I'm an entrepreneur, and in my early twenties, I thought that meant coming up with new ideas. I finally realized it's much easier to start with a problem: if your idea doesn't clearly solve a problem, it's going to be an uphill battle.
In 2020, I co-founded an investing newsletter called Ticker Nerd, which grew quickly and was acquired quickly. I attribute most of the business's success to validating the idea on Reddit early on. And it wasn't a one-time deal: other small online businesses I've started have also experienced similar success by leveraging Reddit and other organic channels for validation and initial growth.
Here, I'll share how I spot problems worth solving and then quickly test whether my solution is a viable one—and how you can do the same.
Successful businesses always start with a problem
Business ideas are fun (and often easy), but without a validated problem and appropriate solution, an idea is bound to fail. All successful companies really do is solve big enough problems for an audience willing to pay.
The perfect example of this is Zapier. Here's the problem: business owners, marketers, and other digital professionals struggle to get information from one piece of software into another. Unless they can write APIs or have a team that can execute the technical work, it's something they simply can't do. And even if they do have a team to help, it's expensive and time-consuming.
2017: "I get joy from coding and hacking together APIs"— Pat Walls (@thepatwalls) February 17, 2022
2022: "I get joy from creating Zaps"
Hosting code, servers, and configuring APIs is such a chore! No code wins.
Zapier solves this by providing thousands of ready-made connections between popular business apps. It's cost-effective, user-friendly, and reliable. It also happens to be a cool idea.
Types of problems worth solving
Not all problems have the same value, so it's equally as important to identify which ones are worth solving. To increase your chances of success in business, ask yourself the following three questions before you decide to tackle a problem:
Is the problem situated in a growing market?
Do the customers experiencing this problem have purchasing power?
Am I able and equipped to solve this problem?
For example, you might spot that email marketers struggle to generate subject lines. And since subject lines can make or break an email campaign, marketers typically spend hours rewriting them. One solution to this problem could be an AI-powered tool that generates subject lines based on the content of the email. But if you've never written any code or managed a team of developers, you're probably not equipped to solve the problem.
This is exactly why Copy.ai and Jasper have grown exponentially faster than their long list of competitors. They solve a big problem for an audience willing to pay—and they were well equipped to do so by way of technical expertise and funding.
Where to find problems
Since the internet is full of information (mostly terrible, some incredible), it can be leveraged to find problems your potential customers are suffering with. Here are the four ways I've found most useful in discovering problems.
1. 1- to 3-star product reviews
Customers who leave negative reviews feel strongly about the experience they had, and usually include a lot of detail. This is valuable information to anyone trying to find a problem worth solving. The gems lie in the 1- to 3-star reviews—head over to Amazon and take a look.
Here's an example: disposable beauty face masks are wasteful and expensive. Seems like a solid problem. Maybe it could be solved with reusable silicone face masks? An easy way to test this hypothesis is to read the reviews of existing silicone face masks.
Check out that level of detail. We found out that people don't enjoy the silicone face mask experience because it's uncomfortable and there are issues with fit. People might even be using them to keep the disposable masks in place—it doesn't actually replace them. This could be an opportunity to improve the product or pivot to something else.
2. Niche Facebook Groups
Ever heard the phrase "riches are in the niches"? It's true.
People are passionate about their hobbies, and they share every detail in Facebook Groups. This makes it a great place for identifying problems they experience.
For example, if you went to a Facebook Group for spearfishers, you'd probably see them chatting about how they're often being run over by boats and jet skis (since spearfishers wear camouflage wetsuits, and the floats they use are pretty far away from them, it's not uncommon). This is a huge problem that spearfishers would likely pay good money to solve, and it's definitely not an idea you'd come up with during a brainstorming session.
3. Subreddit data
Speaking of niches, active subreddit members are a really passionate audience. Tools like Subreddit Stats are built specifically to analyze subreddit data, like the growth of a subreddit, which other subreddits users are active in, and frequent keywords.
