Conventional wisdom tells tech entrepreneurs to solve problems they face in their own lives. It’s good advice—some of today’s best-known companies were built on this premise. These companies solve problems many of us are intimately familiar with wanting more food delivery options, wanting to keep in touch with friends and wanting to have better places to stay when we travel.
But what about problems in “unsexy” industries that most tech entrepreneurs don’t understand well? How do we avoid them being left behind by tech?
The Crisis Faced By Tech-Starved Industries
Some of the biggest problems impacting our daily lives stem from tech-starved industries.
Take construction, for example. Nearly 7.8 million people work in construction in the U.S. They build projects—hospitals, schools, infrastructure, housing—that are critical for our communities to flourish. Yet, while we all feel the pain of our cities growing increasingly unaffordable with home prices experiencing the largest yearly increase in over 35 years, too few tech entrepreneurs understand why these problems happen. As a result, too few solutions get built to solve them.
Last year, with materials prices soaring, the Biden administration passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill pouring billions into upgrading our outdated infrastructure. To meet the demand for labor, Associated Builders and Contractors estimates that nearly 650,000 additional construction workers are needed.
In the face of an ongoing labor shortage, it is crucial to building tech that empowers construction workers. Giving them control over their processes to help them build better and faster is one crucial way to do this.
Tech-starved industries like this are all around us. Businesses across the country working on everything from trucking to food processing often still rely on manual and outdated processes that are too error-prone to slow down.
Starting As An Outsider
The great news is you don’t need to have spent decades in an industry to help make it better. In fact, starting as an industry outsider is, in many ways, a strength.
Starting as an outsider forces you to think from first principles to solve problems. It also means you can approach an industry with no preconceived notions or biases, listen to your customers, and invent new ways to work.
As a firsthand example, when we started our company, we showed up at job sites with donuts to get people to talk to us. We spent six months speaking to hundreds of people, learning about their days and ceaselessly asking questions. It was the best thing we could have done because it allowed us to truly understand the most important problems, we needed to solve to achieve our goal of making it faster, easier and more sustainable to build the world around us.
Build iteratively and surround yourself with insiders.
When building a company, one metric matters above all: your customers’ success. The faster you get your product into their hands, the faster you’ll learn how to make it work better for them. The more feedback you ask for, the faster you can make your iteration cycles.
A challenging part of solving problems in a tech-starved industry is you might discover that your customers aren’t as easy to find online as you expect. That means you have to go to where they are: join trade organizations and attend conventions, conferences and local chapter events. Bring on advisors from the industry, and work with the consultants and service providers that know your customers well.
Finally, remember that a lot of the data you’re gathering is extremely helpful to share with your industry. Create educational content and help people share best practices.
Design an incredible customer experience.
Tech-starved industries are often accustomed to expensive, generic solutions that take years to implement. These generic solutions don’t come with dedicated customer success managers nor leverage the most up-to-date technologies. Use that to your advantage: You have a unique opportunity to bring a transformative level of customer service to your industry.
Change your customers’ lives.
Following these steps increases your chances of building something truly game-changing for a tech-starved industry and changing your customers’ lives. If you do, your customers will become your greatest champions and drive you to continue to innovate and reimagine what’s possible.
To anyone thinking of starting a tech company, you have an incredible opportunity to reinvent how some of the world’s largest and most important industries work. Seize it. Look beyond everyday problems and trendy buzzwords and study industries other tech entrepreneurs aren’t paying attention to. Step into the shoes of your future customers. Make them a priority. Improving our world and the communities we live in depends on it.