A lot of startups come into existence when the founders work to solve their own problems. They “scratch their own itch” and (hopefully!) find that lots of other people are itchy too. But there are significant risks as well.
These days a lot of startups are launched quickly with a couple of technical co-founders. That means there’s quite a bit of similarity in founding teams with respect to experience, domain knowledge and the markets they fit into as individuals. If we all go scratch our own itch, eventually (and maybe very quickly!) we’re all scratching in the same places and targeting the same markets with very similar products.
Focusing on our own problems doesn’t necessarily mean we’re solving other people’s problems, or solving problems that matter at scale. And a certain amount of tunnel vision is almost inevitable when entrepreneurs focus on their own problems. The realization that the market may not be right (for any number of reasons) can come too late. And the tunnel vision makes it much harder to expand one’s view in search of other, more opportunistic markets to jump into.
I do believe that a certain amount of domain knowledge is important. It can lead to an unfair advantage. I see more and more startups launching into spaces where the founders don’t have domain expertise (especially in the Recruitment / HR space where I made that mistake!) They’re really not scratching their own itch. At the same time, there are many startups that are clearly launched because the founders wanted to solve their own problems. They may now have some domain knowledge and some personal brand within a specific industry or area they can leverage. But how unique are those things? And does anyone really care?
Marc-Andre Cournoyer says it very nicely, “Scratching your own itch is the most fun, but being too passionate about something might blind you from real business opportunities.”
Your own problems are your own problems. Of course, they may be shared by lots of other people as well, but don’t forego a rigorous process of analyzing the market, assessing the opportunity, figuring out the model, etc. just because you’re itchy. If you’re itchy, scratch. But don’t assume everyone else will want you to scratch them too.
Photo courtesy of shutterstock.