What age-old problem do the most successful companies solve?

What problem do the most successful companies solve?“What if there was a way…” is the thought that has launched new ideas, products and services to solve a painful process of doing something.

The solution today usually results in an app, service or website – giving you the ability to remove the middleman and do-it-yourself.

That’s what apps and websites are really, the tools to do-it-yourself.  They solve the age-old problem of “waiting” by letting you do something “faster” and cut out the middleman.

This is a concept that’s been successfully documented for over 100 years (although I’m sure some entrepreneurial cavemen were selling pre-made wheels back in the day.)

There has to be more than faster, though.  The experience must be high-quality as well.  Will you save money, too?  Not necessarily, but if it’s a simple transaction, most likely you will.

Where there’s pain (waiting), there’s pleasure (faster and saving money.)  Yet it’s all about compromise, what is your time worth, because you’ll usually sacrifice quality.  A few sayings that come to mind are, “you get what you pay for” and”haste makes waste.”

We hear a lot of talk about “disruption” with startups and changing the face of an industry by the introduction of a new type of service.  Has it happened before?  Definitely.  Travelocity, created and owned by a division of American Airlines began engaging with consumers in 1996 via AOL.com.  That was the beginning of the end for an entire industry known as travel agents.  Fast forward to Hipmunk, Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia and still – Travelocity.

The first successful “do-it-yourself” operation that fit this model was launched in NYC in 1912.  The first location was in Times Square and the second was in Union Square.  What was it?  The Automat.

Let’s just jump back in history for a minute.  Horn & Hardart created an alternative to a sit-down restaurant, where diners had access to delicious, single-serving prepared food at low prices.

They automated the serving process by creating a wall of individual glass-doored dispensers that held a serving of bread, cake, pie, a sandwich, etc.  There was a coin slot next to each window – you put your money in, you opened the door and you took your food and sat down.

Depending on the item, the dispenser was either cooled, heated or room temperature.  Pretty brilliant, right?  And incredibly successful, too.

What did they remove?  The pain of waiting.  Waiting in line for a table, waiting for the waitress, waiting for the food, waiting for the check.

What did they disrupt, though?  Did waitressing as an occupation disappear?  Did sit-down restaurants cease to exist?  Are Automats still in operation?  No, no and no.

What the Automat did do was make room for another category of restaurant service, namely fast food.  In the big picture, they were amazing innovators that changed the way people get their food.

So, the problem solved is “waiting” and just 100 years after the Automat, nobody has time to wait or do anything for themselves manually but want to oversee and control an automated process.  Amazon.com has proven this better than anyone, with a two-day delivery model that is morphing into a same-day service and expanding to many competitors, namely WalMart.  They’ve also inspired local services like Wun Wun, FreshDirect, Soap.com, ZipCar, Seamless.com and many others.

What all these products and services have in common is that they solve a short-term need.  They either deliver a meal, product or service that expires quickly (air travel, car rental, hotel room or consumable product.)  If the experience is bad, the consumer either goes back to doing it themselves or tries a different app, website or provider.

In my industry, where I help tenants find office space in NYC, I compete not only against apps and websites but the internet as a whole.  It seems to be a common thought that you don’t need a broker to find an office to lease – you can do it yourself.

Can this be done?  Certainly.  However, unlike a short-term experience like the delivery of a product, the do-it-yourselfer searching for office space is bound for disappointment, time wasted (not saved) and a negative impact on their ability to conduct business.  They’re also stuck with their decision for a year or more.  Even a short term rental gone wrong can demotivate a startup or small business owner.

The benefit of websites that display listings of office spaces is that you get an overall flavor of what your budget will get you relative to size and location – and that’s about it.  Selection is far from complete, availability is limited and there’s still a gatekeeper to gaining access.

Tenant brokers (who find and represent only tenants, not the landlords) get paid by the landlord.  So going through a website doesn’t save you money as an alternative.

In fact, the biggest way a broker saves you money is by negotiating a lease for you with favorable terms that you certainly are not aware can be had.  This ranges from free rent to lower common charges, escalation fees, lease term, etc.

The brokers know the available inventory throughout the city, whereas websites are only as good as the people uploading listings.  Space goes very quickly and most sites use outdated information as “bait” to draw you in.  Can you imagine if Amazon or ZipCar did that?  You see a great product at the lowest price but it’s not available – not good.

So going through listings online is not saving you time because they’re usually not available.  The only thing you may think you’ve accomplished is “not waiting” because you can instantly see results – but overall, they’re not real.

When it comes to entry-level office space, better known as shared offices, coworking spaces, executive suites (all the same concept), there’s a huge amount of frustration and dissatisfaction.

In Manhattan alone, there are over 160 locations for these types of office spaces.  Being one of the few brokers that assists with small offices as well as larger ones, I’m usually the chosen alternative after every option is exhausted.  Yet I offer everything an app does except for “do it yourself” – a time and money-saving service, available 7 days a week.

While there’s some satisfaction in knowing my job isn’t headed the way of the dinosaur or travel agent, it’s still frustrating to see people doing it the hard way.

Do you have similar experiences in your job?  Let me know, I’d like to hear from you.

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