Jai Shekhawat stresses the importance of problems over products

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One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is focusing too much on their products, or at least that’s what Fieldglass CEO and Founder Jai Shekhawat believes.

“Before I did [Fieldglass] there were other ideas that we—a couple of friends—tried to pursue. And we found that it’s not about just to be interested in the subject, you have to have a reason,” Shekhawat says.

Last night we attended 1871’s Founders’ Stories with Jai Shekhawat of Fieldglass, a company that provides major companies a system for managing and procuring their non-employee workforce. Shekhawat’s main lesson of the night centered on problems, not products.

“It’s not about the idea or the product, it’s about the problem,” Shekhawat says.

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Entrepreneurs who focus on a problem that needs a solution, instead of a product, often have more of an advantage. Before pitching companies the product: Fieldglass, Shekhawat says he asked them to meet and discuss a problem.

“People were quite generous with their time because they were flattered that we were asking for their views as opposed for their money,” he says.

By asking questions and really focusing on the problem, Shekhawat was able to create a body of notes that later lead to the development of Fieldglass’ strategy, pricing model and the site’s functionality.

“Nobody is actually interested in your idea,” Shekhawat says, “they’re interested in their problem.”

Thinking about the problem first paid off for Shekhawat when he pitched Fieldglass’ first customer, Verizon Wireless. The person Shekhawat had to present Fieldglass to told him she would give the company a try if they could solve Verizon’s problem. Luckily, Fieldglass solved the problem and is now the largest Vendor Management System provider in the industry.

When developing a company or a product, there are a few things Shekhawat suggests doing:

1.) Ask yourself what gives you the right to start this company – Shekhawat says you have to ask yourself what gives you the right to start this company, ask investors for money, recruit people and waste their time.

2.) Follow others – Those who are the fast followers of one idea, become the most successful in the end, Shekhawat says. “You look at the big success stories like Amazon and Microsoft and others,” he says, “none of them were the first in their field in what they did. In a sense Fieldglass was not the first in its field.”

3.) Find out what others don’t have that you can provide – “I think people forget that the moment a company reveals its hand in terms of what it’s doing, it also reveals what it’s not doing or what it cannot do,” Shekhawat says.   

3.) Marinate in the idea – “I would not get in a space that I had not soaked in for a while,” he says. Research is key.

5.) Avoid mistakes while scaling –  This includes over-hiring and raising too much money. “We fell into a number of potholes,” he says. “You just have to fall in one less than the other guy.”

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