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Mar 24th, 2022 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Solve Gnarly Problems

Fifteen years ago Joel Spolsky, who — among a bunch of other things — is behind Stack Overflow, the de-facto Q&A site for coders all over the world, wrote a blog post “Where there’s muck, there’s brass”. It’s definitely worth reading in full (as is all his other writing) — but the quote truly worth pulling out is this:

The one thing that so many of today’s cute startups have in common is that all they have is a simple little Ruby-on-Rails Ajax site that has no barriers to entry and doesn’t solve any gnarly problems. So many of these companies feel insubstantial and fluffy because, out of necessity (the whole company is three kids and an iguana), they haven’t solved anything difficult yet. Until they do, they won’t be solving problems for people. People pay for solutions to their problems.

Snark aside, he is absolutely, on-the-money, 100% right. People pay for solutions to their problems. Which, if you decode this, you ought to start from there: the problem.

I love browsing through Product Hunt, a website which tracks new (typically) startup products, allows its community to upvote them, ranks them based on these votes and sends you a daily email with the ten most upvoted new products daily. No disrespect, but it is remarkable how many of these products either solve no or a completely benign problem or are copycats of a product which already solved no or a completely benign problem.

See, as Joel points out in his blog post, solving a gnarly problem is actually hard (personally I would argue that if you truly look, for example by spending time doing follow-me-homes, finding one isn’t actually that hard). But, as Joel points out: “The only way to keep growing — as a person and as a company — is to keep expanding the boundaries of what you’re good at.”

Keep growing, my friend — by building what matters! And when the going gets tough (which it will — we label hard things “hard” for a reason), remember that it’s all so very well worth it.

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