How Solving a Problem can Inspire a Successful Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

I have just read an article, posted this past Wednesday, 26th. February, on the Love Money website, written by Natalie Marchant. It is entitled “Eureka moments that led to world – famous businesses. ”Eureka is a word, commonly used to celebrate a discovery or invention. It is an exclamation attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor. According to history, he reportedly proclaimed "Eureka! Eureka!" after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose. 

This led him to realise that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. He then realized that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem (This revelation is not what is known as Archimedes principle - that deals with the up thrust experienced by a body immersed in a fluid). 

Marchant’s article takes this idea and applies it to the ways in which some people have had such a moment or a need to solve a problem, which has led to some of today’s best known businesses. 

Marchant lists 20, in all, some of which are commonly known e.g. when IKEA's Ingvar Kamprad thought there was a market for a different kind of furniture, Sir Richard Branson was emboldened by the unexpected success of Tubular Bells, Airbnb's Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with a business as a way to pay the rent and Microsoft's Bill Gates was inspired by a new computer to write a programming language. However, Marchant also explains the way in which other successful businesses got their starts. 

I would like to share some of them with you: “Nissin's Momofuku Ando saw a quicker way to make noodles. His name may not be widely known outside Japan but he is credited for helping transform the global instant food industry. The entrepreneur was inspired to make pre-cooked instant noodles after seeing ordinary people queue for a hot bowl of the Japanese staple in post-war Osaka. He went on to found Nissin Food Products, famous for the Cup Noodle. He died 2007 aged 96 – two years after seeing his instant noodles sent into orbit on US space shuttle Discovery.  

World Foods founder John Mackey became inspired by the power of organic eating after dropping out of college and becoming a buyer for a vegetarian co-operative. He and his then-girlfriend Renee Lawson Hardy decided to open their own natural grocery store in the ground floor of a house in Austin, Texas. The pair then teamed up with fellow store owners Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, began selling meat, beer and wine to expand their clientele, and Whole Foods Market became a resounding success.

Sara Blakely, was selling fax machines when she had the idea that prompted her to found shaping underwear firm Spanx. Having bought an expensive pair of white trousers, she wanted a seamless look so she took a pair of tights and chopped the feet off to wear underneath. Realizing that the improvised undergarment flattered and smoothed her shape, Blakely took the $5,000 she had in savings to create a patent and founded Spanx, now a leading underwear brand. 

Not a vast amount is known about the notoriously reclusive chief of UK-based online gambling site Bet365, Denise Coates. What is certain is that her gamble on in-play betting markets changed the face of the bookmaking industry. In 2000, while working for her father, who ran a chain of betting shops, she set up Bet365 after realizing that every minute of play was a possible gambling opportunity. Coates is now worth an estimated $8.1 billion (£6.7bn), according to Forbes. 

Nick Woodman dreamed up the idea of the GoPro camera after a surf trip to Australia and Indonesia in 2001. He needed a camera to document his trip, and strapped one to his arm. But Woodman soon realized that he had to make the camera, its casing and the strap all in one, so knocked up a prototype using his mother's sewing machine and a drill. GoPro is now the world's leading action camera brand, selling 11 million units in 2017 alone.  

Toms CEO Blake Mycoskie founded his shoe business after traveling to Argentina in 2006, where he met a women working with a voluntary group distributing shoes to children. But he realized that this charitable giving model was unsustainable as children soon grew out of them. So he set up Toms and came up with the "One for One" business model, which saw his company donate a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Toms has now given away more than 86 million pairs to children in need worldwide. 

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum was born in Ukraine before moving to the US as a teenager. He went on to work as a computer programmer at Yahoo! with Brian Acton, but the pair left in 2007 and spent the following year traveling. Both were also turned down for jobs by Facebook. But it was in 2009 when Koum bought an iPhone and realized the App Store was about to spawn an entire industry that was the turning point. The pair went on to develop WhatsApp, which they sold for $19 billion (£16bn) to none other than Facebook in 2014.  

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann came up with the idea for the virtual pinboard app while working at Google. But he wanted to build products, not just look at spreadsheets, so he quit – and then the economy collapsed. He eventually teamed up with a college friend and they built catalog app Tote. The pair then move on to building Pinterest, with Silbermann explaining: "I'd always thought that the things you collect say so much about who you are." The app now has more than 322 million monthly active users.” 

If you have an idea that comes to you, out of the blue or is the result of successfully solving a personal problem, don’t be afraid to try turning it into a business. There may be hundreds, if not thousands of people trying to solve that same problem and, not only could you be helping them, but helping yourself to become a successful entrepreneur.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Set Goals, Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Outstanding Results” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality and his film “The Secret Marathon” was released in late 2019. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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