Snowgie Costume vs White Onesie :> 5 Common Mistakes while “Finding a problem and solving it”

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When, we received a beautifully made invitation which said that the theme of the party was Frozen (the movie), and the dress code was ‘blue/white’, we were quite excited as it would be our baby girl’s first party.

So, my wife wanted our baby to go dressed up as a Snowgie. My first action was of course to find out what exactly a Snowgie is and I came across this -

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Of course, it seemed like the perfect fit that our baby should be dressed up as this really cute Snowgie. Not having time to order a Snowgie costume online (which would ship from the US), I decided to make it myself. With only 3 days to spare, I wanted to surprise my wife and started working on this secretly.

In true engineering fashion, I broke down the problem into various components and got to work. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy and in the end, I ended up with nothing!

After a lot of mental agony and wasted physical effort, when I went home to pick up my wife and baby for the party, I found that my baby was already dressed in a white onesie! -

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And then it struck me — that all my “secret” pain and agony had been for nothing. Fundamentally, because, I had let my imagination carry me away. After all, there can be something as “too much creativity”!

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This brings me to the 5 common mistakes that Startup Founders often make when it comes to trying to “solve the problem”.

Of late, it has become quite fashionable to want to “find a problem and then solve it”. Well, if you are going to “find the problem”, might as well make it worth your time and effort.

With this article, I aim to identify a few common mistakes in “finding a problem and solving it” and the relevant questions to ask when identifying a problem to solve.

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Mistake #1: Manufacturing or Fabricating a problem where there is none or where the problem is very simple.

In the above example, my problem was very simple — blue/white dress. But I got carried away and ultimately it was only me who decided to make it into an actual Snowgie costume which nobody really wanted!

The simplicity of the problem statement — To find a blue/white dress — did not appeal to my over-engineering brain and hence, I fabricated a problem of creating a real costume.

Similarly, I meet founders all the time who imagine that the “problem they have found” is the problem the whole world wants to be solved.

But sometimes, it may not even be required to “solve the problem” if the solution is complex or requires much effort. After all, people have been getting around since ages and they will continue to do so.

Now the question to be asked is “What is the exact problem? And is it really worth solving in terms of time, effort and money?”

Mistake #2: Making assumptions about the User Group Features and its Size.

Though not directly related to my analogy, most of us grossly overestimate the User Group Size.

I have seen this in a lot of startup pitches which are full of amazing numbers such as x% of y million. Statistics can be thrown around but unless you haven’t conducted actual research even for a very small (but representative) sample, I wouldn’t want you to put your effort in it.

Also, I have seen founders make a lot of assumptions about a market user group in which they have probably no experience.

For example, I once saw a pitch where the founder mentioned about the potential target customers for a new and expensive ERP solution for industrial SMEs. Having dealt with industrial SMEs all my career, I asked the founder to conduct a survey. He couldn’t even get the survey completed because industrial SMEs in India are very hands-on and software computerisation is not really their priority, particularly if it is expensive.

So, the question here to be asked is, “How many people really want the problem to be solved? And do the people (who I think want the solution), really want it?”

Mistake #3: Working in Stealth Mode.

Stealth mode is not always good, especially in case of complex new solutions involving time and effort.

There is a very big risk of deviating drastically from the original goal if you do not interact with the customer constantly during development of such solutions.

Or as in my case, barking up a totally unnecessary solution tree. After all, I was working in secret while all the time the customer was my wife! (to paraphrase David Ogilvy).

I could have avoided all my trouble if I had just asked the customer once what she really wanted.

Here, the question to be asked continually during the conceptualisation process — “Is the solution I am thinking of, the solution which the customer wants? Have I really interacted enough with the customer?”

Mistake #4: Ignoring the importance of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for a new solution.

Eric Ries defined the Minimum Viable Product as “that version of a new productwhich allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

Assuming the customer wanted the Snowgie costume, I should have first made a simple white dress with Snowgie features. At least this way, I would have gotten sufficient feedback in time for the party.

The right question would have been “What is the most representative solution with the minimal investment in time and effort?”

Mistake #5: Banking only on Personal Involvement and Enthusiasm without Domain Expertise.

Instead of finding the right agency, I wasted time and effort to create a perfect sphere using papier-mache when I have no sculpting skills whatsoever.

In my mind, I had a beautiful and very detailed vision but I was just unable to execute it.

Learning is of course good and one can learn many skills but provided one has time. When time or bandwidth is not available (I was juggling many tasks around the same time), the best way would have been for me to partner with the right person or hire the right talent or outsource the work altogether.

Here, I should have asked myself the question “Do I have the right skills to personally solve this problem? If no, how can I arrange for the right skills within the available constraints?”

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So, now, these are the 5 questions which I will ask myself every time, I think that I have found a problem to solve!

Would be glad to know your questions!