Fall in love with the problem, not the product

Over the past week, I've met some teams at various pitch and networking events where my first reaction was, "Whoa, back the truck up... Why are you doing that in the first place? Why that problem? Isn't that too small/saturated/done already/a total death march/etc.?"

It's as if I told you that, because of RA Dickey, I've decided to quit my job as a VC and that I'm just going to practice throwing a knuckleball everyday for the next year in an effort to make the major leagues.

Is it possible that after a year's worth of daily practice, I could do it? Yes. It's theoretically possible, I suppose.

But that also neglects the fact that RA Dickey had been a professional athlete for years and years before he ever tried throwing that crazy pitch the first time. Day one, he has a certain level of coordination, control, mental toughness, etc that I'm not starting with. He can make subtle delivery adjustments that I wouldn't be conscious of.  He's starting from a place that enables insights that others would take years to achieve.

RA Dickey, at the end of the day, just wanted to figure out how to get batters out--and more basically, had a drive to be a competitive athlete.  He fell in love with competing and overcoming obstacles.  He didn't intend or desire to be a knuckleballer. It was just a means to an end.

Same goes for Steve Greenwood, who just launched Brewster.  When he first decided to build this app, we had a long conversation about the connections in our lives.  He kept a spreadsheet on everyone he knew and how.

He had fallen in love with the problem.

Steve and I could talk about contact management on a level that someone just getting into the space couldn't.  It's just a different ballgame.  He didn't start that spreadsheet because he wanted to build an app.  He built an app as the most optimal solution to a problem he was trying to solve.  Means to an end.

Dennis Crowley and Foursquare?  Means to an end of making the world around him more accessible.  The check-in is a means to an end.

I think the problem with the venture environment now is that we're making it really easy to make things and to get started, but totally neglecting how you get into the guts of a problem.  We're teaching everyone to code without really building the skills you need to obsess over something to use code to fix.  We don't do a good job of transferring knowledge about the biggest problems to the people most likely to not rest until they're solved.

I want to meet people obsessed with problems, not products.  Let's talk about how to solve them with a product and focus less on products in search of a problem.