Which Problem To Focus On?

Over the years I have learned that successful startups begin with a big user and customer problem. The world is full of problems so finding problems to solve is generally not a big issue. The real problem for startup founder(s) is to find the right problem to focus on. Over the years I tried to find the formula to choose the right problem to solve. While reading the book: ‘Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life’ I saw a diagram which really gave me the answer to this question.

This diagram asks 4 questions:

  • What you love?
  • What you are good at?
  • What the world needs?
  • What you can be paid for?

At the start of my career, I thought that focusing on technology will be good for my startup. That was not a wise decision as technology is like a girlfriend or boyfriend. It is not permanent. It keeps on changing. I learned very painfully that a startup founder should focus on a good problem to solve. A good problem is more long term and is like that life partner who remains with you for life.

The reason why we are not able to focus on any one thing for the long term is that the correct answer to one or more of these questions is not being provided by our focus area. If you love what you build, you are the world’s best in building it, the world needs it and people are willing to pay for it then obviously there is no reason you will not be able to build and sell the product. Building and selling are the 2 most important things in a startup. If you do them correctly startup will most probably be successful.

What you love?

Being successful in this day and age demands putting in large amounts of time. According to famous author Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, you need to devote at least 10,000 hours to something to become world class. Thus you need to love the thing as otherwise, you will not be able to devote so much time to that thing. Also, you will find inner peace and happiness only if you love what you do. If a startup founder does not love his or her work then the startup is doomed from day 1. Thus the problem should be in the domain that excites the entrepreneur.

What you are good at?

In this highly competitive world if you provide a solution in which you are not world-class then no one will buy your solution. Thus you need to find a good problem whose solution you can build from the angles of design, commercial viability, and technical feasibility. If you do not know the problem domain it will take you longer to create a world class solution.

What the world needs?

A big mistake which technical founders do is to focus on the latest buzzword technology. In the euphoria of using the latest technology they sometimes forget that they will get money only when someone purchases their product or at least uses it. People do not buy or use technology. They buy products which solve their problems. The product needs to do the job which the target user wants it to do. The product has to alleviate the pain of the user and provide some utility.

The United Nations has published ‘17 Sustainable Development goals’. Some of the goals included are:

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Quality Education
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy

I personally feel that they are the right starting point to find what the world needs. 

What you can be paid for?

You also need to focus on the specific value proposition you are giving to the user. If your product is doing the right job, solving the real pain points and providing useful gains then customers will be generally willing to pay. You also need to check for the industry landscape and see the power of buyers to determine prices and the ability of users to find substitutes for your product. If the product provides a good value proposition and the buyer is not in a position to dictate terms then generally you will be able to get paid for the product easily. This is the ultimate test as without the ability to charge customers you will not be able to make revenue and profit.

Thus we see that a good problem needs to have good answers to all the above 4 questions. If you find such a problem that motivates you as a founder, you or your co-founders have experience in the problem domain and this problem has a lot of potential demand for which the customer is willing to pay then you have found your sweet spot – your reason to live, the place where your needs, desires, ambitions, and satisfaction meet. You have found the right problem when you are able to reach this sweet spot – your Ikigai.

Author: Saurabh Jain (Follow him on Twitter : @skjsaurabh)


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