Entrepreneurs think that they have to make a huge company that changes the world.
It's really enticing to think about disrupting an industry and creating something that's used by millions and millions of people. Can you make a better Yelp? A better Facebook? A better Craigslist? Probably, but the odds of anyone caring about it are very low.
I used to have this same mindset. Before Roompact, I tried to create several companies that shot for the moon by trying to address a huge market. Each time, I failed and was left with nothing. After doing this for about a year, I was at the end of my rope. I was depressed and facing the reality of getting a real job. And as a programmer in a real job, there's a good chance no one will use or care about the software you build. It's the exact opposite end of the spectrum of changing the world.
My Dad took me aside and had a difficult conversation with me. I only remember one part of that conversation. He said:
Look. You keep trying to make software that can be used by everyone in the world. But think of all the smaller industries that don't have good software. There are tons of them. All you have to do is build great software for a niche industry like that and you'll have a successful business.
Sure enough, he was absolutely correct. I started thinking about industries that really interested me. At the same time, I was having roommate issues. I started talking with some folks in the field of Student Affairs and fell in love with the industry. People in Student Affairs are some of the most kind, helpful people I've ever met. I found a place for me. Somewhere I could grow roots and stay for decades to come.
Better yet, I learned about software companies currently in Student Affairs and it seemed like I could help. I found that most software companies:
- Do not prioritize design and ease-of-use
- Use old technologies that are very slow
- Do not make continuous improvements to their software
- Are sometimes hostile towards their own clients
And here's the thing -- millions of people are forced to use software from companies like this every single day! Their job requires it and there's no better option. They're a captive userbase, and they need your help.
There are hundreds of industries like this. If you're a software developer and you want to start a company, this should be your first consideration. You have the opportunity to liberate people from the shackles of bad software. If you build great software and listen to your clients, you will slowly but surely create a sustainable business that helps many, many people.
So don't try to reinvent the wheel. Find an industry that could use your help. I found mine. Becoming part of an industry, developing lifelong relationships, and helping with real issues people face on a daily basis is thrilling. Five years ago, I never would have guessed it, but now I self-identify as a "Student Affairs Professional" just as much as I do a "programmer".