Why you should never scratch your own itch

Please, tell me how many times you’ve been told that in order to start a successful business you should scratch your own itch.

I have to tell you something: it is not true!
Sure, it’s better than nothing, however, if you follow that advice, you risk building something which only one person would be willing to buy. And that’s you.

Don’t narrow down your vision

Scratching your own itch will lead you astray if you are a high-performance consumer whose problem stems from existing products not performing well enough – in other words if the itch results from a performance gap.
Building a company around a better-performing product means competing head-on with a powerful incumbent that has the information, resources, and motivation to kill your business.
When “Scratch Your Own Itch” Is Dangerous Advice for Entrepreneurs by N. Taylor Thompson

While the advice might make a lot of sense, at first, there is a big problem there: you’ll only focus on yourself, on your experience, on your objectives.

But the goal of building a product is to sell it to somebody else, not to yourself (Click to Tweet). So what happens if you spend several months researching and building something to scratch your own itch and when it’s ready you discover nobody really has that itch to be scratched?

If that is your starting point, the risk of focusing solely on something only you would buy is very high. I’d even say it’s a sure thing.
You’ll think since you have that problem, countless others have it, too. So you won’t do your research, you probably won’t even look at what’s available on the market. You won’t listen to feedback or in case you do, you won’t take it into much consideration.

And in the end, you’ll have a product which is custom tailored to your own needs. You’re going to love it and feel it’s the perfect tool for the job. You’ll be opening up the doors and wait for the crowd to come in. Except no one will show up!

Solve their pain, not yours

Pain is a reminder that unless your prospect has a need to solve a problem, they are not going to buy a product. Customers sometimes buy things spontaneously without thinking through what they actually need. But, often, there is an underlying reason for a purchase, even if the buyer doesn’t bring it to the surface.
What if you took a different approach: talking to other people, listening to their experiences, asking for what their pains are, what they wished would be easier, what they are dying to buy?
How to Identify Client Pain Points by Mark Suster

It’s not really that difficult, you ask somebody what they do, then listen. And every now and then, you ask something to make the conversation go deeper. Soon, you’ll be able to spot patterns in what different people are telling you and that’s the idea generation goldmine.

Since you are the one building the product, chances are you won’t be a perfect fit as a customer. But if you talk to people you want to sell to, THEY’ll be a perfect fit.

And once your product is ready and actually solves their pain, they’ll be ready to buy in no time!
That’s, of course, if you did your research well.

But how do I find their pains?

Giving a damn is seriously underrated and caring is a competitive advantage. (Click to Tweet)
Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Fly by Bernadette Jiwa

I know I make it sound easy, but in a way it is.

The process goes something like this:

  1. You pick a niche
  2. You hang around people in that niche
  3. You listen to them and ask the right questions
  4. Find common pains and come up with a solution
  5. Work on your prototype and enroll a few people from your niche to give you their feedback
  6. Work some more
  7. Launch!
  8. Listen to the feedback and start again

This process could be as easily applied online as offline. And you should be able to apply it to mostly any niche as long as you are able to connect with the decision makers in that niche.

Connect offline

If you have the chance to meet with decision makers in your niche, reach out to them. Ask for an in-person meeting or at worst try and schedule a phone call. Make it clear you’re not trying to sell them something, you’re just researching!

Once you meet them, introduce yourself and explain what it is that you’re doing. Then move to asking questions about what it is that THEY are doing. What tools they use, what problems they have and what they wished would be easier.

Just listen and only interrupt if you need their answers to go deeper.

After the meeting, write them a short email letting them know how thankful you are to have met them and ask them if they’d like to hear about your findings in the future.

Do this with as many decision makers as you can, but I’d say the minimum is 5 to 10.

Once you’ve done your interviews, you’re ready to dive into your notes — remember to always take notes, better if pen and paper. Study them, in and out, over and over, until you uncover common patterns and can identify one or two pains which are common in your niche.

Research online

Doing your research online is another great way to uncover common pains in your niche.

The first thing would be to search on websites like Quora and Reddit for keywords and questions relevant to your niche.
You should look for common questions and recurring complaints. Look into the comments and see how the discussions evolved.
Try to gather as many useful pieces of information as possible.

On top of this, most niches will have other gathering places on the Web: it could be forums, popular blogs, newsletters, you name it.
Use Google to unearth them and repeat the process.

