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5 Tips for Turning a Problem into a Business

No one understands your problems like you do. But can you make money off them?

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A "horror" is how Adie Horowitz describes what it feels like to be the parent of a child with lice. She knows, because 17 years ago, her kids came home with them crawling around on their heads.

She took them to the doctor who prescribed strong shampoos that would kill the insects. The idea of putting pesticides on her kids' heads didn't sit right with her.

But she had to do something--one disgusting louse can lay 10 eggs, or nits, a day so it's a problem that gets exponentially worse as time progresses.

So  she went to the largest library in Manhattan to do some research (remember those places where people went before the Internet?). There she found evidence of non-toxic European remedies that make use of herbs. After calling over there, procuring a special lice comb in Germany, and getting some direction, she concocted her own recipe.

It worked, and her children were soon lice-free.

Horowitz was so thrilled with her success she started telling people about it, and soon she was getting calls for help and advice from all over her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Hence, Licenders was born. Now, after spending years screening kids for lice in the schools and as a service before they go to camp, the company has eclipsed the $1 million revenue mark, has five offices, and Horowitz says celebrities such as Kelly Ripa and mothers on the show "The Real Housewives of New York" swear by her service and non-toxic products.

Horowitz took her problem and made it into a thriving business. Here's how she says you can too.

Start with a problem that really needs solving.

The beauty of her problem, was that everyone, absolutely everyone, sees head lice as a horror. What about your problem--is it only a problem for you, or is it universally aggravating?

As an example, I've heard several times from one developer who went to a great deal of trouble creating an app in which people could rate the pictures in advertisements regarding whether or not the product in real life actually looks like the ad. In my opinion, it's not a problem that needs solving, but he doesn't seem to see it that way. Sometimes it's hard to be impartial, so ask around to get some feedback on your idea.

Persevere and try different things.

You are going to fail--at some point, anyway.  They're impossible to predict ahead of time, but Horowitz says once you're in business, all kinds of issues are going to crop up. You're going to have successes and failures, but you need to look at the big picture and persevere.

"Yes, you're going to make some mistakes, you're going to lose some money," she says. "But then you learn from your mistakes and you grow from them."

Join business organizations that will help you.

Horowitz grew up helping with a family business, so she came to the table better prepared to be an entrepreneur than many. Even so, she says she gets a tremendous amount of help, advice, and mentoring from people she's met in various organizations, such as Count Me In, a not-for-profit organization providing tools, resources, and community support for women entrepreneurs.

Hire help for your business, and your life.

You're going to have to spend money to grow, so she says it's important you hire the right lawyer, accountant, and banker, she says. And if you don't have time to help your kids with their homework, hire a tutor. Same thing with housework. There are people out there who would love to help out with your unbalanced life.

Give back to the community.

Horowitz often inspects children who have lice but come from families that can't afford the Licenders service and products. By helping them pro-bono--instead of letting them continue to walk around infested, her goodwill comes back to her via parents who tell others about her effective--and generous service.

No, not every company can be giving away things for free, but what other ways can you do things for the community in which your business operates?

Last updated: Jul 31, 2012

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.
@salubriousdish




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