Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fabled idea of “moonshots:” The crazy ambitious projects which aim to solve the world’s biggest problems once and for all, using breakthrough technologies.

I’m starting to believe we have the process largely backwards.

What we tend to tell people these days is to “find your passion, come up with a crazy ass idea, tackle a huge problem, find a suitable and equally crazy ass technology, marry the three, and aim for the stars.”

When you look at organizations that have done the impossible, none of them started out by pursuing crazy ambitious projects. Tweet This Quote

More often than not, this leads to solutions which don’t have product/market fit and are years, if not decades, away from being truly viable and financially unsustainable. The sad end results are wasted resources, disillusioned founders, and problems that are still not solved.

When you look at organizations which have done the impossible — from the tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft to highly influential NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace, or Muhammad Yunus’ sprawling empire — literally none of them started out with pursuing their moonshot. They all got started in the same way: By tackling a real, existing, and contained problem, getting to product/market fit, then scaling and eventually growing into the deeply influential and important organizations they are today.

Take Google. Larry and Sergey didn’t start out with the grand ambition to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They started out in their college dorm solving a vexing problem they experienced first hand — search.

Or Apple. Steve and Steve just wanted to build a computer for themselves and their friends when they started the company. Only in the 80s did Jobs started defining Apple’s mission “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

We should spend all of our time finding a problem worth solving, deeply understanding it, designing for the customer, and then scaling. Tweet This Quote

Facebook famously started out as a university campus network. Bill Gates wrote software code he sold to hobbyists, businesses, and later IBM before he came up with his moonshot of “a computer on every desk.” Muhammad Yunus wanted to solve one very specific problem, which was lending. The list goes on and on.

What I believe we ought to do is not obsess about building moonshots. Instead, we should spend all of our time on finding a problem worth solving (this becomes your North Star), deeply understanding the problem space, designing a solution which fits the need of the customer, and bringing this solution to scale. Once we have achieved this, we use our North Star (call it moonshot if you will) to guide us, and move on to the next step on your journey of building what matters.

This originally published on Pascal’s blog.

Pascal Finette

Author Pascal Finette

Pascal is the Managing Director of Singularity University's Startup Lab. He is also an entrepreneur, coach, and speaker who has worked in Internet powerhouses, such as eBay, Mozilla, and Google, and Venture Capital—starting both a VC firm and accelerator program.

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