I’m obsessed with the future. Recognition and projection of future opportunities consume a vast amount of my waking time. The process I take is meticulous: rigorously understanding current technologies and the implications those developments will afford to the birth of new industries.
But I often find value in understanding the past, too. Historical precedent is often a good indicator of what will come after: everything old is new again, the answers lie in using the old to interpret the new. The true voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.
History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
That’s how I analyze what I’m looking at: I understand by distilling a complicated idea into a metaphor for the past.
Netflix is like TV but when you want to watch it.
Twitter is like blogging but only 140 characters.
Instagram is like your camera but with filters.
Whatsapp is like SMS but free.
Uber is like other taxi companies but with an app.
Airbnb is like a hotel but from other people.
What this analysis uncovers is a reinterpretation of existing models in new, innovative ways. There is nothing breath-taking about any of them on their own. In retrospect, they all seem obvious — but that’s their beauty. We feel like anyone could have developed them.
Their simplicity is what is so challenging. The general consensus is that great ideas are incredibly hard. The opposite could not be truer.
The most valuable things are often the simplest; they address the confounding frustrations of everyday life. Repeating the above exercise marries the idea to the problems they solve.
I want to watch X but it’s not on TV.
I want to blog but it’s too much effort.
I want to share pictures but they’re not beautiful.
I want to contact my family but it costs too much.
I want a taxi but I can’t wait for it.
I want a hotel but there are no free rooms.
Good businesses provide a service that customers appreciate. Great services solve problems.
Developing the next great business is about distilling a problem down to their simplest form. Every day we have the opportunity to address the problems we face but most people don’t even recognize them.
For years people wanted to watch a show but had to adhere to a TV guide. On-demand and Netflix changed the game.
The best businesses change how we live and how we operate. They fix the simplest problems we have — ones we’ve grown so accustomed to that we had assumed they were fixed. The best businesses re-imagine the problem through a technological advance.
The biggest opportunities are to meet the problems to which people have grown complacent. When people have grown so used to anything that they have accepted the way things are as a way of life it’s time to innovate.
Uber is the prime example: smartphone technology had been around for 3 years before it was founded. The technology existing wasn’t the issue. People were simply incapable of imagining an alternative to the inadequate service taxis provided. The problem sat in plain sight for over a quarter of a decade before Travis Kalanick recognized the potential solution. Immediately a thriving business burst free and solved a problem everyone had but nobody appreciated.
Never accept the way things have always been done as the only way they can be done.
Appreciation of a problem requires an understanding of it.
Identification requires implementation.
Value requires action.
Next comes a few simple questions which enable you to understand the potential ubiquitousness of your market
a) What would your company do?
b) How big is the potential market?
c) How could you achieve traction?
d) How will you make money?
If there is a clear path from A-D then the possibility is exponential.
Spotting the problem is the challenge
They stare us in the face every day. Everyone can look but not everyone can see. The next billion-dollar business isn’t going to come from an unimaginable product. It will come from a simple solution to an age-old problem whose value wasn’t recognized. It’s about looking and seeing the same things with new eyes. It’s about imagining new solutions to pre-existing issues.
Problems are the heart of every potential business. They provide an opportunity to profit eventually but initially, you must show how you will accomplish it. It’s not simply about solving a problem, it’s about blowing people away with the simplicity and the user experience. Desperation for profit is counterproductive. Allow your business to gain traction and spread, understand the scale of the problem through expansion and keep meeting people’s needs. If you solve problems people had grown so complacent of that they ignored them, in a way that they are naturally integrated as a simplistic solution to everyday life, profit will come after.
Ultimately, you want to solve a problem so easily that everyone says to you “but anyone could do that”.
If they haven’t opportunity knocks.
Solve “I want X but Y” and you will be well on your way.