The world of startup advice seems to be dominated by two impossibly conflicting pieces of advice.
- You Must Solve a Problem
- You Shouldn’t Solve a Problem
Unsurprisingly it’s hard to do both of these at once.
Myth 1: You Must Solve a Problem
This myth seems to come from two places.
First, most pitch decks are terrible. Actually, much, much worse than terrible.
So the entrepreneur is handed a pitch template like the Problem-Solution deck from Founder Institute
which is a huge improvement over what they have been doing.
Unfortunately, they aren’t given a complete guide (which has several different templates) or simply don’t see the Vision | Opportunity template which is the one they need.
The second is that they are not clear on what needs they are meeting or what value they are creating. The feedback they are given is “you need to be solving a problem” which is really a very narrow way of saying, “why will your customer care?”
Myth 2: You Shouldn’t Solve a Problem
This may be an improperly shortened form of you “shouldn’t just solve a particular problem with an existing system where the system needs a broader solution, or perhaps replacement.”
Or it may be a claim that you need network effects or a monopoly, or disruption to create value.
While it is at least arguable true that the majority of recent wealth creation has been through network effects, etc., network effects are not the only sources of value creation.
Every new antibiotic saves lives and creates wealth. It has no disruption. Although it uses existing networks for distribution, it has no network effects. And, while there is patent protection for that particular drug, it does not displace all other antibiotics to become a monopoly.
It just stops a lot of people from being dead or sick.
And it makes money.
At the end of the world
In Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy, a Fenchurch figures out how to solve all the problems of the world. There would be no more hate, no more suffering, not more bad stuff. But, just before she is able to tell anyone, the world is destroyed by the Vogon constructor fleet.
That is of course a work of fiction.
In real life, she couldn’t get critical mass to start on it because it didn’t disrupt anything, didn’t create a new paradigm, didn’t utilize network effects, or even the blockchain.
And we all didn’t live happily ever after.