If you are like me, you are probably a fan of Y Combinator—an American seed money startup accelerator.
They are the visionary investors from silicon valley who believed in products like Airbnb, Stripe, DoorDash, Dropbox, Coinbase, and many other notable companies that changed the world when they were just a tiny startup. Now, some of them are renowned unicorns.
I dream of attending this program one day to start my startup, creating a product that can solve real-world problems. Maybe one day. But for now, I have been going through their online Startup School.
Like most aspiring indie hackers or tech startup founders, I watched, read, and breathed all their materials. Even if you don't want to start a company, they are just fantastic materials to learn from people who created something from nothing. Makers from all different walks of life were envisioning a future that is somehow better than today. I want to be part of that.
As I was going through their Startup School program, one concept helped me evaluate all my side project ideas this week. I had to revisit even the four projects that I was planning to do this year. The concept is called "Solution In Search of a Problem." Kevin Hale from YC explains it in his lecture "How to Evaluate Startup Idea" like this:
"Solution. There's pretty much only one piece of advice I really have for the solution. That's the best advice that you can ever follow. And that is don't start here. What I mean by that is at YC we have an acronym for a problem that we try to avoid or basically an application that we have to go, like, oh, man, I wish they had started with the problem first, and we call it SISP. It means Solution In Search of a Problem.
Often what happens is like you're an engineer, you're excited about technology, some new technology has come on the scene. Let's say it's blockchain. Let's say it's like React Native, or whatever the new thing is, and you're, like, I want to build something with this. It's a large reason why you start working on a side project. And then you go, like, okay, what kind of problem can I solve now?
I want to use this no matter what, and then you try to shoehorn a problem into the solution. What ends up happening is that's a much more difficult way to grow the company. It's not impossible for companies to grow this way, it's super inefficient. It's much better to be, like, let me see what problems people have and then I will use whatever is necessary to solve them. And therefore, it's much more likely that you will grow as a result because the other way around is you might have to go and try to drum up the problem or you have to like brand the problem as something that people have. And it's so much more difficult and you end up growing much more slowly, as a result. So look at what you're building right now or look at the reason why you're trying to do this startup. And is it because you only care about the technology and building something in that, or have you started with a problem? You go, like, I'm going to do whatever it takes to solve people, users, customers issues."
After listening to Kevin, I thought about significant problems that I experienced that offer crappy solutions. There are many of them, but healthcare costs and billing for the consumers was the biggest one. I'm not too fond of banks and credit card companies regarding how predatory they are with their credit card products. They purposely target vulnerable groups of people to gain the most profit. When it comes to healthcare in the US, I feel the same way. The more you learn about it, you realize how profit centric system has ruined our healthcare system for most people living in the US. I have so much to say about this topic, but we will cover that some other time.
I am still learning how we can solve this. It feels like trying to move a mountain with a tablespoon. But I firmly believe we need to start somewhere. While most people would like to solve this politically through a single-payer healthcare system, I am not confident in our political parties that will happen any time soon. One thing is very sure; most experts in the medical field warn our current system won't sustain itself.
The decentralized finance technology gives me some hope. We can rethink how insurance works; how risk assessment can benefit the consumer by eliminating unnecessary costs. Nexus Mutual has an interesting white paper called "A peer-to-peer discretionary mutual on the Ethereum blockchain." In a high-level summary, Nexus Mutual is a decentralized insurance protocol built on the Ethereum network, where it utilizes different asset pools to distribute insurance that the consumer governs. The DeFi (decentralized finance) technology is so interesting because insurance, in a simple term, is groups of people coming together and sharing risk as a community. The DeFi technology (smart contracts) can empower the members (consumer) and not the insurance company or hospital shareholders. It redefines healthcare from a financial-based to a patient-based system.
Okay, let's stop there, back to startup ideas.
As Kevin advised, I am starting from the problem. He is correct; it is so challenging to start there than to start from the solution—a solution in search of a problem...
I am learning when you start from a problem, it forces you to learn more about the issue in depth. You begin to peel layers of complications that have existed for years. You quickly realize the problem is tough to solve.
It is uncertain if technology can reduce healthcare costs in the US. Still, when I imagine a future where an average person can receive healthcare coverage without going bankrupt or be puzzled by the complicated billing system, it makes me want to be part of building that future.
I found a problem—a problem in search of a solution.