Buzzwords, Bandwagons, and Business Ideas

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s a common piece of advice that you’ll receive from a lot of people. From that, many of us have extrapolated another nugget of wisdom. If something has worked out well for one person, it’s not a bad idea to emulate that person in hopes of achieving similar results. Intellectually, most of us understand this can’t actually be true. If it was, we’d all be following precisely in the footsteps of people like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

We can glean remarkable lessons from their experience and expertise, to be sure, but we have to learn how to carve our own way. If you want to be successful in business, regardless of the type of business, you need to bring something new to the table. Or, at the very least, you need to do it better. Indeed, that’s a nugget of advice that Instagram co-founder Kevin Nystrom shared in an interview with Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame.

[The] number one advice I always give is to solve a problem. So many people when you found a company found a company just to found a company.

Or I want to quit my day job and become my own boss, simply because I want to say that I’m my own boss. It’s fine that you have that kind of ambition or goal in mind, but it’s not nearly enough on its own. You need a reason. And that reason can start with an idea, but even an idea is not enough either.

Nystrom continues:

They’re like, “I’ve got an idea.” Ideas are not companies. Ideas are not products. Like you’re like, “Well, I’m gonna combine this thing with this trend and we’re going to do this. It’s a cool idea. And usually the warning signs are that [it] includes some element of a current fad, like AI or something. Not that AI is a fad, but like it’s a wave that’s happening right now that I think it’s easy to make your company sound more interesting if you’re just like, “And it uses AI.” Or like crypto.

I’m sure, in your ongoing journeys through the world of Internet marketing, that you’ve come across a number of new businesses that boast how they’re changing the game by leveraging artificial intelligence or crypto and the blockchain in some “new” and “innovative” way. And this isn’t to discount the potential value or power that AI or crypto can have, but if your only selling point is that you’re going to do an existing thing, but with some AI or crypto thrown into the mix, that’s not enough.

Those are just buzzwords. You’re just jumping on bandwagons, because that’s just what happens to be hot at the moment. It’s not enough. At the end of the day, as Kevin Nystrom asserts, you still need to actually solve a problem. You still need to provide real value and make lives better in some meaningful way.

I always say make sure you’re actually solving a problem.

The interesting story about Instagram is that, in its early days, it was very much a “copycat” kind of app that didn’t solve any new problems. It started out as a “check-in” app in the same way as Gowalla and Foursquare. You “check in” at a location. What Nystrom and the team learned, though, is that the app was too complicated and not unique enough. What they also found is that users were much, much more interested in sharing the pictures at each location than the actual check-in social network itself.

To create Instagram, they didn’t add more features; they took them away. In effect, they stripped away everything in the app aside from the picture sharing and that’s how Instagram was really born. They solved a problem, because a mobile first, photo-centric app like that didn’t exist at the time… and people really wanted to share pictures. Filters came later, Android support came later, IGTV came later… but in the beginning, they had to solve for a problem and do it in a way that no one else was.

Forget about buzzwords and bandwagons. Learn from the best, sure, but you’ve got to solve a problem and solve it in a way that’s unique to you. That’s how you find success.