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Why startups should solve tough problems

Written by Alice Bentinck on Friday, 21 July 2017. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Entrepreneurs should be taking on challenges not because they are easy but because they are hard

Why startups should solve tough problems

When thinking about founding a startup, you might ask yourself what kind of problem you should solve. Without a doubt, the answer is you should solve a hard one. When building a company, it may seem attractive to work on an idea you already know where to start on. However, if one can so easily answer the question of how, then they are notably left with the question of why: if this problem can be so intuitively solved, why has nobody done it already? For hard problems on the other hand, ones that are marked by a less obvious how, the question of why nobody else has solved it has already been answered: because nobody else can. If only you can solve the problem, then assuming the problem is relevant, it is also inherently valuable. Yours will be a fundamental contribution – it won’t just be another Uber or Lyft, Bumble or Tinder: it will be something groundbreaking and original.

Furthermore, starting a company is hard work. More often than not, it is a losing battle: regardless of whether you are starting a fish and chips shop or attempting to put humans on Mars, the odds are stacked against you. However, being defeated will be a lot less disappointing if it’s in the name of space exploration rather than the production of battered haddock and mushy peas. Moreover, if you are working on a hard problem, a fully baked solution is not always necessary to found a business that is incredibly valuable. So if you are going to start a business, start an incredibly ambitious one: solve a problem that is as hard as your skill set allows.

But where do these hard, important ideas come from? After all, not all hard problems are worth solving. The most important ideas are found at an intersection between the limit of one’s skill set and most valuable thing they can work on. They come from people with both experience and diversity of insight – and these kinds of people come from melting pots of talent and diversity.

This is why London is so well placed to solve hard problems. Silicon Valley, widely recognised as the centre of the technological world, is filled with talented and ambitious individuals. But the culture is fairly homogenous and, as it is dominated by technology companies, its residents just do not have the domain experience to form convictions concerning what hard problems are worth solving. But in London this not an issue. The economy comprises a wide range of companies, not just tech but media, finance, education – essentially every kind of business. There is a diverse array of experience and talent – the perfect combination for hard, fundamental, world-changing problems to be identified and solved.

About the Author

Alice Bentinck

Alice Bentinck

To describe Bentinck as well-versed in tech would be something of an understatement. She co-founded both Entrepreneur First, the pre-seed investment programme for Europe's best technical founders, and Code First: Girls, the provider of free coding courses for young women. She has also been a judge for TechCrunch Disrupt, acts as an advisor for Sherry Coutu’s Founders4Schools and was one of five innovation advisors to the prime minister at the Northern Future Forum 2014.

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