I’ve been slowly blogging twelve startup tips from last summer at Techstars. Here’s #6 about “scratching your own itch.”
The original idea behind this tip was that many successful startups start out fixing a problem that pisses them off, and that they believe needs to go away.
But I’ve since refined my thinking on this. Scratching your own itch is certainly no guarantee of success, just like all the other tips. I now think of this as just one way of being passionate about what you’re working on. If you’re scratching your own itch, then you’re likely to be passionate about the solution.
But it’s just as easy to be passionate about a problem you don’t personally have. When I think back on the three startups that I founded prior to Techstars, one was scratching my own itch and was successful. The other successful one was solving a very real problem for a very large market. And the one that failed was one where I’m now pretty confident that I was scratching the faintest and least annoying of itches – one that just didn’t need to be scratched by anybody.
But you’ve got to have passion about what you’re doing. So scratching your own itch is a great way to generate passion. The way that I generated passion in my public safety software company (I had no personal itch to scratch in that case) was thinking about my customers customers. We could get ambulances on scene more efficiently and for less money than the competition. Trust me, when millions of patients are relying on your software to save their lives, it’s easy to sustain your passion.
I’m not talking here about the fake passion that I see so often. It’s often phrased as “the world really needs this cool product” and “therefore I’m very passionate about bringing it to market.” I think it’s important to stop and ask yourself what’s generating and sustaining your passion, and whether or not that source of passion is real. You’re going to need it or it will be too easy to just give up.
Startups are a ridiculous amount of work that (on average) come with a low probability of success. It’s not going to work if you’re not passionate and dedicated about solving a problem or bringing something to life.
So, founders: What’s the unending source of your passion about your company?