There’s an old saying: Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week so that they don’t have to work 40 hours a week. These are folks who don’t want to stick to a particular mode, people who want to be their own bosses, but they’re also their own biggest critics.
Entrepreneurs are the most driven people on the planet. They’re constantly seeking to innovate, and more often than not, that means tackling harder problems than anyone else. And even if the solutions they develop are simpler and more streamlined for consumers, the work behind the curtain can be incredibly complicated.
But the biggest problem entrepreneurs face, the one that stops them cold more often than anything else, isn’t figuring out an elegant solution or bringing a concept to market. It’s usually the step that seems like the simplest one in building a successful business or service.
Simply put, most would-be entrepreneurs get stuck because they’re intimidated by learning a new industry or market inside and out. But there’s a simpler way to face the challenge.
The first stage of learning seems like the easiest and most fun part of a new venture. But the prospect of learning something completely new without a textbook guide or roadmap kills most ventures before they get off the ground. You want to learn about an industry in order to fix it? Even if you have an idea of how you’re going to revolutionize a market, there’s no step-by-step way to learn all its details, especially if you don’t work in it day to day. It’s like college without professors, a syllabus, or even an idea of where to start.
But there is a way around this, and it’s by barreling straight through the information, twice.
Learn an industry once as a consumer, then go back through again from the viewpoint of a businessperson. Defining your entry point seems like the toughest math problem in the world, but in reality, there’s no wrong answer, because you’re going to go through it all again.
Step one is to approach a product space, industry, or market from the viewpoint of a normal buyer or consumer. You want to fix an industry? Try it out as is. Don’t worry about making sure you take all the information in at once. Just do whatever it takes to get a general consumer experience. See where it succeeds, see where it fails, and note where you’re entirely confused. If you come to a dead end, that’s okay, you’ve simply identified a point that needs tweaking. Step one should be stress free.
Between steps one and two, it’s time to get your mind in order. You have the basic information, you’ve made your mental syllabus because now you have the landscape in view. Now’s the time to prep your brain (or even supercharge it) for a step when clarity and objective perspective is everything.
Step two is to look back through your consumer experiences from the entrepreneur’s perspective. And here’s the key: take copious notes. Write them down by hand, record them in a spreadsheet, put sticky notes all over your laptop. By now you know where the pain points lie for your potential customers. Do they have to exist that way? Can they be bypassed? And most importantly:
What DON’T your consumers know about the process?
Was there something you didn’t care about or something you overlooked when acting as a consumer? Think about what it takes to fulfill that product or service, then deduce what went on behind the scenes (or what didn’t). Notice any gaps or have any questions? Just can’t figure something out?
Excellent. That means you’ve started to identify industry secrets and behind the scenes knowledge. With those specific questions or mysteries in mind, you can go about finding the final answers you need to become an expert on the field. Ask people or companies specific questions, and they’re likely to give you a straight answer. Ask them something general like “What’s your biggest pain point?” or “How does your fulfillment system work?” and they’ll ignore you from the start.
The more specific your question, the easier it is to find an answer, whether you’re turning to an industry veteran, Google, or a particular subreddit.
Go through your problem twice. Make the first pass stress free. Prepare your mind for step two, and then charge forward confidently, after all, you already know more than when you started, and with new information already flowing, intake seems that much less intimidating.