The 3 Biggest Challenges That Every Entrepreneur Faces–and How to Solve Them

Pete Ghiorse, Peter Tight, and James Ghiorse have a vision of transforming the way people give back.

Their iOS app, GiveTide, seeks to make charitable giving effortless by letting users link their credit cards, round purchases up to the nearest dollar, and donate the spare change (similar to apps like Givelify and Uback). It may not be a household name yet, but the three co-founders have already done a few things that should serve as be a model for other entrepreneurs.

That’s the sense I got, anyway, after meeting them last January on a Facebook group for East Coast entrepreneurs and hearing their story. Specifically, they did three things that I think every entrepreneur can — and should — do:

1. Solve a personal problem.

“We’re sorry, the minimum monthly gift amount is $25.”

That’s the message Pete Ghiorse received when he tried to set up a $5 monthly donation to his favorite nonprofit.

It shocked him that a nonprofit would actually refuse money, even if it came in small bills. But on further investigation, it turned out to be a problem with the platform, not the nonprofit.

“The fundraising tools and methods nonprofits have at their disposal haven’t changed in decades,” he explains.

This experience was the impetus for GiveTide. He knew he couldn’t be the only one wanting to donate a few dollars at a time, which meant nonprofits were missing out on a significant revenue source.

Often, the “light bulb” moment for an entrepreneur comes from a personal experience. That’s how it’s worked for me: It was only after nearly going bankrupt on a bad deal that my own agency came up with Roadmapping, a product offering that completely turned our business around.

But the light bulb moment isn’t enough. It’s important to solve a problem you understand — and the specifics of that solution shouldn’t come from the founder. Which brings us to…

2. Get answers from customers.

The inspiration for GiveTide came from personal experience, but Ghiorse and his co-founders understood that one light bulb experience does not a company make.

“We did countless hours of research and had hundreds of conversations,” Ghiorse says. “Through it all, we identified three key barriers to giving: financial, procedural, and social.”

Accordingly, the founders designed GiveTide to remove these barriers.

I’ve also found this to be helpful — it’s a foundational part of my agency business. One of our foundational priorities is to minimize founder-driven design: The only “true” answers come from users.

We spend countless hours testing our apps and design decisions with users, as that’s the only way to know what’s working and what needs to change. And whether it’s a mobile app or a physical product, that’s something every entrepreneur should do.

3. Push through barriers.

Ghiorse says GiveTide’s road to launching was initially clear. “We realized there were barely any charitable giving apps on the App Store, and none whatsoever that did what we were trying to build. We thought that was a good thing,” he explained.

Unfortunately, they missed something.

“Months into development, we discovered that Apple has a big, bold, double underlined section in their development guidelines stating that charitable giving apps are absolutely not allowed,” Ghiorse said.

This might have left them dead in the water. But instead of taking the rules at face value, they changed them. One 20-page appeal and several months later, Apple approved an exception to the rule and GiveTide was go for launch.

The GiveTide story is an instructive lesson in entrepreneurship: It demonstrates that when looking for business ideas, nothing beats a problem you’ve personally experienced. Identifying problems and pain points that you deal with personally is one of the best ways to make sure you’re creating something that people actually want.

However, no matter where the problem comes from, the solution should always be based on customer preference. As a founder, you start out with assumptions. Your job is to test them with customers and revise based on that data. 

And finally, perhaps the most important lesson here is that no problem is insurmountable. If you’re driven, dedicated, and creative enough, you can find a workaround for almost anything. 

When faced with an opportunity, sometimes the best thing is to jump on it and figure out the specifics later. In my own experience with Rootstrap, I’ve found that having a plan is important — but if you allow building the plan to get in the way of building the product, you’re lost.

Sometimes the best course of action is to jump on an opportunity even if you aren’t sure how you’ll execute.

Because the truth is, you can’t find a golden opportunity.

You can only make one.

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How to Get an Apple iPhone X in Time for Christmas

If you’re hoping to get your hands on the iPhone X before the holidays, there’s now a better chance than ever of you actually doing it.

Apple is now promising as little as two-day waiting periods on the order of new iPhone X units through its online store. As of this writing, customers who buy either the 64GB or 256GB iPhone X from any carrier will be able to get it within the next several days. An unlocked iPhone X that can be used on any carrier network will also ship within the next couple of days.

Apple released the iPhone X last month. The smartphone comes with a 5.8-inch display and ditches thick bezels, leaving no room for a physical home button. Apple has ditched its Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone X and now incorporates a Face ID facial scanner in its place that gives users access to its software and verifies purchases through Apple Pay. The iPhone X starts at $999 for the 64GB version, but jumps to $1,149 for the 256GB option.

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Since its release last month, the iPhone X has been somewhat difficult to find on store shelves, though its availability has been better than some had anticipated before its release. At that time, reports had suggested Apple was running into assembly problems that constricted supply. But it appears now that those apparent problems have been overcome and the company can now satisfy demand.

