To Scratch (your itch) or Not to Scratch, That is The Question…

“The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use.

— Jason Fried

User Entrepreneurship Comes Back

I don’t know about you, but I would never start a business unless I felt confident that I understand the market on a deep level.

Yep, call me old school, but I have always felt that (blindly) jumping in an industry that know little to nothing about just because there seems to be a market opportunity is kind of reckless.

I know, I know – many experts think otherwise (mainly because they believe in the “fresh pair of eyes” advantage), but if you ask me that “advantage” is grossly overrated.

Anyhow, no matter in which camp you belong, the conventional wisdom suggests that market understanding comes either:

a) Through domain experience (hands-on industry experience)

b) Or market research (i.e. secondary research, customer interviews, online surveys)

But you know what? Many think there is another way!

Which is that?

That’s right – via user entrepreneurship (aka scratch your own itch).

As you probably already know, this is when you decide to create a product that will address one of the problems you experience yourself, with the hope that if successful, many others that share that itch will be willing to pay for it.

Which is exactly what iconic founders of the likes of Spanx, Airbnb, Dropbox, Basecamp, Dyson, and Patagonia, just to name a few, precisely did…

In fact, this way of starting a business might be a bit more popular than most think, since according to a study released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 10.7 percent of U.S. startups overall came from this group of entrepreneurs.

Yes, 1 in 10!

However, as you would probably agree, that alone says very little. What matters most is whether that model, outliers-aside, works or not.

And on today’s post, as we usually do, we will dive deep into the subject and see what is true and what is BS.

Shall we?

Just Do It!

First allow me to start with the case for scratching it…

Benefit #1: You avoid solving imaginary problems

Imaginary problems?

Yes, you did read that correctly. Providing an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist is more commonplace than you think.

According to CB Insights’ 2014 autopsy report*, the most cited reason for failure (42%) was that there was simply no market need.

Having said that, it’s worth stating the obvious: going after a problem that you experience in no way guarantees others will also share that pain (and most importantly will be willing to pay for it).

Nevertheless, for many, even that alone gives you a great head start.

Benefit #2: You have a great grasp of the pain & how it affects the end-user

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Living the problem, day in and day out as ‘a patient’, leaves little room for mystery.

Yeah, no more stabbing in the dark or relying on others to tell you how that problem impacts their life.

What’s wrong with letting others ‘do the briefing’?

That’s correct – at best, it only tells one part of the story!

Which is exactly why observational research has gained so much traction the last couple of years compared to conventional methods of just having focus groups and customer interview.

Benefit #3: You can field-test the product on yourself

Being user-entrepreneur not only makes you the first customer but also the laboratory rat.

And why does that matter?

Jason Field couldn’t explain it better…

When you build what you need, you can also assess the quality of what you make quickly and directly, instead of by proxy. Mary Kay Wagner, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, knew her skin-care products were great because she used them herself. She didn’t need focus groups or studies to know the products were good. She just had to look at her own skin.”

So, with all that said what do you think; time to scratch our own itch(es)?

Why you should never scratch your own itch

Before I share my take on this, it’s fair to also see what the other camp has to say.

And as you can see from the sub-heading, they believe it’s terrible advice.

Why?

2 reasons…

Reason #1: By being ‘me-focused,’ you risk limiting your target market to just yourself

Limiting your target market to just yourself?

Yes guys, that’s just a fancy way saying that you risk building something which only you would be willing to purchase!

How about?

Well, according to Chris Lema an advocate of this line of thinking, When you are building a product that meets your own needs, your sample size is you. n=1. That’s it. Guess what? Your situation is your own. It’s no one else’s. You get passionate about things others don’t care about. So if all you’re going by is n=1, then you shouldn’t be shocked when your sales have a similar symmetry (sales = 1).

Which comes in line with what was mentioned earlier about the fact that no one guarantees you that others a) will share that pain point and b) be willing to hand you their hard-earned cash.

Reason #2: Just because you experience a problem doesn’t make you the right person to solve it

Straightforward, right?

After all, it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to understand that a good part of the success of any product lies in the implementation side of things.

And for many industries, unless you already possess domain expertise, just expecting to figure things out on the go won’t cut it.

Of course, you might say that when there’s a will there is a way, but if you ask me, you shouldn’t underestimate how much time is required to go through this learning curve (before even starting to put together the product).

But even if that’s the case, you may add that outsourcing is also option. At the end of the day, that’s not why this method was invented in the first place?

Scratch it, but with caution!

Yes, my friends, I am in favour of this method!

Not only because it gives you a great sense of perspective (and clarity) but also…

… it dramatically increases the chances of not coming up with a solution looking for a problem type of product, a major global killer of startups.

But what about the concern of limiting your market to just you?

Simple – the assumption that somehow scratching your own itch automatically prevents you from doing market research is rather idiotic.

Nobody suggests that you should stay me-focused and avoid doing your market homework.

Of course not!

Your itch would be just the source of inspiration. After that, as a sane person would expect, you have to perform your due diligence and make sure many others also share that pain.

How?

No guesses here – by checking the marketplace and seeing whether people today spend money solving that problem or not.

That’s right, if you can’t find products addressing that need, it’s a clear sign that the market doesn’t exist and I’d strongly consider doing something else.

Having said all that, I do agree with the notion that just because you experience a problem doesn’t by itself make you the right person to solve it.

And I say this because some industries are simply not conducive to outsiders!

So, to wrap up today’s post, here are the key takeaways:

Key Takeaways

– Jumping in an industry that you know little to nothing about is rarely a good idea

– Having a great grasp of the pain, in general, gives you a great head start

– Just because you experience a problem, doesn’t make you the right person to solve it

Ok guys, that’s all from me for today.

If you enjoyed today’s post, check out my kindle book, The Aspiring Entrepreneur Entry Strategy: A practical step-by-step guide for finding a validated, winning business idea that stays true to who you are, that is currently available at Amazon.

I hope to see you soon.

Best,

Andreas

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool”

– Richard Feynman

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