The Most Commonly Missed Step For Entrepreneurs

You have to dream if you want to change the world. You have to use your imagination. You have so see things that don't exist yet, things that other people just don't see.

But how do you know if you can change the world?

How do you know you're not delusional? 

He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.
— John C. Maxwell

When entrepreneurs come to me looking for advice, mentorship and help, I always start with a simple question. 

What problem are you solving and for whom are you solving it? 

This is a simple question, but it can be really difficult to answer.

If you say, "Everyone with a smart phone," then your customer segment hypothesis is too broad. Your business is a startup. You can't possibly serve everyone with a smart phone right now. 

If you say, "Smart phone users who use MyFitnessPal at least 3 times per week and live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa," then I know you've done some work figuring it out. I'm immediately curious to understand why you've chosen that segment to start with. That's much more interesting. It's also much more likely to lead to startup success.

Most entrepreneurs I've worked with have this process in their head.


In reality, it usually goes like this.


Through failure, experienced entrepreneurs learn the hard way not to spend money on unvalidated assumptions. There are many assumptions, or hypotheses, that an entrepreneur makes in the early stages, but perhaps the most fundamental is the CUSTOMER-PROBLEM assumption. This assumption is the answer to the question, what problem are you solving and for whom are you solving it?

Your Problem Is The Energy That Propels Your Startup Forward

Your problem, the problem you choose to focus on and the customers for whom you are solving it, is like a wave to a surfer in the ocean. The wave represents the problem, pain, emotional intensity and market size of the CUSTOMER-PROBLEM hypothesis. Your ability and potential to move forward is a function of the wave. If the wave is too small, you aren't going to go very far. If the wave is too big, you might wipe out and get crushed. 

Have you ever seen anyone surfing on the Chicago river? 

No. Why not? Because there aren't any waves there. 

Picking a good wave is your first job as an entrepreneur. As you know, there are almost an infinite number of waves in the ocean. Similarly, there are an almost infinite number of CUSTOMER-PROBLEM combinations in the world. You can solve an infinite number of problems for an infinite number of customers in an infinite number of ways. That's a lot of degrees of freedom. There are a lot of waves in the ocean!

Before deciding which wave to ride, it's worth thinking about these questions. 

What is the nature of this wave? 

Is the wave growing, or shrinking in size?

When is the break likely to happen? Has it broken already, 20 yards before me? 

Will this wave get me to where I want to go? 

Picking a good wave, or a good CUSTOMER-PROBLEM, is the first step to startup success.

Of course, if you find yourself riding a bad wave, just do what surfers do. Get off it and find a better one. 

Dave Linhardt
Founder & CEO

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