We live in a fantastic era.
Four steps to start solving world size problems you feel passionate about.
Yes, we live in a fantastic era! It’s not because it is perfect, but quite the opposite. We live in a time that has many challenges and problems to be solved. On the other hand, today more than ever, people are able to release themselves from routine jobs and dedicate their skills, creativity and time to solve whatever challenges they are passionate about. And the combination of both is what makes this era so exciting!
During the past four years, we had the opportunity to work directly with more than 200 entrepreneurs from all parts of the world. The projects I was involved in were in Lutzville Wes (South Africa), Gaborone & Maun (Botswana), Panama City, Istanbul, London, Singapore, Mexico City, Berlin, Dubai, Miami and, Hartford, mostly with our partner Startupbootcamp. What started as a “freelancing and backpacking around the world journey” evolved into a great creative agency that, together with my partners Alfonso and Martin, we helped these entrepreneurs execute their ideas and create solutions their customers love.
Now, we switched sides and we are bringing all this knowledge into our new endeavor — The Everywhere Office — where we aim to change how people work and most importantly how people think about work. Our current mission is to bring mobility, autonomy, and purpose to every remote worker in the world.
This article summarizes key insights from our own struggles and breakthroughs, as well from our experience of working with startups in insurance, travel, health, cloud, finance, regulation, and e-commerce industries.
Let’s start with a basic principle that many people miss.
1. If there is a problem, there is SOMEONE that has that problem.
It is your job to figure out who that someone is. Many times we’ve seen people working on solutions that nobody wants or needs. This happens because they don’t really know the people experiencing the problem, and worst, even if there is a problem/opportunity at all.
When this happens, most entrepreneurs don’t really know what they are doing. They are just following the same principles we are taught at school: hide in the classroom, do theoretical research, and four years later figure out how the real world works. Well, if you are trying to solve real-world problems you better start understanding the real people that live on it. Who are they? What’s their lifestyle? What are they trying to achieve? What makes them happy? What frustrates them? And more important, what do they say, feel and do that makes you think they have a problem that is worth your time trying to solve?
It shouldn’t take you more than a couple of weeks to figure this out, or at least to get a good idea of who these people are. And while there are many ways to do this research, I’ll introduce you to an ancestral but powerful technique: Face to Face Conversations.
There are basic rules to get the most out of this tool that you can use for free, but I’ll leave them for another post.
Here are some examples of real people and the real problems they are facing that we’ve discovered through 1-on-1 conversations:
Andrea, a full-time hired remote designer — “It’s extremely lonely to work from my couch every day while the rest of the team is working together somewhere else.”
Paco, commercial director at a family business — “We recently had our team doing home office but productivity decreased.”
Mariana, HR director at a startup — “We are growing too fast and we no longer fit in our offices. We had to put a mandatory “one-day home office” policy in place.”
Ale, freelance designer — “I hate having to take my computer to the toilet when I work from cafes.”
Jorge, a full-time developer at a startup — “We have flexible work but I can’t work from any coffee shop I like because of the Wi-Fi security level.”
As you can see, every individual has a very specific story, belongs to a very specific niche and has a very particular pain to be solved. At this point, we need to pick one and dig deeper into that segment through, guess what?
You got it…. More conversations.
2. Doing the hard work is for yourself, not for anyone else.
The first thing we ask every founder after showing us their business model is: “And with how many of your customers have you talked to?”. More often than not the answer is “Cero”. It doesn’t matter if they are just in idea stage or if they already have a product with 40k+ users, most of the times they don’t have a clue who is these people.
But that’s okay. They didn’t know, right? Well, here is where things get interesting. After explaining to them what they should do, they start falling into three main categories: the responsive teams, the scared or lazy teams, and the ticking-the-box teams. Here is a classic response from each of them after a week of being asked to go out and talk to 10 potential customers:
Responsive Teams — “After interviewing the first 6 potential customers we realized they are not our customers at all. So we decided to stop interviewing this part of the market. It was really frustrating! But during those conversations we learned about a new segment that is more engaged with our idea and showed signs of struggling with something we could solve. We only could interview 3 people of this new segment but we already have 5 appointments scheduled for next week. Could you help us prepare better for those conversations?”
Scared or Lazy Teams — “We did 2 interviews. The first one with an Uber driver who says that definitely will use our product once we launch it and if it’s for free. And the second one was by phone because this doctor didn’t want to meet us in person, but she confirmed having the same problem as well. So, good news! Let’s catch up next week. Is that ok?”
Ticking-the-Box Teams — “Here are the 10 interviews. All of them were face-to-face and nothing new came out. So, we’ll keep with the original idea that we had in mind. Anything else you need from us for this week?”
