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Founders Co-op General Partner Chris DeVore speaks at Tuesday’s Hacker News Meetup.

When Chris DeVore first meets with entrepreneurs looking for funding, the Founder’s Co-op general partner doesn’t want to hear about products being built or services provided.

First and foremost, he wants to hear about problems — those that exist, and those that can be solved.

“A lot of people, particularly first-time entrepreneurs, kind of want to scratch their own itch,” DeVore said. “They have a vision for a product and they want to see it in the world. They are their own customer.”

DeVore, speaking at a Hacker News Meetup at the new WeWork space in Seattle, is a big believer in using technology to solve real problems. He gets excited when entrepreneurs move away from that “itch,” and begin thinking about problems in the world that technology and entrepreneurial energy can solve.

It’s similar to a novelist writing his or her first book, he explained.

Photo via RootStartup
Photo via RootStartup

“Their first novel is about their life, because that’s their expression of being a novelist,” DeVore said. “Only then do they move on to more interesting and more complex stories.”

DeVore said that many entrepreneurs realize this after their first startup experience  — by that time, they’ve found out that in order to start employing people and raising money, one must first discover and create value.

“That’s what feeds you into more productive vectors as an entrepreneur,” he said.

DeVore noted that there is still a plethora of problems that software can solve — especially for older businesses that aren’t necessarily technology-focused.

“Introducing technology in simple ways can unlock huge value for those businesses and I feel like 98 percent of the global economy hasn’t yet been visited by the power of software technology,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that gets me excited.”

But how does an entrepreneur go about figuring out which problems to tackle? DeVore said that those who have already worked in an industry often are best at creating solutions to issues they’ve dealt with first-hand. But for hopeful founders who may not have experience in a given space, there are other ways to come up with the next great idea.

Photo via Kevin Lisota
Photo via Kevin Lisota

“You’ve just got to start talking to people,” DeVore said. “I had to push myself to do this, and I think a lot of technologists are the same way because they want to think their way through the problem. But the best way to uncover a problem is to go talk to people. The more you bear down on that, the more you’ll start to see patterns.”

DeVore also spent a few minutes riffing on a question asked in regard to the Seattle vs. Silicon Valley comparison. He referenced several points made in his column about the topic published on GeekWire this past December, in which he argues that Seattle is creating a unique culture of innovation and entrepreneurship built around the needs of a broader society — not just about making the most money.

“For my personal values, I think there’s incredibly bright people here who are doing incredibly valuable work — but in a way that’s more sustainable and more concerned with the role they play in the world and their culture,” DeVore said about how Seattle and the Bay Area differ as startup cities.

You can read more about DeVore’s thoughts on that topic here.

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Comments

  • http://crashdev.blogspot.com Chris DeVore

    Great job capturing my comments on the fly, Taylor — it’s easy to be misunderstood when speaking off the cuff but you really captured the spirit of what I was trying today in this one — well done and thanks.

    • Taylor Soper

      Thanks, Chris. That was a good discussion last night.

  • lisafernow

    I’m pleased to see this topic addressed, and agree completely with Chris’ comments. It’s not what you’re selling – products and features; it’s what your potential customers are buying – benefits and problems solved. Of course, taking a customer-centric approach requires that entrepreneurs think carefully about what customer segments to target, and in what order, because that decision informs everything from product design to pricing and distribution to marketing. And when you start listening to potential customers, it’s important to make sure you’re listening to the right ones, because most won’t be able to articulate what they want and will pay for. How to do all of this well is a whole other topic.

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