Again, look for common pains and don’t worry about the solutions. Just the pains are what we need now.

You’ll soon discover there a lot of people in your niche who need something from you, you just have to put in the time to do your research and find them.


Once you have a few common pains to look into, it’s time to brainstorm possible solutions.

The first thing is relying on your experience. If you have experience in your niche, you may already know how to solve the pains people are having, so put that down.

If you don’t know how to solve them, try doing some more research. Look again at the comments on the discussions you previously found. Maybe other users commented providing possible solutions.

Once you have a basic idea of how to solve a pain, try to elaborate on it, try to come up with ways to make your solution unique and better than what’s currently available on the market.

It’s not something you can do in an afternoon, sure, but after a few days of doing this, you should be able to come up with the perfect pain-solution pair to tackle.

Now get to work

Once you know what you want to build, it’s time to define what you should launch with.

You can think of a product as having a certain number of features. Some are essential for solving a given problem, while others could improve it, but are mostly nice to have.

Think about the product you want to build: what’s the minimum set of features it should have for it to be able to solve the pain you set upon?
That’s what you should focus on at first.

At this point, it would be very easy to get derailed into wanting to cram as many features as you can think of into your product. Try to avoid this or you won’t be able to launch.

While I’m certain we can all agree it’s not possible to deliver a perfect product, so there’s always more polish you could put on it, the aim is not to deliver a perfect product, especially since we all agreed it’s impossible to do (Click to Tweet).

Do this instead: with your minimum set of features in mind, try to make a good estimate of how much time you’d need to complete them.
Now go to LaunchRock and build yourself a landing page for your soon-to-be-released product and put a countdown on it. Then share it with everyone you know and ask them to share it with their friends.

This has two benefits:

  1. It holds you accountable: you put a date on it, so you have to do whatever you can to meet the deadline
  2. You start building your email list

Once you know what it is that you’re going to build and when you have to finish, it’s time for you to start building it.

Get some feedback

After a while, you’ll have a half finished product: not ready to be sold, yet, but ready to be tested at least.

So go back to the places where you first noticed the pain you’re solving and tell people you’re building something to solve their pain. Ask them if they’d be interested in helping you test it, but make it clear that the product is still a work in progress and that you’ll expect them to provide you with some feedback on how to improve it.

In exchange, you can offer them a discount once you launch it.

Feedback should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but at this point it’s important that you have someone from your target niche, someone who is experiencing the pain you’re solving, try your product first hand. Listen to them and if it makes sense and it won’t delay your launch, build their feedback into your product.


You’ll probably never think you’re ready to launch, so just take your initial features set and launch date as the reference for when to launch.

Don’t worry, you can always improve your product later. But at this point, you need to launch, you need to have a direct contact with your potential customers, and you need to make a sale.

Go get yourself some pains!

As you can see, I didn’t go into too much detail in regards to the build-launch phase which will be a matter for another post.

The goal of this post is to get you to shift your focus from yourself to others: to customers.
If you want to build an online business, you need to start by finding the right pain to solve and the only way to find it is by connecting with people in your niche.

You can’t live in your ivory tower and expect to come up with a killer idea (Click to Tweet). You might, but you’d be putting your faith in the hands of luck, which is something I don’t believe in.

You have to make your own luck. (Click to Tweet)

Now, go get some pains and solve them!

Before I close this, I want to leave you with another great quote found in Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Flies by Bernadette Jiwa — if you haven’t read it, yet, do yourself a favour and get it:

The job of every single business on the planet is to do just one thing: to make people happy.
When you find ways to do that, you win.
Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Fly by Bernadette Jiwa

What’s your niche? have you already found a pain to solve? have you got any questions? Please, let me know!

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In my career, I started more than 10 businesses, some where great, others not so much and a couple of them failed hard. At 23 I was nominated by BusinessWeek as one of Europe's Best Young Entrepreneurs. It was and still is a great ride and I want to share everything that I learned with you.

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  • Andrew 2016.02.16 at 22:22

    Interesting article. I really need to do more about researching pain points. But I love how you break it down into easy-to-understand steps. Definitely sharing this post with others.

    Andrew McDonald

  • Kimya Jayne 2016.02.17 at 02:24

    Another great article Michele. Ensuring you product idea is viable is crucial. But getting that product idea through first researching the common pain points in a niche is a sure fire way to success! Thankyou

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