Through my process of pre-entrepreneurship, I’ve dealt with a big question: why? Why do I want to start something new? Why not settle into a nice, comfortable job with benefits and free popcorn and money that appears every 2 weeks?
Yesterday I heard a story.
There was a man, and for the purpose of this story we’ll call him Jacob. He’s a software developer working on an app that is “sort of like Pinterest for dogs, but with a twist.” Explaining the twist is hard. It frequently breaks down the conversation at parties.
Jacob has a friend named Chris who has worked with him for a few years. One day Chris walks into the office, looks at Jacob and blurts out: “I was diagnosed with cancer. They’re not sure what the tumor is. I’m dying.”
And just like that Jacob’s life changed.
That day he decided to help his friend and those after him by assembling a database to collect detailed information about every tumor, in every person, in every country. All of them. A friend asked “do you know anything about cancer?” His response: “No. But I know about data, and I care for my friend.”
On the other hand, I am so stuck trying to solve problems that I can’t even really prove are problems at all. Like, here, let me CONVINCE you that this is a problem you face and I have a solution which adds some tiny value to your life. Can I have $10?
Who even cares?
There are So Many Great Problems
Think of all the amazing, difficult, thorny problems in the world. What about the 47% of young children who don’t have an adult who reads to them. Or the 6,027 people who died today from diarrhea. Or the startups in Ghana who deserve attention and funding but don’t get it because of their location. There is a for-profit business in Georgia that hires homeless people to be craftsmen making beautiful furniture. Another group is helping people who need medical care but can’t get it.
A guy made a watch for blind people that looks so good, seeing people want to wear it.
What a win.
So much of the difficulty we face trying to attract quality people and quality investment is based in a simple truth…driven people need interesting problems. They won’t stop until they’ve found a mission worth pursuing. Fortunately, there is a class of problems that are universally worthwhile. Slavery, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, health. Just about everyone agrees that these problems deserve high-quality solutions.
We fall into the trap of small thinking when we believe our biggest problems are (1) how much bigger can my TV get and (2) how can I run out of chips and dip at the same time? As a result, our entrepreneurship revolves around cute ideas while ignoring the people who actually need help. Software is going to play a big part in helping little children read. Technology, rightly applied by caring people, can hydrate a man so he doesn’t die of thirst (literally).
Let’s get out of the the trap of small thinking and start to design fixes for big problems. Society doesn’t have time to entertain lazy thinking from talented, privileged young minds focused on fake problems.
(Don’t get me wrong, I’m preaching to myself too. I started an organization whose sole purpose was entertainment.)
A New Opportunity
Can I tell you the BEST thing about large thinking? There isn’t much competition. While everyone is fighting to get a 14-year-old suburbanite to play AngryAlien (as opposed to AngryBirds), the number of people competing to solve weighty problems is comparatively tiny. Most won’t even show up.
People will tell you there isn’t money in solving social problems.
People are wrong.
It is totally possible to build solutions for those who need them. Maybe you take a little more creativity and experimentation to find profitability, but don’t believe you need to punt on revenue. M-Pesa has done great things for African financial markets. Social enterprise is still enterprise, my friends.
People are waiting for you. Not because they’re helpless but because you hold immense power to enter their life and accelerate the amazing things they’re already doing. Power. Best used with large thinking.