You can see that the r/Blogging subreddit has been on a steady incline over the last couple of years, which is great: huge spikes in growth aren't always a good sign because it can ruin the quality of posts in the subreddit. The top submissions this year are also pretty interesting. From a user achieving their first dollar to another user hitting 100,000 visits, the problems these users face are likely diverse.
By analyzing the top keywords in the subreddit, you can start making some predictions on the type of problems members of r/Blogging are experiencing.
At first glance, you could assume that non-technical and inconsistent bloggers are struggling to monetize their blogs. This seems like a pretty big problem to deal with, especially if the reason people start a blog is to eventually monetize it. From there, you can read more of the posts to get deeper insights.
4. Your own problems
By solving a problem you personally experience, you're more likely to nail the solution.
Ticker Nerd was built to scratch my own itch. My business partner was sending me an overwhelming amount of stock information. I couldn't keep up and figured there had to be a more effective way to stay on top of the stock market. We had a quick phone call to chat about the problem.
We decided we could solve this by surfacing trending stocks (via social mentions). We then ran sentiment analysis to figure out what the internet was saying, rather than scouring Reddit and Twitter. The solution evolved over time, but it solved a genuine problem I was experiencing.
How to organically validate your solution using Reddit
Once you've found a problem you think is worth solving, a viable solution is usually easy to spot. Conducting user interviews is a great way to hear firsthand whether your problem and solution are a fit—I've used Userbrain and UserTesting to make the process easy. But my favorite way to validate a solution is via Reddit.
The easiest way to know if your customers want your solution, of course, is if they pay you for it. With a landing page and the right Reddit posts, you can make this happen.
Note: Reddit moderators have a very low tolerance for spam. This means you'll need an decently aged Reddit account, and you'll need to—for your sake and the sake of other Redditors—follow the subreddit guidelines properly.
Here's my process for validating ideas on Reddit.
1. Create a basic landing page
I use Carrd or Webflow, but any landing page builder will do the trick. The goal is to pre-sell a limited amount of your product. Logos, branding, font, stuff like that—not important right now. Don't get hung up on the small things.
Do make sure the copy is compelling. If you're a beginner copywriter, use the AIDA method (attention, interest, desire, and action). You want as many people as possible who view the landing page to take an action, so focus on your call to action (CTA).
2. Create an account with an eCommerce platform
I use Gumroad, but you can pick any platform that will allow you to start capturing payments. Set an early bird or pre-sale price under $100. This will be the sweet spot—anything more, and people will become hesitant to pay.
3. Craft the Reddit posts
One way to find relevant subreddits is through a tool called Anvaka. The goal is to identify where your potential customers are most active, find the posts that do well, and then replicate them.
Using the tool, you can see that members of the r/Blogging subreddit are also active in r/opywriting, r/juststart, r/content_marketing, r/SEO, and a whole lot more. These are all subreddits you should craft posts for.
You can click on any of the subreddits and rank the posts by the top of all time. This will give you an indicator of how valuable your post needs to be.
Avoid reposting the same post in every group, and make sure you follow the subreddit rules, otherwise your post will get removed. It's also best to post a link to your site in the comment, not the main post. Offer some value so that Redditors are inclined to take the ride with you.
If your posts get removed or you can't seem to get any traction, it's time to try running ads. Reddit ads are easy to create, cheap, and pretty effective. You can target the same subreddits and make the posts even more compelling.
4. Get feedback from the community
Once you've executed on everything, it's time to assess the results. Ask yourself:
Did your post gain enough traction to make a decision?
Do the communities show an interest in what you're trying to build?
Did you make any sales?
What did you learn about the problem/solution in the process?
It should be relatively obvious whether your idea is one worth pursuing or if you need to pivot. Either way, this process will help you get closer to building something people actually want—and are willing to pay for.
If your problem-solution is good enough, you should be able to generate some pre-sales to help fund your venture. It's worked for me, and I hope it works for you.