(this is an excerpt from The Customer Discovery Matrix; A Concise Guide To Starting Anything)
Listen closely. This is the key takeaway for the entire Customer Discovery Matrix:
Stay in the ‘problem space’ for as long as you can.
When you go through your twelve weeks of Discovery, you are basically looking to learn and flesh out three aspects of your business model:
a) The problem you are solving,
b) The nature of your solution,
c) The ultimate value gained by the customer.
All of these are critical to the success of your endeavor, but the first is far more important than the others, since finding solutions and ascertaining value are completely dependent on getting the problem right.
Most businesses, products and initiatives that fail do so because they are solving the wrong problem. The ones that are successful have discovered that all-important ‘product/market fit’, which stems from an intimate knowledge of the problem they are solving, from a customer perspective. This fit must be pursued much like the work required for the fit of a good suit. The tailor measures everything. He knows the way the fabric will respond, where to build in movement and what is best for your physique. Only then does he ‘productize’ this knowledge and cut you a suit – one that fits like it was made with your personal needs in mind, because it was. Get your fit right before you start cutting and sewing.
This means that you need to be relentlessly thorough about uncovering your customers’ real problem, the one whose solution will make them eternally grateful (or at least until the next problem pops up!).
Don’t solve multiple problems at the beginning. If there are multiple problems you could solve, work on the one that represents the biggest pain point for your customers. When you see what we in the software business call ‘feature creep’, you’re seeing someone trying to solve multiple problems. They are adding bells and whistles to add value, but the reality is that they are usually causing distractions and delays, and this is something startups can ill afford.
When you read the stories of successful businesses, you almost always find that they started with one problem and focused on it. Google’s founders wanted to find a way to search the research data at Stanford when they were grad students. They spent their first years, all the way up to their IPO, refining their approach to search until it worked. Everything else followed on from there. Oxo Good Grips started with a potato peeler. If you’re old enough, you remember the stamped metal potato peelers that hurt your hands. Peelers had not changed for 50 years, until Oxo came along. They made a comfortable potato peeler, and then leveraged that success to hundreds of related products and a great brand reputation.
Google solved the search problem.
Oxo solved the comfort problem.
There are endless examples of this and few exceptions. In fact, when you read about the companies that got off track, it is usually because they became distracted with adding features and solving a universe of problems before they mastered the one problem that was within their grasp to solve.
The Problem Space is an interesting place. We believe that immersion in it will make product development much more successful. Simply identifying the most important solution for your customer, the one that solves a pressing need, will get you started as a business. Knowing as much as possible about the Problem Space will give your new business legs.