - different thread needed, similar issues). The data is bunk and new metrics are needed."
- "Only by chance I discovered that my emails haven't been delivered to all Yahoo email addresses for the past month."
- 💡 A micro SaaS idea could be a service that checks if a given newsletter is successfully delivered to all major providers and sends you a message when there's an issue. (Think Uptime Robot for newsletters.)
Difficulty of coming up with good subject lines
- "Coming up with compelling subject lines on a weekly basis is hard and my least favorite part of newsletter publishing."
- 💡 Use GPT-3 to create a niche version of Headlime that's tailor-made for newsletter creators. Newsletter writers send the draft email to the service, and it will reply with a dozen or so subject line proposals.
🤼 SumoMe Pain Points
- Background: SumoMe is a suite of tools that can be used on almost any type of website to capture email addresses.
- Problems: "Their help service is the worst and they often treat you as an idiot. Even with photos and indepth information about issues, they still are unable to understand the problem."
"The UI is slow and looks lame if you compare it for today's UI such as Slack, Zapier, IFTTT, it's like they stuck somewhere in 2010."
"The interface leaves a bit to be desired. More guidance would be helpful. In the free version, stats are only available for 30 days. More integrations would be great."
"I think it could use some reprogramming, sometimes I think the features load to slow and can make the whole website experience go down."
OptinMonster - similar problems as SumoMe. "Works well once up and running but terrible UI."
Popupsmart - users complain that it's hard to migrate from other services to Popupsmart and there are not enough native integrations with email service providers.
- 💡 A lighweight, modern alternative to the various Sumo products with better support looks like a great opportunity since companies are definitely more interested than ever in capturing email addresses.
🚴 Bicycle Repair Shop Owner Pain Point
- Background: "I'm the owner of a bicycle repair shop. We have 8 employees and have operated for 5 years."
- Problem: "We have a big problem in that we rarely know what's wrong with a bike before it comes into our shop, and the customer rarely knows either. If they did, we'd be able to schedule our work and our mechanics' time much more efficiently, as well as pre-order any parts we need, and fix and return the bike to the customer in no time."
- Current Workaround: "We presently have to ask our customers a set of questions over the phone, via email, or on Facebook, which is time consuming and wasteful of the mechanics' time and money."
- Ideal Solution: "The ideal solution would be for us to have either a smartphone app or a website where our customers could diagnose their bike's condition and then book it in with us. I imagine that a graphic and a series of questions in a flowchart system would be used to accurately identify the problem and provide a repair quote. Maybe even some kind of machine learning magic could be used."
- 💡 What's really interesting about this problem is that once you've built a working solution you can easily branch out to other niches like cars, mobile phones, or really almost any kind of physical product.
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