Haircuts, Pie & Cupcakes

I’m reminded repeatedly, that to have a successful startup, you need to meet an essential need, and fill it. Although if you ask me, there are plenty of startups which do quite well not filling an essential need at all.

For example, think of pie. I mean, no one really NEEDS pie. People can live without pie. But I’ll bet you that there are plenty of startups who are doing very well, with pie.

Recently there was an episode of Shark Tank where the sharks invested in a company which sold cupcakes. In a jar. Great idea, right? But we don’t really need cupcakes either. Pie, cupcakes, pretty much all dessert is really not a mandatory food item. But people love and want them.

In fact, I’d argue, in tough times, wants sometimes outstrip needs. Sometimes that piece of pie or cupcake becomes a need, a mental need, a comfort to make one feel slightly better, even though buying a $6 cupcake won’t help the problem if it’s financial.

My Dad used to say “Son, you should become a barber, everyone needs their hair cut”. This is true, of course, everyone does need a haircut every now and then. But we also need other things (I’d say, more than a haircut): food, sleep, shelter, to find a mate, to procreate, to stay healthy. So, supposedly, if your startup addresses a primal need, it will succeed.

Look at the successful Internet businesses of today, and throw some startups in there. Can you identify the specific need that they are addressing? With some, you can, but for the rest, aren’t they addressing an even more basic need?

The Need To Communicate: Twitter, FaceBook, Whisper
The Need To Know Stuff: Google and all of its content
The Need To Get Stuff: Amazon, eBay, every other eCommerce site

If your startup doesn’t address a need, does it address a want? and if it is a want, is it a compelling enough want? If it does neither, you need to pivot. Maybe your startup addresses a need in your mind? Maybe your startup addresses too small a market? Maybe your startup addresses a market with too little value?

If your startup isn’t helping your customers cut their hair and/or eat cupcakes, then what IS it doing?

(Next business idea: salon which serves cupcakes. BTW, this post made me hungry for some reason)


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