My only interests are building startups. I’m not interested in sports, video games, instruments. All I do is go to the gym casually and work on startup ideas. So how do I find problems that everyone else is missing if I have nothing I’m particularly knowledgeable about?
Housing prices have soared in many markets across the United States over the past decades as populations have grown, square footage has increased, and new unit construction has languished. Houses that were once tens of thousands of dollars have transformed due to zoning restrictions into million-dollar manses, leaving millions without affordable housing.
Few regions have been as hard hit by housing prices as the Bay Area, where the median price for an existing home last year averaged just shy of $ 1 million. For John Geary, who grew up in Cupertino and whose father is a single-family home real estate developer, “I’ve seen the just under-building of housing occur my entire life here.”
He eventually linked up with Eric McInerney when the two worked at Bain, and the two quickly became friends, living together in Chicago. Both were housing nerds and talked about the housing crisis regularly, and eventually, they started looking at a way to solve the affordability problem.
While California has handled the crisis with the glacial fervor you would expect of the republic, one major change on housing has been new state laws that have made it easier to build an ADU (accessory dwelling unit), which are smaller home units tucked into existing properties (for example, a one-bedroom detached home in the backyard of an existing four-bedroom house).
The changes around these housing units became more visceral for Geary when his father, who was developing a subdivision in San Juan Bautista south of San Jose, was mandated to include 15 ADUs in a neighborhood plan for 45 lots. There weren’t great options for including the housing units at any reasonable price, and other homeowners who had attempted to construct ADUs came to a similar conclusion — indicating a gap in the market that could potentially be filled.
Geary and McInerney saw an opportunity to capitalize on the sudden openness for ADUs in California, and launched Abodu. The startup, which is based in Redwood City in the Bay Area, offers three customizable housing models that it then manufacturers to order and can deliver to homeowners in as little as about 12 weeks.
The startup raised $ 3.5 million for a seed round led by former TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, who is now a partner at Initialized Capital. Her famous “vomiting anarchists” essay helped to propel housing issues to public consciousness in the Bay Area and throughout the tech industry.
Abodu offers three housing models today: a studio, a one-bedroom, and a two-bedroom, with prices starting at $ 189,000, $ 199,000 and $ 259,000 respectively. Those prices include standard installation, foundations, and utilities, but exclude city permit fees, which Geary says can range from $ 1,500 to $ 7,000. Additional, more premium options and finishes are available as well. Homeowners can buy the units online or visit the units in-person at the company’s showroom in Redwood City.
“They’re built entirely offsite to local building codes. So the same construction process, same materials, same requirements that you face building something in your backyard from the ground up. We meet all those, we just build them in a factory instead of someone’s backyard,” Geary explained.
From there, the house is put on a truck, driven to the destination, and a crane lifts the unit over the existing house on the property and places it into the intended location.
Currently, it takes about 10 weeks to construct the unit in the factory, and 10 days to setup a backyard to host the unit. So as the unit starts to reach the finishing steps at the factory, construction crews begin to prep the property for installation. “From a homeowner’s perspective, the disruption that occurs in their life is really centered in that back quadrant of the project. So instead of months and months and months [with traditional construction], it’s only two weeks,” Geary explained.
Customers can work with Abodu to acquire standard home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or cash-out mortgage refinancing to pay for their unit.
The company currently has 10 employees and shares its office in the same facility as its showroom in Redwood City.
Geary says that when the company first started, the focus was on homeowner-investors looking to extract rents from their backyards. But with the pandemic, there is now a greater need for families to have more flexible housing options, with kids returning home and older family members looking to separate from others to prevent infection.
I'm looking to find problems that can be solved with tech in traditionally low-tech industries and was curious if anyone has pointers where to look?
I have experience in building startups and in XR, Drones, small robotics, and IoT, however, I'm in the uncommon circumstance of having the technical and business background but lacking a problem worth solving.
So far the things I've come up with have all already been done, and done well. Here are a few examples of the types of issues I'm looking to solve (these all already exist).
