Evan Williams, founder of Blogger and Twitter, brings up the need for a startup to be personally compelling, and notes how there’s two parts to it: Making something you’re a user of, and making something that’s meaningful to you.
I want to add that they’re really two almost totally different issues. One is a nice-to-have. The other is a need-to-have.
Solving a problem you have yourself is nice. It’s nice because it cuts down on your market research costs, it allows you to try out different ideas faster because you don’t have to wait for your customers to find the time to meet with you, which in turn allows you to be more creative and intuitive.
The flip-side is that if that’s all you have, you easily end up with products that are really little features. A slightly better invoice generator. Yet another time tracker. That gets old pretty quickly.
Making something that’s deeply and personally meaningful to you, on the other hand, is crucial. You can start a business without it, but the odds are stacked high against making it a successful growth business.
Making sure your business is truly meaningful to you will do two things, specifically:
First, it’ll be a guidepost. It’ll help you make decisions, tell you which direction to go in, shape your vision. In short, it’ll connect you with your intuition.
And second, it means you’re in it for the long haul. That when things get difficult, you persevere and find a way. That when the first attempt didn’t work, you’ll tweak it and try again. And again and again, until you get it right. It makes you resourceful because it’s important to you. It’s meaningful.
As a corollary it also gives you something credible to tell your family when you need to work long hours. Not that I believe long hours are required. But there’ll always be peaks.
How do you know if you’ve found something meaningful?
One sign is that it makes you want to cry. But tears are not required. It could also make you really excited. But do me a favor and be really honest here. Don’t talk yourself into believing something is meaningful to you if it really isn’t. Look me in the eye when you say it. You’ll know if you mean it.
Trust that there is something that’s meaningful to you out there, even if what you’re doing now, or what you’re considering doing now, is not. Trust that you will find it. Keep looking. Don’t settle.
Sure, you could stick with something less meaningful. But it won’t be fulfilling, there’s a good chance it won’t succeed, and it’ll only delay the day when you can do the thing that is meaningful to you. Why on earth wait?