What drives entrepreneurs? Autonomy? Money? Growth? 

More often than not, it’s actually a problem. Entrepreneurs see an issue that the markets have yet to resolve and take matters into their own hands. The bigger the problem, the more people there are willing to pay to have someone solve it.

For that reason, entrepreneurs are better thought of as problem solvers than strictly as moneymakers. Entrepreneurs of the past turned buggies into cars and landlines into cell phones — these same transformations are happening today, and business leaders need to adopt a problem-solving mindset if they want to achieve that level of potential. 

It may sound simple when put like that, but it can often be difficult to see problems for what they truly are: opportunities. Here are some tips to help you do so.

1. Look at your own life

Take a moment to think about some of the common challenges you face. Anything from getting your cat to go in the litterbox to scoring a big client on the job is fair game. 

Then, ask yourself whether there is an existing solution. If so, is it affordable and accessible? Your experience may not be universal, but you’re unlikely to be the only person facing down these issues. If you can’t find the right solution to a problem in your life, chances are that others are in the same boat as you.

For example, Gabb Wireless CEO Stephen Dalby was struggling to find a safe kids phone for his son. All the available options had too many features, were too expensive, or simply weren’t suited to kids. Instead of settling, he developed one without access to the internet or social media. And as it turned out, lots of other parents were looking for exactly that.

It’s easy to feel passionate about your business idea when it does something personal for you. Getting ideas from problems you yourself face is a great way to tap into that passion.

2. Start a poll

Not all common problems are immediately obvious. If you have ever seen a commercial for a product and thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?” you know that not every person can solve every problem. 

Starting a poll about consumer needs can lead you directly to some common problems. It will also help you validate your business idea, letting you know it’s a good idea to get started. Start by surveying your close circle before branching out to other parts of your network and beyond.

Wall Street trader Rhys Powell came up with a business idea after talking to the parents of school-aged children. He found that there was both a need and desire for affordable and healthy meal options in schools. This prompted him to start a company called Red Rabbit, an organization that now serves over 25,000 meals and snacks every day across a number of schools and Head Start programs.

Powell set to work to fill the need he had discovered by talking to others. You can’t solve a problem until you know it’s there. Thankfully for budding entrepreneurs, people love to talk about their problems.

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3. Reach out to family

No problem hits home as hard as one within the family. If one family member is hurting, everyone else can feel it too. While no two families are exactly alike, talking to family members can be a great opportunity to get unfiltered insight from people you trust. 

When Eric Yuan migrated to the United States from China in the 1990s, he was just about as disconnected from his loved ones as he could get. His family couldn’t stand the thought of being on the other side of the world from him, and his girlfriend was a 10-hour train ride away. 

The distance wasn’t just tough on Yuan; it was taking a toll on his family and girlfriend in ways he hadn’t anticipated. The hardship both Yuan and his family underwent led to Yuan coming up with a solution that only he could: Zoom. Thanks to Yuan, millions of families are now able to stay in touch with one another in ways they never could before — all because he started with his own. 

Don’t underestimate the power of family. Parents, siblings, and relatives can provide not just support but also potentially help. If nothing else, appoint them as your first product testers. Your family members will be all too happy to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

4. Expand on previous solutions

Just because there’s an existing solution to a given problem doesn’t mean that it can’t get better. Entrepreneurs are constantly warned not to “reinvent the wheel,” but that kind of reinvention is why cars today drive on vulcanized rubber rather than rickety wooden wheels. 

Innovation creates room for new companies. Making something better could mean making it more efficient, more accessible, or more affordable — any of which can open it to new markets. In some cases, a new business idea may be able to cover all three of those bases at once. 

One of the most obvious examples of this kind of innovation is Airbnb. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, and house-sharing have been around for decades, but the market for each was fractured and hard to compare. Airbnb gave travelers new options and property owners tools to promote their holdings to customers they’d never encountered before. 

Airbnb doesn’t necessarily offer any new solutions; it simply offers a streamlined way of accessing existing ones. Even the simplest fixes can have huge impacts if they land in just the right spot. And even if they don’t, they may need just a tweak or two to become viable.

There are problems out there waiting to be solved

You don’t have to be a seasoned entrepreneur to know that the world is full of problems waiting to be solved. From Covid-19 to climate change and everything in between, the opportunities are there. 

Entrepreneurs need only a modicum of awareness to see ideas are all around, ripe for the taking. What matters is who acts first, who moves the fastest, and who produces the best results. 

AvatarTiffany Delmore

Tiffany Delmore is the co-founder and CMO of SchoolSafe, a company helping to develop safer educational environments.