I taught my students about how to brainstorm business ideas today. We focused on looking for problems in need of a solution, and that great entrepreneurs are always looking for problems to solve.

We first talked about solutions that seem obvious now, but weren’t when they were first introduced - the car, the cell phone, breakfast cereal. We talked about primary and secondary ‘problems’ that products can solve. For example, how the car can be much more than a transportation solution; a pastime, a butt warmer, a status symbol.

But then we started to get into more contemporary ideas. We looked at social media: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter1.

Helping college kids with an easier way to connect online? Letting you send self-destructing photos to others? 140 character microblogs?

A student raised his hand.

Aren’t these super first-world problems?

Yes, they are. Not every business has to solve problems for the second or third worlds. In fact, most businesses don’t. People will happily pay for something that solves a minor annoyance. Here are the tips I gave to the class, from a post by Chris Guillebeau in April of last year:

  1. A solution to a problem
  2. A response to a clear need
  3. Something that makes people happier
  4. Something that removes a negative

It’s awesome if you can solve world hunger, cure disease, or dig wells for clean water. These missions for humanity need our world’s brightest minds. But most businesses today are solving first world problems. For better or worse, it’s a natural result of people with first world incomes being able to pay for solutions to first world problems.

Don’t shy away from solving ‘first world problems’. People are happy to pay for the right solution.

  1. Because they monetize eyeballs and impressions, they aren’t exactly models of monetizing first world problems directly, but great examples of building multibillion dollar businesses around first world problems.