Here’s a sentiment every entrepreneur has surely heard before: A good product solves a problem.
Before Google, searching the Internet was an inefficient slog through irrelevant junk. Before the iPod, your portable music library was limited to the number of CDs you could carry. Before the flash drive, transporting large sums of data required a 50-pack of floppy disks.
Products that solve problems are easier to pitch, market and sell. Their function is clear and their existence is justified. Problem-solving products also come with a built-in audience: everyone who has that problem.
But what is an aspiring entrepreneur to do when they have no problems in need of solving?
Enter Cole McCollum, a mechanical engineering student at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University. McCollum, only 20 years old, understands the value of a good problem, and how difficult one is to find.
“There are hundreds of thousands of problems in the world, across so many different industries that need solving, but it’s hard enough identifying your own day to day problems,” McCollum says. “How are you supposed to identify the other 99 percent of problems that other people are having?“
There is certainly no shortage of problems in need of solving. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to identify these problems when all they have to go on is their own experiences.
Would Isaac Newton have calculated the universal law of gravitation if that apple hadn’t fallen on his head? Would Percy Spencer have thought up the microwave oven if electromagnetic waves from his radar research hadn’t melted a candy bar in his pocket?
“As the world works currently, the only way you would stumble upon a problem you haven’t identified yourself would be a random conversation or a lightbulb moment,” McCollum said. “I felt so frustrated by that. Why does it have to be left up to chance?”
So McCollum started Problem Hunt, a community for entrepreneurs to share their own problems and discover the problems of others.
“The goal here is to have a crowdsourced list of problems across all different industries to help people identify problems they never would have thought of on their own,” McColum says. “In short: identifying a problem to solve is really difficult. We make it easier.”
According to a 2013 Inc. survey, 63 percent of 20-somethings want to start a business, and a Fox Business study revealed that 48 percent of Americans want to be entrepreneurs. Yet eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who start a business fail within the first 18 months.
McCollum is set on lowering the failure rate. Many factors play a role in a business’s success or failure, but offering a product that fills a gap in the consumer’s life is high on the checklist.
The way Problem Hunt works is simple.
Users can submit their problems through Problem Hunt’s submission form. At the end of the week, 10 of the most compelling problems are sent out in a weekly email newsletter.
Here are a few recent submissions:
“I hate feeling the urge to check my phone so many times a day. Not only does it waste so much time, but it distracts from what's going on around me.”
“I hate how there's no hands free way to control Spotify while I'm driving. I don't want to be on my phone, but to pick the next song I have to be.”
“There's no easy way to plan long term events with my group of friends. I always want to organize concerts and trips far in advance while tickets are still cheap.”
Because Problem Hunt’s user base is still relatively small, McCollum has been doing a lot of the problem hunting himself.
He chats with people in many different industries, asking them: “What problems do you face or notice on a day to day basis that you wish had a solution?”
As the user base evolves, McCollum may expand the platform’s capabilities. One idea is to let people upvote and comment on submissions, something Product Hunt – Problem Hunt’s spiritual predecessor – did to great success. But McCollum might decide to keep it simple.
“Maybe it will just stay as an email list and more features will be added, like a weekly shout out to startup x that is solving problem y, or maybe it will turn into something entirely different. There’s a lot of roads to take, but I think where it’s at right now is a great launching point.
The site has only been live for a little under a month, but the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The users, McCollum says, understand that for entrepreneurs, identifying a great problem is a huge barrier to entry, and they see the value in a diverse group of problem hunters, sharers, and solvers.
"I eventually envision a great community of Problem Hunters who want to help it grow and succeed," McCollum says.