Many people shy away from pain, but successful entrepreneurs teach us that the most genius ideas and inventions can come from points of pain and frustration. Instead of merely giving in to the frustration and letting it get in the way of progress, entrepreneurs take an alchemic approach and transform painful experiences into rewarding opportunities.
From Sir Isaac Newton taking a hit on the head from an apple and using it to create the universal law of gravitation, to Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook after being frustrated at the difficulty of connecting with women and peers, entrepreneurs have been polishing diamonds in the rough for centuries. While some of these entrepreneurial opportunities are not without unintended consequences (such as the most recent Facebook data breach), society has benefited from many entrepreneurial endeavors.
Key Lessons from Successful Entrepreneurs
How does one take a painful or frustrating situation and turn it into something lucrative, useful, and rewarding? We rolled our sleeves to find out from several successful entrepreneurs about the secrets for getting diamonds from dirt. These well-polished experiences are lessons everyone can learn from and can apply to the pain and frustration in their own lives. These are the keys to turning negatives into positives, with the intention of benefiting humanity and the Earth.
Lesson #1: Learn from other people’s mistakes
Entrepreneur Kelvin Dafiaghor had his “aha” moment after watching someone else become mired in pain and bitterness instead of choosing to make improvements in their life.
“I dated someone that was into gambling and internet scams. For years I tried to encourage him to read his books and focus on his studies but he would rather choose to suffer than a bright future. I lived in bitterness for many years until I decided to turn his mistake into wealth when I started my youth rejuvenation campaigns for derailed youths in Nigeria — youth that had gone into online scams and betting — and proffering credible alternatives to them such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and blockchain.”
Dafiaghor didn’t have to make the mistakes of going into gambling and getting scammed himself in order to create an entrepreneurial opportunity that benefitted Nigerian youth. Besides, who has time to keep making mistakes all the time? You don’t always have to go through the trials and errors yourself. Simply pay attention to the people around you and think of solutions to their pain and frustration and use this knowledge to your own advantage.
Lesson #2: Hack your own path
There are times when we think we’ve encountered a useful product or service, only to feel frustrated by the experience of using it. Sometimes, it gets to the point of having to find loopholes or creative ways to alter the products and services in order to properly suit your needs.
Hacking isn’t just for tech nerds and computer scientists. Anyone can use critical thinking skills to create lifehacks that take a product and make it better. Lauren Alexandra Burke, who founded CaseNotes, shows us that you can even go one step further and create your own endeavor to solve your problem.
“I have zero tech background, can barely wrap my head around Slack, and my desktop has more icons than the background, and yet I decided to start CaseNotes because I kept having to “hack” other software to suit my needs as a lawyer, non-profit founder, and case manager. After spending a few years teaching others my hacks while we all waited for something better to come along I decided to forget it, and created my own company. I now know lingo like “SaaS” and “b2b platform ” but my CTO still has to explain how to screen share on Skype.”
Lesson #3: Connection is just as important as supply and demand
The third lesson comes from the founders of Essmart Global. Classic economics teaches that success is a result of efficient supply and demand, but it leaves out the important element of connection. After learning about essential, life-changing technologies, Jackie Stenson was surprised to discover that the products were not getting into the hands of consumers, despite the robust demand.
“Essmart was entirely founded on frustration — coming from being an engineer who saw all the products I was working on stagnate in the product development pipeline and not reach the people who needed them.” BLANK decided to become the solution, to become the adhesive force that connected people to the product, and Essmart was born.
Lesson #4: Become the change you want to see in the world
There are times when opportunity and progress are hindered by outside factors. Such was the case for Jason Larkin. He thought he had all the opportunities life could afford him but there were unintended consequences to the endeavors he was pursuing.
“When I first arrived at Caltech to obtain my Ph.D., I was on top of the world. One short year later, I left academia, abandoning my lifelong goal of becoming a professor. Of the many ways academia is broken today, perhaps the most tragic is the severe lack of mentorship Ph.D. students receive as they begin their career in research.
The despair and mental stress that so often accompany the process of acquiring a Ph.D. are unnecessary barriers to entering the scientific workforce. I started PhDMentors.org so that Ph.D. students can receive help in overcoming these barriers, in order to focus on the work they are passionate about.”
Larkin turned his frustration of needing a mentor to become a mentor himself, creating an entrepreneurial opportunity that helps Ph.D. students like his younger self.
Lesson #5: Transform from victim to survivor to warrior
It’s no secret that power dynamics in most societies are skewed, resulting in oppression based on race, class, and gender. Many people are unwilling victims in the cycles of abuse this creates, but if the survivors can take this suffering and become warriors, the opportunity for real change has a chance to be enacted.
Take the example of Cassi Janakos from Healthy Horizons. “I started Healthy Horizons in 2015 to help women remain in the workforce. As a young engineer, I was so frustrated that my hard working female friends at other companies were leaving work after having a baby due to lack of support. I started the company to provide HR departments everything they need to support a mother returning to work.
From setting up the mother’s room to maintaining a hospital-grade breast pump on-site to providing breastfeeding and return to work education to moms and dads, we do it all! We serve every US state and a large portion of the Fortune 500 are our clients, including Amgen, PG&E, and PayPal, among many others. It’s inspiring to see companies support women and enable a change that makes women’s lives better.”
Lesson #6: Use pain and frustration as fuel
Success does not run on good ideas alone — there needs to be some fuel to keep the fire going. Enter pain and frustration. Like a molotov cocktail, these two emotions can be so intense when they’re bottled up that they become the catalysts for change when released. Beyond that, they keep us motivated as we make our entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
My company UCOT, was motivated by pain and frustration. When it comes to technology — from hacking to bullying, to surveillance, to biases — it seems that we all encounter frustrations and unintended consequences on a daily basis. I am among the unlucky 50 million Facebook users whose identity got compromised by their most recent hack. It is this continued pain in the technology world that has fueled me to create a unique model to support and fund early-stage startups creating solutions to unintended consequences of technology. In addition, I founded UCOT conferences whose main objective is to have authentic discussions around exponential technology development and usage that may not be serving humanity’s best interests.
The key takeaway from these lessons is that when you experience pain and frustration, use it as an opportunity to create a solution. Pain can lead to paralysis, which in turn can lead to no action. Entrepreneurs break that mold and use pain and frustration to their advantage. Be the change. Become the solution. You’ll improve your own life and the lives of others in the process.
The risk is almost always worth taking — it’s a choice between remaining in a state of pain and frustration or choosing to take the leap. Successful entrepreneurs make it clear that taking a risk is the better option. Pain and frustration can be like the itch that just won’t go away.
How have you used to pain and frustration in your own life to create entrepreneurial opportunities? I’d love to hear about it! Please reach out on Facebook or Twitter and share your experiences or join us at the #UCOT2018 event. Who knows? You might just make a connection that will take your entrepreneurial endeavor to the next level.