Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Starting a company is a risky business. (Pardon the pun.) Roughly 2 out of every 10 new businesses fail in their first year, and about 7 out of every 10 new businesses have failed by their tenth birthday (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

 

What emboldens founders to take such a large risk?

Many entrepreneurs choose to start a company when they have an idea for a product or service that they really believe in. The ideas for these amazing products and services come from a deep - and often deeply personal - understanding of a problem that needs solving. And a new product or service that genuinely helps people solve a problem is likely to do well in the market.

 

However, while enthusiasm for a product or service can serve founders well early on, it can come back to bite them later. This happens when founders mistake the true source of their business’ success. Generally speaking, customers don’t actually love a product or service. What they really love is when someone helps them solve their problems. This is why every company is always at risk. If someone “builds a better mousetrap” - that is, they come up with a product or service that solves customers’ problems better, faster, or cheaper than yours does - consumer love for your product or service will disappear quickly.

 

Guy Kawasaki (author of The Art of the Start) likes to tell a story about the ice delivery business from many decades ago.

Companies who created, stored, and delivered blocks of ice believed that their customers loved their service - ice delivered right to your door! What those companies failed to understand was that people didn’t love the specific ice delivery service nearly as much as they loved someone helping them solve the problem “I need to keep my food cold.” As modern refrigerators became affordable, people abandoned ice delivery services entirely and ice delivery businesses failed everywhere across the country.

 

This is what is meant by the oft-repeated advice given to entrepreneurs, “fall in love with the problem, not your solution.” When a company stays focused on the problem they help their customers solve, this allows them to continuously innovate in order to provide products and services that solve those problems in increasingly effective ways. However, when companies fall in love with their solution, this prevents them from seeing new possibilities for providing value to customers - even when they have all the skills and expertise necessary to do so. 

 

For example, there was nothing preventing ice delivery companies from moving into the home refrigerator business. On the contrary, given their need to store the ice they created before it was sent out to be delivered, it’s possible that ice delivery companies knew more about refrigeration technology than anyone at the time! But because they were confused about what their customers really wanted from them - help keeping their food cold, not cubes of frozen water - they were made obsolete by other companies who were focused on helping customers solve the “keep my food cold” problem better, faster, and cheaper.

 

What problem does your business help its customers solve? Do you really know? When is the last time you talked to your customers about why and how they use your product or service?

 

How is someone else likely to use technology to provide your customers with a better, faster, cheaper way of solving their problems than you do? Why can’t that someone be you?

 

For more advice on how to find problem worth solving, you can book time to meet with David via https://www.muicenter.com/david-wiley?hsLang=en.

 

Photo credit: Girls deliver ice. Public domain.

 

 

 

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