How to solve a complex problem without your startup having funding or a team

Is your startup stuck in this catch-22?

In the Parentpreneur Accelerator Community Group, Nathalie asked a fantastic question…

“My startup aims to solve a very complex problem that no one else has solved. How can I do this without a team or funding?”

Nathalie faces a classic ‘catch-22’ for a startup.

She explained that the problem she wants to solve needs significant resources (software developers, research etc.) so she sought funding. But Investors weren’t comfortable handing over funding without seeing a working beta and paying customers. Customers won’t put the money in unless Nathalie can be confident she’ll be able to solve their problem (which she isn’t).

As a result, Nathalie concludes that she’ll need to do all the work herself, learning how to code, spending less time with her family, relying on income from other sources, and setting herself a deadline of 6 months (after which she’ll have to give up and go get a job).

This approach has worked for some entrepreneurs in the past, particularly when a co-founder with the required skills can be convinced to join and work under the same conditions. For example, Google started like this.

However, there are many more startups that started this way and no longer exist, because this approach is a lottery. They are exploring the unknown. I guess it’s similar to gold prospectors during the gold rush. They believe there is gold to be found, but it’s possible to dig for years and never find it.

For Parentpreneurs, this approach sucks. Our families want more time with us, need more security, and benefit from more certainty.

So, how do we tackle a problem that is big and complex?

We don’t. It’s too big. We first need to start smaller, so we can more confidently solve it.

Once we’ve solved a smaller problem, we can then expand towards the larger problem.

For an example, let’s look at PayPal. They started off in 1999 with a big vision: to replace traditional currencies. Initial attempts to achieve this vision were unsuccessful – they went too big and found their Palm Pilot-to-Palm Pilot solution wasn’t useful enough to give them traction.

They then tried email-to-email, which didn’t take off, but did get used by some sellers on an up & coming auction platform called eBay.

When they focused on supporting payments for those eBay users, they found that they were quickly adopted by 25% of eBay sellers. In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion. Given enough time, PayPal may eventually achieve the original vision of replacing world currencies although the founders have long since abandoned that one!

So, how do you turn your big problem into a small problem?

Focus on a more specific outcome.

Let’s use an extreme example: you want to stop ageing in humans.

If you can succeed you’ll have 7 billion potential customers, and more money than most countries do. Clearly solving it will be rather challenging, and likely to require expertise and equipment that your personal savings right now can’t afford.

So instead, focus on on a very specific outcome that you still care about solving. Perhaps ‘reducing wrinkles on the forehead’ or ‘curing a very specific type of dementia’ or ‘maintaining flexible movement over the age of 75’.

Now you have a chance of actually solving the problem (without lots of funding or a team), or at least making good progress towards it.

This means that you can get customers paying money for the specific outcome, which you can then turn into a profitable business, which funds you solving bigger problems, and so on.

What do you think? Join the discussion or share your own obstacle for Alexis to comment on by joining the Parentpreneur Accelerator Community.

About The Author

Alexis Kingsbury

Alexis is founder of the Parentpreneur Accelerator and Making Greatness Ltd. He is a serial entrepreneur, with experience creating start-ups in a variety of areas, particularly in SaaS and EdTech. He is also a lucky husband and proud dad, and now helps other 'parentpreneurs' like him to achieve their dreams of having successful businesses, making a difference in the world, and spending time with the people they love.

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