Ev Williams is the co-founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium. His formula for starting million-dollar businesses comes down to one simple statement. “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time,” Williams says. “Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
Let’s reframe it Williams’ statement in the form of one two-part question: What do people want, and how can you make it easier for them to get it? If you can answer that question, you could be on your way to becoming a millionaire. It’s a question that every entrepreneur has to answer.
What Do People Want?
Schools of business are great for teaching us about business operations and what makes businesses successful, but starting a business from scratch or inventing a product requires a different set of skills. It’s about more than creating a great company or patenting the next shiny object. You have to figure out what motivates your customers to purchase new things.
Twitter has a one-sentence tagline on its “About” page: “Twitter helps you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” When they created Twitter, Williams and his co-founders capitalized on a human desire that is very, very old. Think about it: People have wanted to make things and communicate ideas for tens of thousands of years. Communicating is more ancient than the Web or email or the postal service. It’s why we invented spoken and written language when we were still living in caves.
Twitter’s founders created a platform that made it easier to form connections around communicating ideas:
- Creating ideas. With only 140 characters at your disposal, you have to express your ideas in a concise, direct way. The boundary makes you boil your ideas down to their most profound elements and helps you focus your thoughts.
- Sharing them. Twitter lets you follow interesting people who share great ideas. Thanks to hashtags, you can also identify great ideas that aren’t necessarily associated with recognized people, and you can share your ideas and get them in front of a bigger audience.
- Without barriers. Tweets are public, without exception. What you share, others will see. Twitter users in remote corners of the world, with few avenues for communication, can share their experiences, put a spotlight on injustice, and even bring down dictators.
Your turn: If you have an idea for a product or service, think less about its features for a moment and ask yourself whether it addresses an old and lingering human desire. Do you want to open a bakery? You’re appealing to the human desire for pleasure, which we often satisfy through eating. You’re also creating a place where people can gather together, fulfilling another old and powerful desire.
How Can You Make It Easier to Get What They Want?
The best inventions and businesses figure out ways to shorten the distance between people and their desires. Suppose you wanted to share something — an idea, an article that you’d read, an image, a video, a Vine, etc. — and you wanted your friends or contacts to see it immediately.
People living at the time that Benjamin Franklin published “Poor Richard” had to write out their ideas or draw their images, set them using a printing press, print the pages, stitch them or bind them, and distribute them either by hand or through the post.
Fast forward nearly 400 years to the present day. When Twitter came online, we’d already shortened sharing using inventions like telephones, fax machines, and text messaging. However, Twitter didn’t just shorten the distance between having an idea and sharing it. Twitter made it possible to send ideas around the world with the click or tap of a button.
Your turn: How does your product or service make it easier for people to accomplish their desire? How does your invention make it easier, faster, or more cost-effective for them?
Give People What They Want
Creating a great product, boiled down to its essence, is about making it easier for people to get what they want. If you keep the answer to Ev Williams’ million-dollar question in your sights as you build your business, you might do more than make big money; you might just change the world.