Startup founders and investors, especially in Silicon Valley, often talk about scratching your own itch as a way to reach the highly sought-after product-market fit, which will then accelerate your company to greatness. It’s likely that your problem isn’t unique, the theory goes, so by solving it you could stumble upon an idea for a product that could help thousands or even millions of people.
The question is how does that work in practice? What kind of problems should you consider and how should you approach them to yield the best results? Here’s some guidance that I’ve taken from my own experience of running a fast-growing startup.
Find your weird
My family has always struggled with excess weight. My mother used to tell me that nothing could be done about it — it was just something everyone accepted as a given. But, stubborn as I am, I decided that it would be my mission to change that.
Unfortunately, I hated traditional gym workouts: heavy weights, sets, reps and everything that went along with them. I quickly found out that developing new habits on top of something I didn’t enjoy was simply not going to work.
So I filled my wellness program with what I naturally gravitated towards: hatha yoga, aerial yoga and aerial gymnastics. It might seem strange, but I find that occasionally seeing the world upside down helps me to come up with unconventional ideas.
As a result, our BetterMe apps today are organized to appeal to a wide diversity of tastes. We have more than 1,500 workout programs you can do every day, with nearly 700 exercises that include everything from traditional weightlifting to Tabata to stretching. My own unusual inclinations helped me realize that there’s a large and underdeveloped long-tail market for all kinds of exercise routines out there.
Make use of human psychology
Years later, when our suite of BetterMe apps was already doing pretty well, with more than 50 million downloads worldwide, I was thinking about triggers that successfully altered my own behavior and remembered how my friends and I used to challenge each other not to eat sugar at the time when we were trying to lose weight. It worked because there was a mix of clear goals and social pressure. That memory pushed me to introduce challenges and gamification into our own weight loss app, with programs for 6-pack abs, a beach body, and a sugar-free diet. Creating a streak of daily actionable items has proven to be by far the best way to form consistent habits
The results have been nothing short of outstanding. In March 2020, when the whole world descended into complete lockdown, our user base more than doubled, with a 60% increase in overall usage time.
Lead the way
Managing my team remotely while staying inside during quarantine, I’ve noticed that people started paying much more attention to their inner state. In fact, I feel like our awareness of and attitude to mental health is experiencing a global and important shift overall.
If you look at any successful startup today, from Twitter to Salesforce, everyone is obsessed with meditation. Trendy companies even offer classes or apps as a corporate perk for employees.
While I like meditation and think it does a lot of good, personally, I’ve been an adherent of pranayama — breathing exercises for relaxation and focus — for years, practicing daily. I find that pranayama is more effective at clearing your mind and preventing your emotions from interfering with your decision-making.
So when the whole world made the push for meditation, I decided to lead our community differently, sharing the magical effect of pranayama with everyone in our new app BetterMe Meditation. Unlike the majority of mindful apps that use narratives or sounds, BetterMe Meditation is based solely on controlled breathing and is unique that way.
In the end, the most important task for any aspiring startup founder or even a seasoned entrepreneur looking for a fresh start is not to theorize about market share or web traffic or intense competition, but to solve a real problem, even if it initially seems to only address a total market of one — themselves. That’s exactly how I approached it in the beginning of my journey, and now BetterMe apps consistently rank in the top-5 of the App Store. It turns out that scratching your own itch doesn’t limit your success after all.