“What’s the Problem You’re Solving?”
That was one of my professor’s favorite lines whenever we’d ask him for insights on our business ideas. Not only was it the most common question we’d hear from him, but it was also the question that would always leave most of us – or at least me – thinking long and hard.
Entrepreneurship is born out of the identification of a problem because it serves as a sound basis to prove that there’s a genuine market need for a product/service. If there weren’t a need, the problem wouldn’t exist! This is a critical element to consider because it’s not about creating a neat technology or cool product that can be pushed to the market, but rather offering a solution that will be pulled by the market.
From a design perspective, the process of understanding a problem is referred to as empathy. By empathizing with the problem initially, you can be better equipped with deep insights during the ideation, prototyping, and testing phases. As cliché as it sounds, it’s akin to how plants root themselves in the ground before sprouting into something beautiful. The foundation paves the way for future success.
Just to give you a sense of how important this step is, some of my classmates and I had the opportunity to work with the TD Innovation Lab based out of Communitech this year as part of the practicum component of our Masters. Out of the five months we spent working with the Lab, four months were dedicated to empathizing with the problem statement issued to us. Hours of secondary research online, mystery shopping with other banks, and over 200 interviews were conducted just to ensure that we had all the information we needed in order to deliver insightful solutions to their problems. For the record, we knocked that project out of the park.
Key Takeaway: Focus on solving a problem, not launching a product; the latter will come with enough understanding.
Fall in Love with your Customers
Okay, not literally.
But, having an intimate understanding of your customer segments, their pain points, behaviors, and needs, is crucial to launching a new business. This, in conjunction with understanding the problem, are the two pillars that new ideas are built from. Once you have a deeply ingrained understanding of the problem being addressed, the next step is to figure out who you will be providing value to by creating a solution. It’s not uncommon to build a solution to a problem without having a customer segment in mind; but that usually spells trouble since all other aspects of your business, including your value proposition, change according to your target market. Customers are the ones who will be paying for your product/service. They will be the people who assess early prototypes, and their word will either make or break a business. Make sure you give these people the tender love and care they deserve!
Key Takeaway: Once you’ve got a sense of the problem you’re solving, ask yourself who you’re solving it for.
Ditch the Winning Mentality for Disputes
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s getting into a fight with a significant other over who ate the last cookie, a coworker who feels like they’re never heard in meetings, or a disagreement among friends over the choice of words in a piece of work being edited, disputes are common place that we deal with regularly.
Something that’s unique about the MBET program is that it’s built to foster a sense of collaboration within the class, which is often accomplished by deliverables being completed in groups. Having more brains working on something has some advantages in terms of brainstorming, distribution of workload, and expertise; however, it also comes with its own disadvantage in that disputes can occur. As effective as I’d like to think I was at dispute resolution, sometimes, my mindset was focused on winning an argument as opposed to uncovering the underlying reason behind the dispute; the latter, of course, is preferred as it can help achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.
The winning mentality is especially detrimental because future interactions could be compromised between parties. No one enjoys losing, even if it’s over something as mundane as the theme of the PowerPoint (true story). The natural inclination after suffering a defeat is to take the necessary measures to ensure that the crushing, humiliating, and demoralizing experience doesn’t happen again. Which means, the next time they cross paths with you, they’ll be looking for ways to butt heads and serve you a defeat.
Key Takeaway: Disputes aren’t about who’s right or wrong. Approach them by understanding the reason for differed opinions and work together on a mutually beneficial solution.
Businesses Can Do Good
This year I was exposed to something really special: social entrepreneurship. At its core, social entrepreneurship refers to a situation wherein a business creates both economic and social value simultaneously. Both creating social benefit and generating a profit are equally important to the business, which makes discussing social enterprises so engaging. The notion of them generating a profit tends to catch people off guard; but when you think about it, they’re an innovative, sustainable, and agile way of addressing pressing problems in a way that Charities and Non-Profits can’t. The story of companies like Demine Robotics (previously known as Landmine Boys), who seek to eliminate deminer casualties during landmine excavation, or Curiato who are building a unique solution to prevent the development of bed sores, are both brilliant examples of how a business can be rooted in a mission that benefits society.
Hult Prize happens to be the world’s largest competition for social entrepreneurship and it served to be an enriching, reflective, and eye opening experience for me as it helped me realize how passionate I am about the space. Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why popularized the idea of the Golden Circle, which suggests that people don’t buy into what businesses do, or how they do it, but rather why they do what they do. If you ask me, it’s hard not to buy into the ‘Why’ of social entrepreneurs.
Key Takeaway: Social entrepreneurs are bringing innovative ways to tackle social problems in ways that Charities and Non-Profits can’t.
Conrad at the University of Waterloo is Awesome
I swear I wasn’t paid to write this section.
Seriously though, found under the faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology Center is an academic engine for entrepreneurship that is an integral cog to the Waterloo entrepreneurial ecosystem. Students in Applied Health Sciences usually boast about the incredible relationships we had with our professors. However, with a class size of 37 students this year, the intimacy I experienced with my professors was of a different caliber altogether. I’ve never come across a group of educators who are so committed to the success of their students. The staff are just as incredible, friendly, and dedicated to making sure the students are successful. There really is a sense of family when you’re a student at the Conrad Centre, which takes your education to a whole new level.
When you combine the incredible people at the Conrad Center, with the stellar ecosystem that the Waterloo region has to offer and students who refuse to accept the status quo, it generates an exciting, combustible, and collaborative entrepreneurial experience that makes it apparent why Waterloo is referred to as The Silicon Valley of the North.
Key Takeaway: Conrad at the University of Waterloo is awesome.