Making Things People Want

by Matthew on November 15, 2011

It’s almost a mantra among the current startup culture that you need to “make something people want.” I’ve discussed this before, but it helps to find a market before building something and hoping you can find a market later. Still, it’s hard when you’re not sure what people want and you have a day job where you feel like you have to take your small amount of free time at the end of the day and speculate about what people want.

With the exception of a week or so where I was sick combined with the freak northeast October snowstorm which knocked out power for thousands including us, I’ve been taking every available opportunity over the last few weeks to make contact with people outside of normal work and social circles. I want to find out what people want…what problems they’re having that I could provide solution to…what issues they themselves are having in their own businesses. But, it’s not easy. One of the toughest things of trying to escape the rat race is the fact that the rat race takes up so much valuable time that you could be using to interact with your future customers. I’ve love to have my days free to chat with business owners about their latest projects and challenges. Almost every time I’ve had a few days of free time with a business owner, I’ve found some paying project to take away from it.

In any ordinary day where I’m at work, businesspeople are making contacts to further their business while I’m “trapped” in the office. Even the company I work for will have vendors–some of whom must be entrepreneurs–come in to ask what kinds of issues they have that these vendors could solve. It’s hard to do all your networking at nights and on the weekends because some of the people you’d like to talk to about business are themselves at dinner or otherwise relaxing from their own workday.

But, at the end of the day, continue making contacts and explaining the kinds of problems you can solve. A few of the most mundane but lucrative things have come up over the last few weeks where there are opportunities for people to build businesses around particular problems someone is having right now.

Here are a few ways I’m trying to make good use of my time and get some visibility even if I have a day job:

  1. Pick a couple things you have skills in and make a prototype to point people to. I’ve done some playing around with geolocation and built a very crude prototype to use as an example of what is possible with the technology. If you have some kind of craft or artwork that you specialize in, make sure you have something to demonstrate your work. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just something to show the medium that you can work in. This might seem obvious, but lots of people have done so much custom work, they don’t have anything general to show someone new who might come along what they can do.
  2. Ask people if they know anyone who might need your work. This is another seemingly-obvious thing, but I recently found out my work was being highly recommended by someone I’ve never actually met. This person has seen some work I’ve done and knows people I have helped, but I’ve never made physical contact with this person and they are apparently pitching my services highly to others. If you help someone, ask them to tell other people.
  3. Dig into the obscure. This one is a little more off the beaten path, but there are some very profitable businesses out there are doing very esoteric things. If you’re the only company that does a particular thing needed by the market, you tend to get all the business. Once you do something well for a while, you become the de-facto standard and almost monopolize the market in that particular area.

While the day job continues, my approach to new opportunities and desire to make new contacts has changed. If you’re still working the 9-5 as I am and are looking to build an escape pod on the side, accept the fact that it might take a little longer, but continue to make contact with new people and promote yourself and your services. Once you find the right market for your products/services, you’re resultant product will give you the escape velocity you need.

Just don’t build most things out of speculation. Make sure the work you do will be compensated and you’ll soon find work which is reusable and gives you what you need to build a business on.

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