The Lean Marketer Blog

A Solution Looking for a Problem

Last month I mentored and lectured at the Lean Startup Machine workshop, which took place for the first time in Israel but has been happening all over the world. I love working with entrepreneurs, and always learn a lot by being involved in these types of events.

As a mentor, most of my time was spent listening to the workshop groups and asking them “how did you validate that?” since the whole concept of lean startup is to come up with a hypothesis, validate (or not), and then build from there. If you cannot validate your hypothesis, you need to consider a new one, until you find something you can really validate with potential customers.

Most of the groups were working on ideas that weren’t their own startups, since the concept of the workshop is to learn the process, and not necessarily to execute the process on your own startup idea; you can take the tools you learn at the workshop and implement them once you go home.  Most of the entrepreneurs I spoke with that have already developed their product wished they’d done this workshop earlier, since they could see how it would have helped them earlier on, and possibly even changed their eventual direction.

One particular entrepreneur stood out and I wanted to share his story. He approached me to discuss a problem, that he defined as a sales problem. He whipped out his smartphone to display his startup’s product in all its glory in the tiny screen. It was impressive and definitely had a “cool factor.”

But his problem is that he can’t get any meetings. He has defined his target customer as companies that sell electronic gadgets, and he is trying to get meetings with the CEOs of these companies. He is convinced this is something they cannot live without. The problem is, no one wants to meet with him.

Is this a sales problem? Well, it is  possible that he’s aiming a bit high, and the CEO is not the right person in the organization to target. But when I probed to find out if he’d ever spoken with somone from one of these companies while developing his product, to determine how and if they would use it, the answer was no. In other words, he’d never validated that these companies have the problem that his product solves.

I suggested to him that he consider the uncomfortable idea that his problem could be product-market fit. Because if this product answered a need that these CEOs have identified for their companies, even if they are too busy themselves to take the meeting, believe me they would have referred this entrepreneur to someone else on their team.

Look, it’s always possible he just hasn’t polished his pitch well enough to get the magical meeting. But it’s unlikely. Because in my experience, when there’s a product-market fit, even the least-polished, crappiest pitch will work. The minute the prospect hears something that resonates with a problem they have, they will pause at least briefly, to hear more. Or they will ask the price. Or they will ask you to talk with so-and-so who knows much more about this, and may even be already working on a solution for it.

So this is why you need to validate before you build. Get to a good product-market fit before you design and develop your product. You’ll have a much easier time getting meetings. In fact, some of the meetings you had while you were validating your product may just turn out to be your best customers.

Have you ever had a “sales” problem that turned out to actually be a problem with product-market fit?

image credit: Clover_1


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