Find growth by seeking out ‘boring’ problems

By Praveen Suthrum

There is much excitement in the air today. AI, machine learning, robotics, synthetic biology, 3D printing, drones and so on. And let us not forget to blockchain this and blockchain that.

You will get much love when you say you are a startup in any of these fields from entrepreneurs who are your peers and possibly investors. They are surely important, but business growth often hinges on your ability to solve problems for clients. These problems can sometimes be “boring”, but painful enough for someone to pay you to make them go away. As much as clients keep asking for simple solutions, startups pursue complexities. Simply because they can be exciting.

Excitement can come in the form of new technology, social media likes, newer variety of clients and solutions or newer geographies to plant a flag. Such pursuits can be mentally stimulating, but often dissipate your energy. They deplete your resources, making you and your team run in multiple directions.

We have been there.

During a program on the future of healthcare, I was drawn to Google Glass, the head-up display. I pursued Google to add us on to their “explorer” program and we ended up paying $1,500 a pair (we bought a few) before the device became available to the public. We spent time, energy, and money in extending our healthcare software to Glass. We were thrilled to see endoscopic images appear on the head-up display with the swipe of a finger.

So exciting!

There was only one problem. None of our clients (doctors) were excited enough to pay for it.

Why would they? We never checked with any of them before going down that path. Never asked them how critical was seeing endoscopic images on a head-up display for them. We just assumed they would love it like we do.

Our healthcare clients had simpler problems. They wanted better reimbursements from insurances, they wanted to complete their medical charts faster and they wanted to be legally compliant without the headaches.

It took us a long time to see ourselves through the eyes of our clients. We ignored what stared at us because we were so much in love with what we did, whether we got paid for it or not. That eventually strained our finances. To grow, all we had to do was to pursue fewer things and to stop running after this toy or that. More importantly, to bring focus to those areas that was critical to our clients.

The reason that something gets boring is because of its repeatability. Repeating processes, repeating transactions, similar types of customers, at the end it is the same thing again and again.

What we fail to recognize is that repetition results in operational efficiency. Repetition has the potential to take a product or service from mediocrity to excellence and it allows us to go a mile-deep within a solution and standout in a world of me-too products or services. It helps us get better and better.

What we see as “boring” might not be so boring to the world. When your clients ask for the same thing, they might already be seeing your solution as innovative. They might want you to do more of it because it solves a certain pain for them.

Instead of imagining new solutions from our conference rooms, our team started looking for problems that our clients were struggling with. Instead of applying new technology for the sake of excitement, we started finding technology that solved real problems.

Our clients began recognizing how our products and services interlocked seamlessly. In order to scale, all we had to do was show up in front of similar clients. Many of them faced similar problems and a unified platform made immediate sense to them.

Internally, it became easier to manage and plan. Our marketing message became clearer and we felt less stretched. Our energies and time resulted in rewards in the form of client satisfaction and new business. It’s not that the Google Glass experiment was a bad thing. It helped us become more confident in our technical abilities.

The idea is to find the balance while innovating. To not shun what appears as “boring” at the outset and to connect the dots of innovation to business. To listen closely to clients so that you may not only survive, but thrive. So that you have enough business generating cash to splurge on what next catches your fancy.

The writer is the president and cofounder of NextServices. Get his free e-book: Healthcare Footprint Finder, a simple guide to finding your market, selling your products, and growing your business.