You’ve set the scene for your company by defining the purpose so now it is time to define the problem that you are going to solve. It is critical to specify the problem in a way that everyone can understand it. Typically there are two ways that problems can be discovered: the personal experience of the founder; or by research.
- Personal Experience. Many companies are started because someone tries to do something, thinks “there must be a better way” and has the ability to solve the problem in a way that is either faster, better or cheaper than the current alternative solution. For example, I started my first company (Gordano) because I couldn’t send email (I downloaded, compiled, tried to configure four mail servers and failed). So I wrote my own messaging server to solve the problem… and discovered that thousands of other people had the same problem. Another example is Hamish Petrie (founder of Ingogo) who found it hard and stressful arranging a lift to the airport – so created a company to make it easy and guaranteed.
- Research. Another way of identifying a problem is to look at what potential consumers are currently doing to get something done. Then using that insight to redesign a current product or create a whole new product. Consumers will then purchase the product because it is faster, better or cheaper than their current solution.
Clayton Christensen (HBS Professor & Disruptive Innovation Expert) has written about using the “Jobs Theory” in his recent book “Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choices” (Oct-16). He discusses the process of understanding the journey the consumer takes to getting a job done in several stages: 1. What is the job that needs to be done; 2. Hire a solution to complete the job; 3. Do the job; and 3. Rehire the solution every time that job comes up again. Christensen uses the example of a milkshake to illustrate how this works. It turns out the reason many commuters were buying milkshakes was to give drivers something to do during the boring drive to work without the guilt of a Mars Bar or donut. In fact, the reason milkshakes were hired was because they took a long time to drink through the small straw – it wasn’t the range of flavours, colours or wholesome nature of the drink.
There are many other sets of terminology and methodologies used to discover and articulate the problem that needs to be solved. For example, you could consider the contrast between products that are a Pain v. Vitamin and strive to produce the next Pain Killer. While useful, I would suggest that this is more solution focused rather than problem orientated.
Once you have identified the problem it’s time to think about how you will own that problem space. In the future anyone who needs that problem resolved comes to you. Owning the problem (rather than the solution – the subject of the next slide) gives you the opportunity to innovate and separate yourself from the competition.