The Startup Life Zone

This concept is pretty straightforward when you think about it, but has been helpful to me while ideating.

If you want to start an “easy” business, you need to look harder for a problem. This is why SaaS is a thing. Unless you have deep industry knowledge, you’re not going to find a SaaS business idea by sitting on a couch and spitballing. You’re going to find it by talking to CEOs and CTOs, asking them about their biggest pain point, then addressing it with software. Whether or not the business is subsequently successful, there is a playbook for what happens next, i.e. a competent dev team builds the product, and a competent sales team sells it.

If you want to start a “hard” business, the problems are right in front of you. (Or, if they weren’t, they are now.) But of course, if there were a known, obvious or easy approach to the solution, it’d be done already.

The main use of this paradigm is to check yourself. If you’re looking to solve a scoped problem, pick up the phone and start talking to people in your industry or business model of choice. If you have a brilliant idea about how to build a better airline or bank, there’s almost certainly a graveyard* of others who have tried and failed to solve the same problem, so study them well.

  • Or in some cases, a zombie-yard?

Addendum — Edge cases

Since initially posting, I was able to think of two edge cases that defy this graph:

  • Nonobvious problems, easy solutions — These are typically software businesses for which demand was unforeseeable. Best example I could think of was Snapchat: I don’t think most investors or market observers anticipated how much demand there would be for transient photo sharing; and from what I understand, the initial implementation was pretty straightforward.
  • Nonobvious problems, difficult solutions — The iPods, iPads and Ubers of the world. Again, the market strangely didn’t know what it wanted until it had it; but getting there took tremendous resources.