- Using XR to enable firefighters to "see" in smoke filled rooms.
- Using drones with thermal to find lost pets after disasters.
- Using drones for controlled burns (firefighting).
- Using drones to inspect tunnels, railroads, bridges, tight spaces, and other infrastructure.
Problem solving is a full-time task in business. Whether you own the business, or have only a small role in daily operations, making decisions and solving problems is a key part of your job. The most effective people, and the happiest ones, are the ones who accept this reality, and even relish the challenges of overcoming the unknowns, rather than struggling and stressing with each.
If this doesn’t come naturally for you today, I assure you that it can be learned. In my own business career, many years as a business advisor, and mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I have validated the following strategies to practice and guide you. Each of these will help you in achieving success and satisfaction while tackling your toughest business issues:
Stop attacking symptoms – dig first for the root cause. A broken process or a subtle quality issue can generate a flood of customer satisfaction problems, cost overruns, and loss of market share. The right first step for every issue is the old “ask why three times” strategy to get to the root of the problem. Don’t waste time fixing symptoms.
Jeff Bezos is a huge proponent of root cause analysis, and believes it is what sets Amazon apart. Way back in 2004, he cared enough about an associate’s injury to spend time investigating, and used the exercise to isolate a root cause without blaming anyone.
Search for the multiple dimensions of a problem. Don’t oversimplify – most issues have a scope greater than one dimension. For example, your quality problem may well have both design as well as manufacturing elements. Fixing only one of these will only lead to more frustration. A better definition of a problem always leads to a better solution.
This same principle can also be applied to solving problems that are new opportunities. Elon Musk often talks about identifying all the dimensions of a problem, such as lower cost battery technology, as the key to moving the electric vehicle industry ahead.
Build and evaluate a list of alternative solutions. We are all prone to running with the initial solution that comes to mind, rather than comparing several to produce the best outcome. On tough issues, I recommend the use of brainstorming with colleagues, to expand your efforts, and develop a half-dozen alternatives. Then pick the best one.
Of course, this all has to start with you having the confidence and conviction that there is at least one solution to every problem, and that you can find it. Without this mindset, and the determination to make a decision, nothing happens, and customers find alternatives.
Build motivation through rewards and incentives. Team members, including yourself, who are not engaged or determined will ignore problems, or will give up too soon. All you will hear are excuses, or you won’t hear about the problem until it’s a crisis. Build that momentum by rewarding every team member for small successes and early surfacing.
Hold the right people accountable for delivering results. Ultimately, every problem and every issue needs a decision and a solution, not more study. It’s your job as a business leader to accept and assign responsibility, and then track the process to completion. The most damaging issues are the ones that never seem to get resolved.
Measure results to validate fixes and prevent recurrence. The positive impact of recognizing problems in a business is the clear indication that something more needs to be measured. Make sure that you implement a metric with each solution, to prevent the issue from recurring, and check for side effects and follow-on side effects.
Provide training and tools to upgrade solution skills. As the market and technology changes, you and your team need to learn new skills, and how to use new tools. Even the best business professionals and leaders must concentrate on learning something new each day, through mentors, Internet resources, and studying competitors.
If you are looking for more satisfaction from your work, or seeking to advance your career, then more focus on problem solving, utilizing the strategies outlined here, will definitely pay big dividends. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, then adopting these strategies is critical to surviving and thriving in the uncharted world of startups. Put the fun back into your work.
*** First published on Inc.com on 08/26/2020 ***
The high-cost short term (HCST) lending industry has come under much scrutiny within recent years, as many have found to charge interest rates exceeding 1,000 percent. In response to these unmanageable rates, there have been major regulatory crackdowns to help restrict these infamous lending giants.
In the U.K., for example, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have encouraged borrowers from these notorious lending giants to make claims on any loans they felt they were mis-sold. This included any loans that did not follow adequate eligibility and affordability checks, which led to financial debt.
The result on lending giants were fines in the millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions, falling into administration as a consequence.