Apple’s carrier partners—including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile—also sell the handset through their stores. They all have available units.

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Here's How The Next Big Thing Really Happens

It often seems easy to know when the next big thing is upon us. Someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk stands on stage and tells us what they are planning to launch. The business press gets excited, pundits swoon and a thousand imitators are created. Before long an ecosystem develops and the worlds is forever changed.

In reality though, things are much murkier than that. Innovation is a process of discovery, engineering and transformation and it is only the last part that is visible to most of us. The seeds of a revolution start long before, in obscure labs and at conferences with high priests presenting papers written in arcane vernacular.

Since the 1950s, the engine that’s driven new knowledge to, as Vannevar Bush put it, turn the wheels of private and public enterprise,” has been the federal government. Still, the process of moving new discoveries out of government labs and into the marketplace has been slow and cumbersome, but a new model holds promise for greatly accelerating breakthrough innovation.

The Birth Of JCESR

Since the beginning of the new century, wind and solar technologies have been moving fast, increasing efficiency at an exponential rate comparable to that of computer chips. Similar advances in electric cars pointed toward the possibility of a future beyond the fossil fuels. Yet in both cases, battery technology proved to be a choke point.

Both wind and solar need backups for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Electric cars need batteries powerful enough to quell “range anxiety” and cheap enough to make them cost-competitive with gasoline-powered engines. For both the grid and transportation, it’s been estimated that battery costs need to come down to $100/Kw/hour to make a clean energy future viable.

It was also becoming clear that a replacement needed to be found for the current lithium-ion technology, which is nearing theoretical limits, that has been the gold standard for nearly 40 years. That was the impetus for the creation of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) in 2012, an innovative partnership between the Department of Energy, academic labs and private industry.

The idea behind JCESR is that in order to accelerate innovation you need to strengthen links between discovery and commercialization. Scientists need feedback from private industry so that they can focus their efforts on the ideas with the most potential in the marketplace, while private companies need insight into current research in order to prepare for the future.

Today, five years later, the model seems to be an enormous success.

Processes Before Products

Developing new battery chemistry is generally a long, painstaking process. Literally thousands of materials need to be tested in order to identify even a few promising candidates. Then, those components need to be evaluated to see if they can be made into a safe, viable battery that will be both more powerful and cheaper than existing products.

So the scientists at JCESR realized that before they could start coming with a better battery, they needed to innovate the research process. So they started by building new tools, including materials and electrolyte genomes as well as techno-economic modeling to test the market viability of an idea before further work is done on it.

“The triumph of the materials genome approach is that it let us discard 98% of the possibilities and pare it down to just a few really promising candidates,” George Crabtree, Director of JCESR, told me. That, along with the techno-economic modeling helped save enormous amounts of time and resources that would otherwise be spent going down blind alleys.

These tools provide value far beyond government and academic labs. Because JCESR is a public-private partnership, involving about a hundred partner companies which range from the large enterprises to small startups, firms across the country are using them to speed up their own development.

A Nascent Revolution

Today, JCESR is coming to the end of its original 5-year mission and it has exceeded all expectations. Initially, it was expected to come up with two viable prototypes, but it actually has come up with four — two for the grid and two for transportation. There is still much work to be done, but we’re eons closer to a clean energy future than we were.

The program has also helped to spin off a number of promising startups, including Baseload Renewables, Blue Current and Sepion Technologies, with many more likely to come. Going from basic research in the lab to a technology advanced enough to attract private investment in less than five years is unusual, but to do it three times over is even more impressive.

Probably most importantly, the program has shown what can be achieved through greater collaboration between the government, academic labs and private, profit-seeking companies. Historically, these have held each other at arm’s length, which slows down innovation considerably, but at JCESR, they each inform the other, greatly accelerating the innovation process.

“Usually discovery propagates at the speed of publication,” JCESR’s Crabtree told me. “But here, we can operate within the time frame of the next coffee break.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

Energy storage is one of the most profound problems facing us today, but it is far from the only one. Climate change, food sustainability, healthcare and many other pressing issues need radically new solutions. There are also a number of powerful new technologies, such as genomics, nanotechnology and robotics, that can redefine what we thought was possible.

Look at any significant modern technology and much, if not all, of the initial scientific work was funded by a government program. In fact, Google itself began with a National Science Foundation grant. Still, historically the process of getting those discoveries translated into marketable products has been slow, usually taking decades.

The JCESR model offers a great blueprint for the future. Innovation is always about networks rather than nodes and it is essential that we learn how to build those connections faster. Building intense collaboration between government labs, academic institutions and private businesses will be key to maintaining our technological and competitive edge.

Unfortunately, we seem to be going in the opposite direction. Since its peak in 1964, federal investment in R&D has fallen from nearly 12% of the total federal budget to less than 4% and, in the current political climate, support for research is likely to diminish even further. That is going to make it much harder to maintain critical programs like JCESR.

Prosperity and technological dominance are not birthrights. If we want to win the future, we need to invest in it.

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