I have a friend who always tells me his latest business idea. I’ve listened to dozens of his ideas at this point, and I can always tell what he’s actually thinking as he talks:
“This can make me a lot of money.”
Don’t get me wrong. I like money as much as the next person, and making money is absolutely the goal of business. But, over the years, I’ve realized that when you start by thinking, “How can I make a ton of money,” your idea probably isn’t going to get very far.
That’s not because it’s not a good idea or you’re not smart enough, connected enough, funded enough--or any of the hundred reasons we give for startup failure. It’s because when you’re reaching for ideas to make money, you’re probably going to look too far from your own experience.
“Write what you know” is common writing advice. The same concept can be applied to entrepreneurship:
Build what you know.
When you draw from your own life experience, you have a few distinct advantages.
You Understand the Problem
We all have challenges in our daily lives. Think about that nagging little issue that trips you up every day, that keeps you from moving forward in your personal or business life.
There’s the problem you should be solving.
Recently, Inc featured the North Carolina e-commerce company Lolly Wolly Doodle. CEO Brandi Temple learned to sew because she wanted cute but affordable clothes for her two daughters. When her husband lost his job, she started selling her creations on eBay to make a little extra money.
Now, Lolly Wolly Doodle is an $11 million dollar company and billed as the only e-commerce company in the world that got Facebook right. Undoubtedly there are a million things Temple didn’t know about running a business, but she started by simply solving her own problem.
You’re the First User
When you build what you know, you also have the benefit of being your own first user.
As a founder it’s easy to get caught up in big plans and long term strategy. It’s no time at all before you’re thinking more about making the right moves and less about the actual product.
When you’re a user of your product, though, you’re going to stay focused. After all, you’re building the thing to solve your problem. You need the solution to work!
You’re in It for the Long Haul
Let me state the obvious. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Building something from nothing takes courage, sacrifice, intelligence, stubbornness, and a somewhat irrational streak.
So, you sure as hell better believe in what you’re doing.
I’m not necessarily talking about the “do what you love” nonsense we were fed as kids. Most entrepreneurs will tell you that they often hate the things they have to do. But, bringing a business they believe in to life is worth the uphill battle.
Starting with “how can I make the most money” rarely provides the gritty determination you need to see it through.
Throughout the entrepreneurial journey, it’s easy for your passion for doing good business to fade. Building what you know lays the groundwork for great products and persevering through the inevitable hard times.
My friend with all the business ideas hasn’t quite hit his “big one” yet. But recently I’ve noticed that the ideas are starting to revolve more around his own personality and interests. Now when he calls me with a new idea, I remind him again:
Build what you know.