30 Questions to Find the Problem Your Idea Solves
Biggest ‘Problem’ For First Time Entrepreneurs
One of the biggest mistakes people launching ventures, businesses, startups, ideas, projects, prototypes, minimum viable products, etc. make is thinking it’s all about the idea when it’s actually about the customer and problem. Coming up with ideas is actually the easy part. Identifying a problem, validating, iterating, and executing is the hard part.
The problem is that it’s easy to fall in love with our ideas and lose sight of the customer and problem that we must ultimately serve. Ideas only succeed if they solve a real problem that someone is actually experiencing. And for your idea to scale, it needs to be a problem that many people are experiencing or else you’ll find growth hard to come by.
Since 2014, I have been working with entrepreneurs from around the world (4,500+ as of 2023) to bring their projects, MVPs, prototypes, and ventures to life. The number one challenge I have encountered is in helping someone zoom out from their idea long enough to determine the customer and problem it solves. However, without this step you are no different than a gambler putting all their chips on 7 in roulette and hoping for the best. The better you know your customer and problem, the more your gamble starts to look like a strategic investment.
Finding the Problem Your Idea Solves
In my work at Techstars Startup Weekend events around the world and at University of Pennsylvania, where I teach entrepreneurship, there are certain questions I ask entrepreneurs that help them get to the core of the customer and problem their idea addresses.
30 questions to explore the problem, validate your problem & idea, and help you decide whether this is worth pursuing.
- What is your idea? State it in 300 characters or less. The more brief you can be the better because it forces you to cut to the core of your idea rather than getting distracted by features and benefits.
- Who is the ideal customer for your idea? Be specific. Think of the exact person that would absolutely consider your idea to be the greatest solution they have ever encountered. Not everyone will feel like your solution is 100%. Few will feel your solution is 100% and then more will feel 90%, and more will feel 80%, and so on. Your ideal customer will think, feel, and know your idea is the absolute best solution to their problem.
- Be more specific about your ideal customer. Often, the people I work with give me a decent description, but it’s often too broad. Cut it down to someone even more specific. Think about their job, the reason they are encountering the problem you solve, their unique skills or experiences prior to encountering the problem or needing your solution. Be so specific that you can actually think of a real person and then use that real person’s name for your ideal customer avatar.
- What problem does your idea solve for your ideal customer? Now it’s time to zoom in on the problem. What is the exact problem that your customer needs help solving? Describe the moment and how that moment comes about. Imagine you were creating a story board of the moment the problem is encountered and your solution is needed. Pretend you were actually watching someone experience the problem in real time. Describe that problem in all of its detail.
- What obstacle are you removing for your ideal customer? Imagine for a moment that your ideal customer is working towards a goal and they keep running into obstacles that hold them back from success. What are those obstacles? Describe them in as much detail as possible.
- In what way do you make your customer’s life easier? Building off the last question, take your imagination one step further and describe how your idea comes to the rescue.
- If you successfully resolve this problem/obstacle, what is the ultimate objective your ideal customer able to accomplish? In other words, what did your ideal customer really want to achieve in the first place? (hint: they do not wake up wanting to solve their problem. They want achieve the goal that the problem is interfering with!)
Theory of Jobs to Be Done vs. Problems
When I say to think of your customers ultimate goal, I am referring to the job that your customer really wants to get done when they run into a problem. Often, we think our customers only want to solve their problems. While that is true to an extent, it is important for us to consider that they only encountered the problem because they were trying to achieve a goal.
Let’s take AirBnB as an example.
They have many ideal customers. Earlier on in their startup journey, young professionals were a primary ideal customer (they have many more now). These young professionals might have traveled while in college, staying in hostels, but after graduation, they are looking for something a little better. Their budgets are still limited which may prevent them from staying at some of the Hilton or Marriott properties out there. For this ideal customer, the ‘job to be done’ is to travel the world, visit new cities, make new friends, connect with the authentic local culture, and experience the city. The problem that gets in the way is their limited travel budget, tourist traps, affordable hotels far from city centers, and concierge recommendations to visit the priciest restaurants and attractions.
AirBnB provides these young professionals with an opportunity to stay in a city-center, connect with locals, and all for less than they would spend at a chain hotel, especially after you factor in local taxes. Thus, this ideal customer, has an ultimate objective or a job to be done, as Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, puts it.
AirBnB understands their job to be done better than Marriott or Hilton and is able to provide solutions that not only address some of their ideal customer’s problems, but in some cases bypasses them all together. Going forward, I will refer to the customer’s “ultimate objective” as the job to be done.
What Does Your Ideal Customer Really Want? What is their Job to Be Done?
- How does your customer measure the success of the job to be done? What metrics do they use? In the case of the traveling young professional, it might be # of cities visited in their 20’s, among many others.
- How does your customer currently accomplish the job to be done, without your solution? In other words, what is the status quo?
- How well does your customer currently perform the job to be done, without your awesome idea? Use the metric you identified in question #8 to measure their current score.
- How does the problem come to be that affects your customer’s job to be done? That is, tell us more about the problem. Answer the following questions as they relate to the problem that emerges and gets in the customer’s way.
- Where does the problem develop or occur?
- How does it develop or occur?
- When does it occur?
- Why does it occur?
- How much does this problem affect the job to be done? Does it completely stop the show? Or does it diminish the success of the job to be done? By how much?
- How much is the result worth to your customer? That is, if the objective is achieved, what is that worth in dollars?
- How much does the problem cost your customer? If the problem stops the result completely, it at least costs you the amount of the opportunity (opportunity cost). However, there may be other costs associated with the problem.
Rethink Your Original Idea, Ideal Customer, Problem, and Job to be Done
Questions have a way of changing the way we think. Let’s revisit your ideal customer, job to be done, and problem(s).
- Who is your ideal customer? Again, be specific. Customer vs. User. This time you may also consider close relatives of your ideal customer.
- What does your ideal customer really want to accomplish? (hint: the job to be done) Describe it specifically and measurably. Sometimes, not even your ideal customer knows all the measurable elements of their job to be done. This might create an opportunity to provide them with value during the sales process.
- What problem(s) stand in your customer’s way of getting the job to be done completed?
- How does that problem affect the job to be done?
- In what specific and measurable ways does the problem affect the job to be done?
- How many of these ideal customers are there out there in your domestic market? Or whatever slice of the market makes most sense for you to consider.
- How many of these ideal customers are in the global market?
- When are they most likely to engage in the job to be done?
- When are they most likely to notice the problems affecting their job to be done?
- How much is the job to be done worth to your customer? In dollars, time, people, waste, etc. There are many ways to calculate this. Eventually, you will need to calculate this in dollars, however, for now, start wherever it makes sense.
- How many times can your customer complete that job to be done in a week, month, year? This helps us understand how often your solution may be needed.
- What would make your idea the most amazing offer possible to this ideal customer, given their job to be done?
Fall In Love With Your Customers’ Problem, Not Your Ideas
The best businesses fall in love with their customers’ goals and the problems that interfere. Their products, services, and ideas are ever-evolving and changing as better ways to solve problems emerge.
If you can become an expert of your customer, their jobs to be done, and the problems that interfere, you will always be valuable to customers.
If I can help you bring an idea to life, reach out to book a discovery call so we can discuss your project and how you can begin moving forward on it. Learn more about my coaching and book a discovery call today!