All things the same, which one of this teams do you think has higher probabilities of finding a real problem and creating a solution people will love? Now, in which bucket would you and your team fall in?
Right now we are our own bosses, investors, mentors and everything else. There is no one else pushing us or keeping us accountable but ourselves. So, a great part of the challenge is to remind ourselves every day to stay in the first bucket.
Once you get the idea that you need a great understanding of the people behind the problems and once you agree on doing the dirty work, you can go to the next point.
3. Start building today! (Just don’t take too long)
The fastest way to get good feedback from your potential customers is to put something into their hands and let them play with it.
Yes, we are talking about quick prototyping and MVPs… Maybe you’ve heard those buzzwords before. The whole point is to create something in hours (maybe days, but definitely not weeks) that will give you as much new information from your customers the moment they touch it.
Think of the prototypes as a disposable tool to trigger new insights around the behavior of your customers, these prototypes will spark old memories on them that will move the conversation into a deeper level around the problem you’re solving. And most importantly they will show you how your customers actually behave rather just talking at a hypothetical level.
Here are some characteristics each prototype should have:
- Has a low risk and it’s adaptable.
- Empowers learnings and discoveries, before confirmations.
- Makes you question your own assumptions.
- Helps you put yourself in your customer shoes.
- Allows you to fail.
In our case, our first working prototype was an Instagram account that each post was a TEO Space (a café or co-working space) where one o more TEO Members would be working the next day. The rest of the community could see that post in their feed and join just by commenting on the post.
We made this in a couple of hours and after a few days we got our first real users, Yukari, a freelance designer, that just by seeing one of our posts showed up to Blend Station and had a better day working together with us and other co-workers.
What can you build today? Remember is about learning the most in the least amount of time.
4. Six Creativity Senses to accelerate success.
I’ll take some of the expertise from Daniel H. Pink to go deeper on this point. In his book, A Whole New Mind, he predicted back in 2005 that the right-brainers will rule the world. He says that we are transitioning from the Information Age, where the knowledge workers (doctors, lawyers, and accountants) ruled, to the Conceptual Age, where the creators and empathizers (artists, inventors, and storytellers) will be favored.
The statement is based on 3 main trends: Abundance (we are getting to a point where nothing is scarce), Talent (everything that can be outsourced, will be) and Automation (computers and robots will do everything faster and better). With this in mind, creativity becomes the key differentiation between you and any other commodity to succeed in this new world.
From my experience, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. While the left-brain thinking skills such as logic and reason are still very important in this era, they are no longer sufficient. Pink encourages you to use your whole new mind by developing 6 fundamental senses.
I was truly amazed when I realized, after reading his book, that the exact 6 senses he mentions were those that we have been developing within ourselves and pushing into other entrepreneurs during the past years. In retrospective, we can see that there is a clear difference between the startup teams that made an effort to develop them and the ones that were more resistant.
Here are the six senses that you should start developing today and some examples of how have we applied these concepts in our journey so far:
- Design — Go beyond functionality. We are not developing an app for remote workers, even a kid could do that. We are designing the best experience for remote workers.
- Story — I can google the facts, what is the narrative around the problem? We don’t care if there is a survey saying that 80% of home officers feel very lonely. We care about Jorge’s, Yukari’s, Andrea’s, Paco’s, Mariana’s and Ale’s story.
- Symphony — Spot relationships and patterns where no one else can. This is a critical skill, I mentioned earlier that connecting the dot was quite hard. Here is something we’ve found so far: If you only have one day a week to do home office, your productivity will remain the same, but your satisfaction will increase. You’ll be quite happy working on underwear.
- Empathy — Remove logic and let intuition tell you how others are feeling. This is my favorite example after a conversation with an employee in a startup. Our Logic hears = “We have a lot of flexibility here. Three months ago I did home office”. Our Empathy feels = “I don’t feel like asking for home office since I don’t know if I’m taking advantage of the flexibility they trust in us.”
- Play — Please invite fun to the party. This one is easy, if people are not enjoying our co-workings we are doing something wrong!
- Meaning — Why are you here? Why should I care? For us, the reason we decided to spend our energy and creative time solving this problem is that we want to empower people to become a better (the best!) version of themselves. We want to help every individual release their full potential through meaningful connections, creativity, and new endeavors.
In the book A Whole New Mind you can find practical exercises to develop each of these senses. Start right now. How can you apply them to your everyday work or current projects?
What problem are you trying to solve?
Get in touch with us and tell us about your projects, ideas and, challenges! We can help you in many different ways and just the exercise of writing your ideas down will help ; ) Shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org