The subtext you’re missing re: Problem / Solution Fit.

“If you’re having this problem, it’s likely hundreds of thousands of others are in the same boat.” — 37 Signals, Getting Real

The best products are a valuable solution to existing problems.

The products we embrace most readily are the ones that make our lives (insert adjective here) fitter, happier, more productive.

Great products scratch us where we itch.

So if you want to create a successful product business, you start by creating a solution to a real problem. Or, as Paul Graham of Y Combinator says, “make things people want.”

By now this concept is widely understood by product people and is probably a pretty sensible notion to anybody hearing it here for the first time.

So what are we missing?

Why 9 out of 10 new products fail

As Steve Blank put it, “startups don’t fail because they lack a product, they fail because they lack customers and a proven financial model.”

How I put it is, most product businesses lack customers and revenue because they overlook the word “valuable” when building solutions for existing problems.

Value is not something you decide for your customer.

Value is an ingredient that you bake in to your product recipe and hope your customer says, upon tasting, “mmm, is that value I detect?”

Value, like communication, is an exchange. If all parties don’t perceive it, it never happened.

Ask yourself the following questions:

When was the last time I continued to use a product that didn’t benefit me?

How much do I enjoy paying for a product that doesn’t benefit me?

How many friends and family members will I refer to that product?

The three R’s in Value

While values are subjective (different people care about different things), value is measured by the three R metrics:

Retention, Revenue, Referral.

If your customers aren’t coming back, aren’t paying and aren’t sharing, your value proposition isn’t being perceived.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.” — Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

Learn, then build, then repeat.

Remember validated learning?

Talking to your customers early and often helps product managers determine the perceived value of an offering — most importantly, the initial product offering.

Using the learning validation loop to determine problem / solution fit.

What you’re really looking to learn is:

  • Does this problem truly exist?
  • Do I fully understand all aspects of the problem?
  • Is my customer segment motivated to solve this problem?
  • Is there a different segment who is more motivated?

This investigation, ideally performed before spending any money building an actual solution, helps us to determine what’s called “problem / solution fit.”

Problem / Solution Fit is simply the idea that the problem is real and the solution is right, as validated by potential customers (not just your best friend or your mom).

In gamer terms, determining problem / solution fit is the first boss level — a critical achievement on your product building path and a necessary obstacle to defeat in order to advance.

If you want to create value, you need more than a solution to a problem

Human beings have learned to live with a tremendous amount of pain.

It’s why we stay in relationships long after they’ve turned sour.

It’s why we plunk away at the same job well after it’s stopped rewarding us creatively or financially.

It’s why we don’t automatically value every product that solves our problems.

Changing anything is hard work. If the effort required to make the change is too great, or the payoff not great enough, we would rather itch than scratch.

“For an infrequent action to become habit-forming, a user must perceive a high level of utility, or tremendous pleasure from the reduction of pain.” — Nir Eyal, Hooked

Value is triangulated by the depth of the problem, the immediacy of the need, and the simplicity of the solution.

In order not to overlook value, you must first find its edges and then build a solution around it.

And remember, value can be quantified, so be sure you have mechanisms for measuRRRing it.

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