The Point of The Pain Point
I've written down a few problems that I've observed around me. Should I try and solve even those that don't affect me directly?
When you're pitching to a potential partner, advisor or an investor, you can be certain that invariably one of their questions will be "how did you decide on this idea?" -- with the emphasis on the word you.
There are incredible similarities between entrepreneurship and dramatic writing. One of those similarities is the role of the protagonist, and the motivating force driving him into action, usually characterized as "The Pivotal Event".
How did Shakespeare get a loving man, Othello, to kill his wife Desdemona? Shakespeare gave Othello a weakness to feel in his gut, his "Possessive Love" (Jealousy), born out of the desire to overcome his racial Inferiority Complex. Then, Shakespeare invented a character called Iago to personify Othello's internal desire. Iago, who had political ambitions, planted a handkerchief belonging to Desdemona on rival Lieutenant Cassio, driving Othello to kill his innocent wife and then himself. Without Iago memorably personifying Othello's desire for superiority, the masterpiece story would not survive the centuries. If you understand the Writer, you understand the Investor.
A protagonist, no matter how strong, needs personal motive to give life to a story.
Triumphs are structured much like tragedies. The difference is that the dying person represents a negative value: In Lord of The Rings, Tolkien needs for the innocent Frodo to murder the corrupt Gollum. How does good murder evil? Tolkien gives both of them The Ring of Power. When The Ring is found in the bottom of the lake, The Pivotal Event occurs, and drives the conflict. Evil comes with innate desire, personified by the Ring. In the end, the Evil Half-ling manifests as Gollum standing on the edge of Mount Doom. He breaks off Frodo's finger and destroys itself by falling into the lava. Frodo doesn't actually have to give up his innocence. The Pivotal Character behind the pain point, The Ring, kills Gollum. If you understand the Antagonist's role in shaping the Protagonist from nothing but a Half-ling, you understand Startups.
The Pivotal Force in dramatic literature reveals itself as The Pain Point in entrepreneurship. Imagine two competing startups, fighting to death for the same market. Startup 1 has observed the market's problem by analysis, while Startup 2 desires the end of a personal pain.
Within months of working on the solution, the two startups usurp the disconnected pool of friends and family as users. The enthusiasm wears off. They move into the dark belly of the early-adopter market, in a head-to-head conflict for oxygen.
Fighting over a market often takes not days, but years. And there is often only one winner, where the other is killed.
Now imagine having to work for 2-4 years, 80 hours a week, without pay, with nobody's faith but your own and the combined might of the entire world in the nay-sayer camp, just to solve somebody else's anecdotal problem observed years ago! The startup seduced by financial desires has nothing to live for in the trough of sorrow. Its founders and un-savvy investors walk away, because losing money seems to them an irrational way of building a for-profit business. The irrational startup guided by its own pain point emerges as the monopoly; the only half-ling standing on mount-doom.
What happened between Frodo and Gollum was never a battle over The Ring, but a war of values. A startup’s motive comes not from profit, but from pain. The thankless hours become days, months and years. The planner suffering the wrong desire will in the labyrinth of a dark ocean lose his path, and therein, sink his vessel; just like Gollum when he finally found his precious, The Ring, and therein, lost his 500 year-long purpose.
Amin Ariana is a software entrepreneur in San Francisco.
Readers shared their thoughts on this essay:
Ky Trang Ho
Great post as usual. Thank you for sharing your genius with the world.
I think the current world has somewhat reached the startup saturation point. There are no revolutionary ideas being implemented. Rather we are having variations of same old ideas existing in the market.
Startups today are all part of same rat race fighting to conquer the market. They may control the market now but they are all going to dry out in the long run. That's what I think, what's say Amin
I disagree -- for as long as there are problems, there will be opportunities to fix them. @Ritesh, Are you saying there aren't any problems left in the world?
Amin, I want to believe what you are saying is true, but my own experience (as a builder and a consumer) suggests what Ritesh is saying is closer to reality. There are just so many startups (some of which actually get a lot of funding) but are pure rubbish. Whenever I stumble upon another Pinterest, Groupon, or Instagram clone I just want to puke.
Stories are not that different either. So many times I have watched a new TV Drama or Movie where I just guessed the ending based on the similarities with another Movie or TV Series (or even worse, by remember an older episode of the same series). I blame us, the consumers for lowering the bar and letting the producers get away with creating rubbish.
I watch TV Crime Dramas because I like solving puzzles; but now, especially when I watch shows produced in the 2000s, instead of wasting my time trying to solve the trivial criminal cases, I try to figure out the dynamics of keeping the show on air, and with some success, I predict who will be killed or be sent to another precinct (booted out of the show), or which suspect is the murderer based on the actors' fame.
What you're describing as "rubbish" is a bad solution. What I'm arguing is that they're all copying each other's analogs to solve the same "pain point": communication. That's why they're adopted by the masses. And we'll continue to see more of these until there's enough choice to allow for selection. Then the rubbish will die. Speaking of which, I no longer check Facebook daily :)
Thanks Ritesh. Saying the startup world is saturated is like saying there's very little point in writing new stories, because Shakespeare wrote all the best ones. Every story is the repetition of the premise of old stories, but with new characters. Do you like the Netflix series "House of Cards"? It's an incredible success. But look up Shakespeare's "Richard III" plot to see it implemented perfectly in the past. The plot is the same, but the characters are new. Startups work the same way; they're new writers, applying new technological characters to old business model story premises. Innovation is by definition the response of an aching humanity to the saturation of bland ideas.
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