About a year and a half ago I met with a husband and wife named Allyson and Jack who had recently had their first child. We were crammed in the back of a trendy coffee shop in Manhattan, sipping $4.00 lattes neither could really afford. Their adorable baby was sprawled out in a stroller next to the table.
We’d initially met after a class at General Assembly, an educational facility for entrepreneurs, where I’d mentioned that I’d recently had a successful launch of a tech startup called 3degrees. It had a few friend-of-friend tech elements they were interested in. They wondered if they could pick my brain over coffee the next day.
As they told me about their backgrounds, it became clear neither fit the classic Silicon Valley “entrepreneur” mold. They didn’t rattle off numerous startups they’d launched or worked at in the past. They weren’t programmers, nor did they seem to have many inroads to the “startup community.” They were simply very nice, smart people with one advantage: They’d identified a problem they were passionate about solving.
Finding baby products for their newborn had been a nightmare. They wanted their child to be safe, warm, and happy, but didn’t want to needlessly break the bank. They read online reviews, but for something as important as their first child, the opinions of strangers didn’t cut it. They wound up asking friends who’d already gone through the process for advice, buying nearly everything through trusted recommendations. Just as important, these same friends told them what they shouldn’t buy or didn’t need.
Their initial idea was to build a site that allowed parents to see products reviewed and recommended by their friends. A simple solution to a daunting problem.
A year and a half later, weeSpring is growing like crazy.
That type of story is becoming more popular and is one of the many reasons why I’m incredibly excited to be writing for IrishCentral. I believe the future of entrepreneurship is going to increasingly come from people like Allyson and Jack. These “common” entrepreneurs - people who don’t fit the Silicon Valley “mold” - will be able to make a great living doing what they love.
Specifically, there are two huge things that attracted me to IrishCentral:
There’s an extremely engaged community. The readers come back every day. I’m interested in bringing what I believe will be a new perspective to a passionate, informed readership.
There’s a chance some readers moved to America to chase dreams. I know the majority of readers were born here, but I also know that the immigrant mindset can span generations. My family came from Italy, and my grandfather worked his way through engineering school at night over a ten-year period before taking a risk and starting a medical lab equipment company. I’d like to think there are people reading this going through the same sort of struggle, and if I can help them in any way, that’s incredibly rewarding to me.
The Next Entrepreneurs
The coming increase in common entrepreneurs is very necessary, and there are three key reasons it will come about.
1) Silicon Valley, and places like it, are homogenous: While there are a million problems to solve, the majority of people in Silicon Valley look, act, talk, and think the same. They’ve got the same problems. The reason weeSpring didn’t come out of Silicon Valley is that there are very few people there who look and think like Jack and Allyson. We’re nearing a saturation point with problems being solved for the traditional Silicon Valley demographic. There’s enormous opportunity for products that solve problems people in Silicon Valley simply don’t encounter.
2) Startup infrastructure has emerged and is more accessible than ever before: Since the initial boom, Silicon Valley and the like have held a monopoly over technology startups because they possessed people with the knowledge of how to build and grow. Mark Zuckerberg was able to technically build Facebook on his own. He then moved out to Silicon Valley and met Sean Parker (we’ve all seen the movie), who taught him how to manage growth, find a team, get investors, and create a solid infrastructure for his company.
Over the past five years, the infrastructure for execution has become more accessible to everyone. This gives value back to the idea and the problems being solved - you don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg to start something. Resources like General Assembly have popped up to teach entrepreneurial skills. Incubators and accelerators like Techstars (where weeSpring was a participant) have emerged in many major cities, creating crash-courses to help push a startup idea from 0-60 in just a few months. You’re still probably better off if someone on your initial team can build your product, but if you don’t have that it isn’t a death knell.
Furthermore, this movement hasn’t been lost on major corporations. The tenants of “intrapreneurship,” or new products, ideas, teams and initiatives within a corporation have begun to bare fruit. Starting something internally has never been easier or more feasible.
3) Technology is affordable and accessible: Technology isn’t always a crucial component for entrepreneurs early on. People occasionally get enamored with the capabilities of modern technology, building things that don’t need to be built simply because they’re possible. The first version or testing of a product can often be done with no technology at all - while it usually isn’t scalable, it can help test assumptions about your product.
That said, technology is often necessary for scale. But the technology for building web-based products and apps has become increasingly affordable and accessible over the last five years. For the truly inclined and motivated, there are numerous free or cheap resources that will teach you how to code. For the rest of us, outsourcing development to dev shops both local and overseas has become a viable option.
What Will Happen on This Page – Plus, a Little Secret about Entrepreneurship
The three points above describe the advantages afforded to the “common” entrepreneur. These people have been given the tools to change the world. My goal with these posts is to make you aware of them, and to start to teach you how to use them.
I love teaching and writing about the entrepreneurial process to “non-traditional” entrepreneurs. The ideas and processes are applicable everywhere - they’ll help you start something or make you better at your current job.
I’ll be writing a few columns each month about the process, sometimes discussing my personal experiences and sometimes interviewing thought leaders in the field. It’ll all be geared towards helping regular people identify problems and create products that will solve those problems, giving those entrepreneurs freedom and control over their lives while building products people will benefit from.
The next generation of life-changing products will come from normal people who identify problems in their daily lives and passionately want to solve them. That seems straightforward enough, until you think about what those logistics mean. The majority of you have never have started a company before. You’ve may have never launched a new product or feature at your current job, or changed the process of how work is currently done. That’s fine.
I’m going to tell you some dirty little secrets of entrepreneurship. The idea of the rogue genius working on a project in his basement for 10 years before revealing his brilliance to the world is a myth. The idea of the risky entrepreneur who bets it all time and time again until she gets a huge payoff is a myth. The idea that being an entrepreneur requires God-given gifts that you’re either born with or you’re not simply isn’t true.
The “secret” is that entrepreneurship is a teachable, learnable thing. Just like playing the flute or organic chemistry. Sure, some people are inherently better at this than others. But if you practice the flute and read books on organic chemistry, you’ll get pretty good at both. If you’re passionate about solving a problem, there’s a script you can follow that will give you a good chance to succeed.
That script is simple - identify a real problem, speak with future customers to understand a solution that will adequately solve that problem, scrape together a solution at a profitable price point while rigorously testing features with customers, then scale. Each part can be broken down into digestible pieces and taught. That’s it. You can do that.
How To Start
When starting anything new, it’s human nature to focus on opportunity cost. When you know nothing about a subject – in this case turning an idea or a problem you’ve identified into a product or process – it’s easy to worry that you’re not optimizing your time. Should you be looking for people to build the thing? Co-founders? Fundraising? It’s daunting.
The best way to start is to begin thinking about problems you face in your daily life. Don’t worry about solutions, technology, barriers, or competitors. Simply think about the most frustrating parts of your day. What takes longer than it should? What do you dread doing? If you know people who share these problems, talk to them. How do they solve them?
In a week or two, try to come up with a handful of significant problems you face on a daily or weekly basis. That’s it. That’s the best foundation you can build for a successful product or startup down the road.
That is how you start. We’ll grow from here.
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