Starting a Successful New Business - People want a quarter inch hole, not a quarter inch drill.When you are thinking about starting a successful new business, one of the first questions you need to be able to answer is: “What is the headache that I’m solving for, and how bad is the headache?”.

You need to solve a problem for someone (your target customer) that they recognize (it is a headache) and that they care about (it is a BAD headache).

For a really incredible business, you need to have a meaningful solution to their headache. Don’t just find something that dulls the pain, find something that makes it go away.

Finally, you need to be able to articulate how you will make the pain go away for good.

Consider the following scenario (based on one of my favourite quotes from Theodore Levitt):

People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. Theodore Levitt


Tom’s Story – Curing a Headache

Tom, a 28-year-old first-time homeowner took possession of his new (to him) house. He purchased a 35-year-old bungalow in a desirable area of town. The house was dated and needed some TLC to bring it back to its former glory, but he could afford it. Tom wasn’t particularly handy, but he figured that he could “figure it out” once he got moved in. He hoped he could do a fair bit of the work himself to save himself some money.

The first challenge Tom faced was that the mirror in the main bathroom was broken and hanging from the wall. It was unsafe and unusable and it was in the main bathroom that his guests would be using. It needed to be replaced as soon as possible.

Tom managed to get the old mirror off the wall without any major damage. He then surveyed the situation to figure out what he needed to do next.

Identifying the Headache

Tom went to the hardware store and found a new mirror with a recessed medicine cabinet. He thought it would be a great upgrade from the old mirror which didn’t have any storage. As an added bonus it was on a clearance sale! He bought the mirror and brought it home.

Starting a Successful New Business - Identify a Real Customer ValueGoing through the instructions Tom realized he was going to need to cut a hole in the wall to install the mirror. He measured the opening and found the drill he had bought himself as a housewarming gift. Tom drilled several holes into the wall to mark the opening he needed and started to open up the hole using a saw and a hammer. He quickly realized that he had a problem when he saw a stud behind the drywall. It was right in the middle of the hole and would prevent him from installing the mirror.

The Self-Service Solution to Dull the Headache

Tom quickly realized that he was in over his head and returned to the hardware store for some advice. When he asked the man who had helped him with the mirror he was sent to the tools section to get a new tool. In the tools section, he looked at several options to deal with the problem. He was shown a jig saw, a reciprocating saw and a manual coping saw which could cut through the stud. The tool employee warned Tom that he should be careful about removing the stud. By cutting it he may weaken the wall structure and cause bigger problems. When Tom asked for more help he was referred to the lumber area in hopes that someone would have the required knowledge.

Hope Appears – A REAL Cure

Starting a Successful New Business - Deliver on a Customer HeadacheOn his way over to the lumber area, Tom was stopped by Tina who had overheard his conversation in the tool area. Tina was a local handy-woman who did odd jobs for home owners. She specialized in DIY project support and had experience in most home improvements. Tina told Tom that the tool he needed was actually a reciprocating saw, but that he was indeed going to have to do some framing around the mirror to maintain wall structure and support the new mirror. Tina recognized that Tom was likely going to need some help in his ongoing home improvements and she offered to come by his house to help him out.

Back at the house, Tina quickly pulled the required tool from her truck along with some scrap wood that she had from a previous job. Within 15 minutes Tina had cut the hole and framed the opening so Tom could continue installing his new mirror. Tina left her business card and NO bill and let Tom know that she would be happy to help out with his future projects. She would be happy to quote him on any new work he might need doing.

Tom has a new mirror now, and he also has a great relationship with his new home improvement support Tina. Tina has done several thousand dollars work for Tom since that day and he recommends her to all of his friends. He has actually passed her card to several strangers he has heard talk about home improvement needs.


Tina’s Story – Starting a Successful New Business

Tina had designed her business around solving the headaches of DIY homeowners who couldn’t do all of the work themselves. She targeted homeowners who were tackling their own home improvement work, but who needed help on some of the more complicated parts of their projects. Tina offered free advice and support for parts of projects that she felt the homeowners could complete themselves. She offered paid services to fill in the gaps that were more complex.

Tina partnered with her customers to make their DIY house projects successful. She treated her customers with respect and supported them through the process of home improvement. Tina charged a reasonable rate that supported her personal needs and business goals. She didn’t take advantage of her customers’ trust. As an added bonus

Tina found a headache that her customers’ recognized (home improvements are hard) and that they cared about (home ownership is expensive and mistakes in home improvement can be REALLY costly). She empowered her customers to tackle home improvement projects that they might not have otherwise. Her support available whenever they needed it. She made the pain of home improvement go away for good for her customers. Ultimately she built an amazing business with loyal customers by focusing on the right headache.

Find a headache. Solve it for good. Enjoy your business success.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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