Is your solution solving a real or a fictional pain point?

Real Pain Points — what problem are you solving and whom are you solving it for?

The Segway is the most recent example in public memory of a solution in search of a problem. But history is littered with such products. Remember the epic failure of Iridium, the satellite phone company, that filed Chapter 11 in 1999? They spent $5bn, launched 66 satellites and forecasted having 500,000 subscribers in the first year. In reality only 10,000 people subscribed — it was just too expensive at $5 per minute plus a handset at $3,000. It also didn’t work well in urban areas, or wherever there wasn’t a clear line of sight between the handset and the satellite! In hindsight, there couldn’t possibly have been a high demand for such a service. We call this product disease (or rather fatality) Fictional Pain Disorder.

How do you prevent your product from succumbing to the disease of being a solution in search of a problem? In this blog we talk about how to fill out the R (Real Pain Points) in RDCL Product Strategy to prevent this product fatality. We have included a picture of the RDCL framework below and you can download the complete toolkit from Radical Product.

By way of a quick recap, each element of the RDCL Product Strategy has a product and process question, listed below for reference:

  • Real Pain Points: What is the problem and for whom are we solving the problem?
  • Design: What does the product do (features) and how does it do it (appearance, brand, voice)?
  • Capabilities: Why you? Product capabilities (e.g. data, algorithms, patents) and Process capabilities (relationships, partnerships)
  • Logistics: How do we price the product? What is our process/ medium to deliver the product?

The following are the key elements of the Real Pain Points row in your Radical Product Strategy:

  • Customer segment: What market are you targeting, and how are you defining it? In the case of B2B, this might be a specific market vertical. For example, as an ad tech company, you might be targeting the display ad market, but not TV ads. In the B2C case, your customer segment may be specific geographies and demographics. For example, in the case of Likelii, we targeted customers who liked wine, had the disposable income to spend a minimum of $13–15 on a wine, and had a wine knowledge of level 2–6 on a scale of 1–10 (where 10 was a Master Sommelier).
  • Customer persona: What goes on inside of your target customer’s head? What are they trying to get done, and why? What will make them successful? In the example earlier of Likelii, our target customer persona was someone who was interested in wine and wanted to learn about wine but they either didn’t have the time to do the research, most likely busy professionals. They were down-to-earth and didn’t identify with the Wine Spectator audience.
Tip: Don’t make the common mistake of conflating personas with job titles or roles. Roles represent collections of tasks, but don’t reflect the emotions, goals, or perspectives of the individual trying to accomplish those tasks For example, persona cannot be described simply as the CIO of a company — the CIO of a software startup is not trying to accomplish the same thing as the CIO of an investment banking giant.
  • Pain point: How does your customer accomplish their task today? What are the impediments that they complain about? Why is their current solution unacceptable? What hacks or workarounds have they developed on their own to alleviate some of the pain? What are the consequences and results of the current pain points? In answering these questions you’ll need to make sure that your Pain Points are actually “Real” — to be validated, a pain point must be both valued and verified:
Validated = Valued + Verified
  • Valued — Let’s say your product could help the customer perform a task faster, and more accurately. But what if the cost of a mistake is so little that they don’t care? What if this task is performed by existing resources who have the bandwidth and cannot be eliminated? Unless there’s a clear cost attributable directly to the pain point, it will be very hard to drive customer adoption.
  • Verified — Is this a pain point that affects more than a handful of people in the world? This is especially important if you’ve felt the pain personally — scratching your own itch can be a powerful vision motivator, but you have to confirm that others share that itch too!
Tip: Notice how specific we are being in filling out the Real Pain Points row. Having a generic customer segment (for example, “companies in the delivery business”) is not useful.We have often heard founders worry that being too specific about their target customer segments will limit their potential market size. This worry is understandable — it’s important to think of your future expansion trajectory, and what moves will get you there. However, if you can’t drive initial adoption in a small population of well-targeted customers, that future you’re preparing for will be moot anyway.

You may find that there are multiple customer segments, personas and pain points that you need to list. That’s fine, but they must be prioritized. In developing a new product, especially a radically innovative one, chasing customer needs in multiple segments will drain your resources and slow down progress toward achieving your vision.

Remember that your strategy has a Now, Next and Later. Your strategy will necessarily evolve as you hit each milestone and get closer to your North Star. If you take the opportunity now to prioritize your target segments and real pain points, you’ll be one step closer to achieving the vision you set for yourself and your team.

Share your experiences as you think through the Real Pain Points for your target customers. We look forward to hearing your comments and questions.