Monday, January 25, 2010

Entrepreneurs Love Pain

This post is going to be more personal than most…I hope you never feel this pain.

A few weeks ago I woke up not feeling well.  I could not ignore an annoying pain in the left side of my back.  I prepared for and began my day hoping it would quickly pass (no pun intended…you’ll get it a little later).  When I sat down in my second meeting at 9:30am I found I could no longer concentrate on anything except the pain.  I excused myself only to find it difficult to make it to my vehicle.  I began the most painful 30-minute drive of my life, which ended at the emergency room, knowing that something was seriously wrong and I needed help.

After a diagnosis of kidney stones and another 48 hours of pain my situation resolved itself…hopefully permanently.  Yet something troubled me throughout this experience.  You see, everyone who helped me focused on reducing my pain, not on removing the cause of the pain (the stones).  My situation only allowed for such treatment, but it sure was a helpless feeling knowing that nothing could be done to solve the real problem.

Then I realized this is why entrepreneurs like pain.  Pain is a signal that something is wrong, that something needs to be fixed, improved, tweaked, or otherwise reconfigured to solve a problem and remove the pain.  I want to be clear – entrepreneurs do not just solve or mask pain, they solve real problems in a sustainable and usually a commercialized way.

When I arrived at the hospital, I would have done anything or paid almost any amount of money to have someone solve my problem, my pain was so significant.  You see, my perception of value was directly correlated to my level of pain.  This is no different than the customers of any business – their level of pain has a lot to do with how much they are willing to pay and how quickly they are willing to make a decision to pay for the solution to their problem causing the pain.  No pain results in very few customers.  Lots of people with pain results in lots of customers so long as the cost of your solution exceeds the pain of not resolving the problem.  Marketing and sales needs to be about identifying customer pain points and helping customers understand how you will remove their pain.  Operations needs to be about actually solving customers' problems.

My pain was obvious and dominant in contrast to the pain that many entrepreneurs remove by solving a real problem.  Often customers don’t realize they feel pain and have real problems that need to be fixed.  Consider the progression of the mobile phone.  We certainly survived without cell phones, but their development has increasingly solved problems for more and more mobile users.  Many felt the pain of not having access to email and the Internet on their mobile device, and the smart phone solved that problem.  Then the I-phone revolutionized the way we think about mobile technology.  The integration of over a hundred thousand (and growing) applications that each solve a specific problem has created a very sustainable and scalable business model ripe with opportunity.  Solving problems that remove pain is the name of the game.

The conclusion is this - entrepreneurs love pain.  Well, at least the kind of pain that has a solvable root problem.  Entrepreneurs also like to help customers understand their pain and how to remove it.  Do you understand the pain that your customers experience?  Are you solving their problems in a way that removes their pain?  Perhaps most importantly, are you solving their problems better than your competitors?  The entire value proposition of your firm hinges on these points.  The better you fulfill this, the more cash flow your business will have the opportunity to create.