While some of the most infamous of these lenders have now fallen, the demand for short-term finance remains substantial. In attempting to tackle this demand for finance a better way, both U.K.- and U.S.-based companies are offering salary finance products, helping those in need of finance to access funds via their salary before payday.
Salary Finance, for example, is just one of these payday alternatives for workers. The company is able to offer workers a salary advance, a loan (considerably low-cost), or the chance to save via the employer’s payroll.
The amount of pay that can be accessed by employees, as well as how frequently they can access it, is decided by employers. Employees accessing these advances will be required to pay a small fee, however, it’s significantly lower than that charged by notorious payday lenders.
Research by Salary Finance found that 48 percent of workers in the U.S. suffered from impaired finances. While financial problems are often stigmatized, Salary Finance are working with companies throughout the country to help change this, launching its core loan product in June of 2018, and hoping to launch similar products in the U.K.
In the U.K., a number of startups have launched as a response to demand for short-term lending in a fairer, more manageable way.
Fund Ourselves is a fintech company based in London, offering peer-to-peer (P2P) lending opportunities. Through the platform, borrowers can take out short-term loans for up to three months, with no early repayment charges, and a maximum interest charged of 0.8 percent a day. Additionally, if borrowers are struggling financially, an interest-free extension can be added to the loan (maximum 12 months), to help borrowers get back on their feet.
As a P2P platform, Fund Ourselves also offers people the opportunity to invest their money via lending to borrowers on the platform, returns of 5 percent to 15 percent per annum available.
Nadeem Siam, founder and CEO of Fund Ourselves, said he wants people to leave in a better financial position than when they started, and not worse off:
“We are totally committed to providing smarter and simpler ways to deliver financial services, helping individuals to borrow or invest in a self-serving marketplace that is easy and safe to use,” Siam said. “We believe we can empower people by disrupting the status quo with our fintech products and change the way people go about their financial lives.”
The post This Startup’s Innovative Platform Can Help Solve Your Finance Problems appeared first on StartupNation.
What separates great leaders from disastrous ones? Depending on the offending habit, you’ll find there isn’t just one answer to that question. In most cases, employees will list mistakes like failing to set goals, bullying others, trying to do everything on their own, and resisting change — and even being unkind. But, effective leaders are known to solve problems.
Do they look for a quick fix? Do they pass the buck? Or, do they pretend that they were unaware of the problem in the first place? No — that’s not an effective leader. Instead, they tackle problems head-on and exhibit the following characteristics.
1. Is this my problem?
“The first thing I do,” former USC president Steven Sample told Bill Hybels at the 2004 Global Leadership Summit, “is to figure out if this is really my problem!” It’s a simple question to ask. But, it will definitely help you determine whether you can really solve a problem or not.
Think of it this way. You and your team are hard at work when suddenly the power goes out. The cause? A traffic accident that knocked out a transformer. You might call the electric company and still get some offline work done. However, you personally can’t resolve this issue since it’s completely out of your hands.
2. Asks lots of questions.
“Problems are often rooted in miscommunication,” writes Peter Gasca in a previous Entrepreneur article. “Before you jump all over an issue, ask questions — many of them — and determine if you simply may have misunderstood the problem at hand.”
As an added perk, by “asking the right questions of the right people, and examining a problem objectively, there is a very good chance that the issue you have identified is more a symptom of a much more significant problem,” adds Gasca. “Dig deep and find the root problem first, then begin making a list of actions you can take to resolve it.”
Whatsmore, this strategy can give you a chance to determine the scope of the problem. As a result, this will help you allocate the appropriate time and resources to it.
3. Communicate transparently.
“Problem-solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed,” explains Glenn Llopis, author of “Leadership in the Age of Personalization.” From his experience, Lupus has witnessed “how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.”
Because “communication is a fundamental necessity,” it’s vital that those involved feel comfortable expressing themselves. “Effective communication towards problem-solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions,” states Llopis.
“Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader (with his/her team) can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution,” he adds. “As fundamental as communication may sound, don’t ever assume that people are comfortable sharing what they really think.” To counter this, trust your instincts and challenge your team to develop innovative and effective solutions.
Additionally, make sure that you break down silos. And, that you are always open-minded to the feedback and suggestions you receive.
4. Don’t point fingers.
“When we assign blame we are pointing the finger to who or what is responsible for a fault or for a wrong doing. We are trying to make others accountable. Blaming does not solve a problem it usually only makes people defensive.” — Catherine Pulsifer
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Bad leaders focus on blaming others. Instead, they should lead by example and own their mistakes. But, what if you aren’t responsible for the mishap? Well, use this a teachable moment. What did they learn? And, what are the solutions to fix the problem?
In short, take accountability for your actions. Encourage this trait among your team. And, as opposed to playing the blame game, work on solutions.
5. Focus on the big picture.
Here’s a reality check for you. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the time, energy, and possibly resources to solve everything. The answer? Stop obsessing over the small things.
That doesn’t mean you should sweep these minor inconveniences under the rug. After all, they could grow into something much larger down the road — like a gnarly, unmanageable dust bunny. Instead, take a moment to think about how the situation is going to affect you and your business in the long-term.
Think of this way, you notice that there’s a tiny leak in your roof. Right now, it’s not that big of a deal. But, if left unattended, it could do serious damage to your building, equipment, and even the health of you and your team. Because of this, it should be addressed sooner than later.
As a general rule of thumb, use the 80/20 rule when solving problems. In this case, you would resolve the 20% of the issues leading to 80% of your problems. Don’t get too hung up on the exact figures here. The idea is to put out the fires that are causing the most destruction.
6. Rest, sleep, and leverage data.
“Throughout life, there are times when you must take immediate action,” writes Deanna Ritchie, Editor-in-Chief at Calendar. “For example, your child picked up a small item, which presents an obvious choking hazard, and it’s heading right towards their mouth. Or, your business just experienced a cyberattack, and all of the sensitive data you have stored is in jeopardy.”
“During times like these, you don’t have time to think,” adds Deanna. “You need to act.”
“However, with most of the decisions you must make, you usually have some time to mull things over a bit,” Deanna says. “And — thinking — is often in your best interest.” The reason? Because you’re well-rested, you have a clear head to make the best decision possible.
Furthermore, this gives you time to gather and analyze data. For instance, you could turn to analytics to help you solve your team’s time management problems or pinpoint inefficiencies in business processes. Armed with this information, you can make more informed decisions that are backed by facts.
7. Be preemptive.
“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” — Sun Tzu
I love that quote. It’s a simple way to describe the importance of being preemptive. But, what exactly does that have to do with solving problems?
I’ve already alluded to this, but it’s all about fixing something before it breaks. For instance, you could purchase all new computers for your team every couple of years before they breakdown.
I know. That seems like a lot of work. But, if you’re constantly exploring, keeping up with the latest trends, and paying attention to early warning signs, then you’ve can succeed in making preemptive changes.
8. Find the right talent and let them grow.
“Leadership becomes an intermittent activity as people with enthusiasm and expertise step up as needed, and readily step aside when, based on the needs of the project, another team member’s strengths are more central,” writes Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen in HBR. “Rather than being pure generalists, leaders pursue their own deep expertise, while gaining enough familiarity with other knowledge realms to make the necessary connections.”
“No one assumes that the life of a team, or even an organization, will be prolonged for its own sake,” state Ancona and Gregersen. “They expect to be involved in a series of initiatives with contributors fluidly assembling and disassembling.”
As such, knowing how to assemble the right team is a key leadership talent. “To tackle a problem, they need to find the right talent and to convince others that their project offers the chance to be part of a breakthrough,” they explain.
With your team in place, you also need to empower them. The easiest way? Grating them autonomy to solve problems how they want. If it backfires, don’t be hard on them. As mentioned above, let them learn from the experience and figure out what went wrong.