A 2-Step Guide to Become a Successful Startup, and What Success Looks Like

So I came up with this 2-step guide to become a successful startup:

Step 1: Find a problem.

Step 2: Solve it.

Is it that simple? Yes and no.

Yes, because every successful startup solves a painful problem or fulfills a strong need of their customers.

No, because following this 2-step guide does not guarantee that your startup will become successful. You can follow it, and still fail. There are, however, some best practices for both step 1 and step 2.

Find a problem

Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” I agree.

Spend most of your time to find and understand the problem inside-out. Engage with (potential) problem-havers a lot. You should — maybe — even fall in love with the problem. Because: the problem that you find at the surface is often not the real problem that you would want to solve. Make sure you dig deeper.

But don’t just go for any problem. Instead focus on the problems worth solving. To help you with this, the…

  • bigger…
  • more painful…
  • more urgent…
  • more consistent…
  • more common…

… the problem is within a certain target group, the better. These are the types of problem where money can be made.

Obviously, it would also help if the one with the problem also has the money to get it solved.

Solve it

Now that you focused on finding the right problem and know this problem very well, you just only have to solve it. Of course, this is easier said than done, but again there are some shortcuts that make this step a lot easier and quicker.

Let me explain.

I think of a good solution as a circle:

A round circle, to be precise. This represents a solution that on itself solves a problem. If you can close the circle, you have a solution. If you cannot close the circle (yet), you have a partial solution that just doesn’t make the problem go away. You either have (or will get) trouble selling it, or customers stop using your solution after a while, or you have to combine your incomplete product with (unscalable) services. Or all of the aforementioned.

So, an ideal solution is round whereas a partial solution is a concave function (I see it as a “U”-shape). You can either try to close the partial solution and make it a circle, or — and this is what happens often — you can try to increase the size of the circle before you try to connect the ends. In the latter case, the partial circle grows bigger and bigger — for example by adding more and more functionality to your product — making it harder and harder to actually get the circle round. It kinda looks like a messy patchwork that took too long to make, makes your solution less distinct and maybe even over-done.

Where the ideal problem is big, the ideal solution is small.

To keep the circle small, try to apply the Pareto principle: with 20% of your effort you want to realize 80% of the value for your customers. In other words, find an MVP that is really ‘M’ and delivers a solution to a real problem of real customers. Then think of ways how to monetize and scale your solution.

Problem-solution fit growth strategies

There are many types of problem-solution fits, but ideally you want to have a fit with the smallest viable solution for the biggest problem. Think big, but think small. From there on, there are two growth strategies, which could also be combined:

1) Grow your circle
2) Connect circles

Once you have a problem-solution fit, so a (small) circle that solves your customers’ problem, you can try to grow this circle while keeping it closed. This includes the remaining 20% of the Pareto principle but also optimizing the current solution (make it better, faster, stronger, etc.).

Also, you can start tackling another — but related — problem of the same customer segment. In this case, you start a new circle and follow the 2-step guide again. But instead of juggling two different stand-alone circles, it would be even better if you can connect them in order to utilize synergies of both solutions and have a more complete yet distinct offering. You can create a product that includes and interconnects multiple circles.

Therefore, to conclude, my visualization of a successful startup with a product with multiple problem-solution fits looks like this: