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Pick Hard Problems

Every other week I have convos with friends that are thinking about starting new companies. Maybe it’s just the topic du jour or just the current sentiment in my network, but it does genuinely feel like there are more people than ever thinking about doing ~*their own thing*~.

There's always a range of ideas from things like food trucks, lifestyle SaaS apps, more classic venture startups, to more intensive things like space tech or climate tech.

While there is no idea that better or worse than others, a common mistake I see new founders make is focusing on problems that are "too small". Again, it's not a value statement but more a statement about effort spent and potential reward. Harder problems tend to have bigger rewards.

Building anything new is time intensive. Whether you're starting a restaurant or starting SpaceX, both will likely occupy 100% of your time & energy. Nothing will go to plan, it will need constant attention, you & your family will be stressed all the time, and it will keep you perpetually anxious. You will have to give it your all regardless of what you're doing.

So if that's true, then it means that regardless of what you're doing, the effort you have to put in is more or less fixed. Sure it's not exactly the same for every new idea, but the truth is that any new thing is almost always all consuming.

There are people I know who run animal daycares that work just as hard as startup people. The problem is that an animal daycare doesn't have the same potential reward that startups have. And so even though the animal daycare people are working just as hard (maybe harder!) than startup folks, they're playing for a much smaller prize.

And that's what I mean by some ideas are "too small". Because startups take so much out of you already, you should really take the time to focus on problem selection before you get going. It's an insanely high leverage decision that can make a very meaningful difference in your outcome. Funnily enough tackling harder problems oftentimes ends up actually being easier than tackling the easier ones. But more on that later :).


Update 3/2/22

Saw this tweet and thought it encapsulated this well.