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Haircuts, Pie & Cupcakes

I’m repeatedly reminded that to have a successful startup, you must meet and fill an essential need. Although, if you ask me, plenty of startups do quite well, not filling an essential need at all.

For example, think of pie. I mean, no one NEEDS pie. People can live without pie. But I’ll bet you that plenty of startups are doing very well with pie.

Recently there was an episode of Shark Tank where the sharks invested in a company that sold cupcakes. In a jar. Great idea, right? But we don’t need cupcakes, either. Pie, cupcakes, pretty much all dessert is not a mandatory food item. But people love and want them.

I’d argue, in tough times, wants sometimes outstrip needs. Sometimes that piece of pie or cupcake becomes a need, a mental need, a comfort to make one feel slightly better, even though buying a $6 cupcake won’t help the problem if it’s financial.

My Dad used to say, “Son, you should become a barber, everyone needs their hair cut”. This is true, of course; everyone does need a haircut every now and then. But we also need other things (I’d say, more than a haircut): food, sleep, shelter, to find a mate, to procreate, to stay healthy. So, supposedly, if your startup addresses a primal need, it will succeed.

Look at the successful Internet businesses of today, and throw some startups in there. Can you identify the specific need that they are addressing? With some, you can, but aren’t they addressing an even more basic need for the rest?

  • The Need To Communicate: X/Twitter, FaceBook, Tiktok
  • The Need To Know Stuff: Google and all of its content
  • The Need To Get Stuff: Amazon, eBay, and every other eCommerce site

If your startup doesn’t address a need, does it address a want? And if it is a want, is it a compelling enough want? If it does neither, you need to pivot. Maybe your startup addresses a need in your mind. Maybe your startup addresses too small a market? Maybe your startup addresses a market with too little value.

If your startup isn’t helping your customers cut their hair and/or eat cupcakes, what IS it doing?

(Next business idea: salon which serves cupcakes. BTW, this post made me hungry for some reason)

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