Your startup should solve an impossibly hard problem

Mediocre founders aren’t able to articulate what’s hard about the problem they’re solving

I’m spotting a worrying trend among startup founders who seem to think that running a startup is effectively a get-rich-quick scheme. Apart from that mindset being wrong and naive, I suspect there’s something a lot more insidious at play here: misunderstanding on a fundamental level what startups are for.

Any business exists to exchange money for value. Your local lemonade stand does that: You have a dollar and you’re thirsty on a hot summer day? You can exchange that dollar for a drink (and the joy of seeing entrepreneurship in action, if that’s your jam).

The thing is, most obvious problems that have obvious solutions don’t need startups. Those markets are very well covered by incumbents. Where tech startups come in, then, is overlaying the desire to solve a problem with a hunger to disrupt: Using an unfair advantage (usually technology, but it’s also possible to disrupt other aspects of the value chain, such as business models, logistics or pricing models) and a bold idea means that startups can take a stab at solving a major issue.

If the problem you are solving isn’t inherently hard, that’s a huge problem in itself, for a number of reasons.