How to Identify the Right Problem to Solve?
Ideation processes are tricky. They’re somewhat amorphic in their nature (you can try and model them, but only to a degree), they often take (much?) longer than the founding team expects and the most frustrating thing about them - it’s not entirely obvious when you should end them. In other words, the actual criteria you need to cross can be very tricky to nail down. How can you identify that a certain problem that arose during persona interviews justifies doubling down on? Spoiler - urgency and land ACVs are definitely key, but not the whole picture.
We all know that problems startups choose to target change (or evolve) throughout their journey. So betting on a specific problem, while sensible, is probably not enough. Betting on a problem space rather, might be a better choice. A problem space is essentially a set of several problems within a target market, and it is something worth considering when you’re at the finalization of an ideation process. But then it begs the question - what are the makings of the right problem space for you specifically?
Pivotability is one aspect of a problem space worth paying attention to. The ability to pivot organically to adjacent problems/use cases within a problem space is an important aspect of the target space you choose. A high level of pivotability stems from the founders’ ability to navigate within a space, the potential of an MVP (minimal viable product) to translate its value (at least to a degree) to adjacent use cases and whether there is a wide enough range of problems within a problem space.
A high level of pivotability stems from the founders’ ability to navigate within a space, the potential of an MVP (minimal viable product) to translate its value (at least to a degree) to adjacent use cases and whether there is a wide enough range of problems within a problem space.
Founders’ chemistry with a potential target persona is also an essential aspect of a potential target problem space and a goal of the ideation process. Most tech solutions require a degree of market education so that buyers are persuaded to, well, buy. The sheer value of your product is not necessarily enough to fully support that persuasion process (unfortunate, but true). It is on the founders to inspire, convince and create urgency within the buyer persona (at least at the beginning of the journey, when founder-based sales are still the dominant sales process). And that requires chemistry.
Domain expertise is the third component in this triangle of optimization. While not a must and definitely something that can be developed (with the right foundations), domain expertise supports the other two components. Navigating through a problem space (e.g. pivotability) and inspiring potential buyers (e.g. chemistry) are both matters which (obviously) greatly benefit from a deep understanding of the space.
The story of the ideation process is nuanced and complex. It is not just about finding an urgent problem. Looking at problem spaces and judging them according to pivotability, chemistry and expertise can help crystallize whether an opportunity is worth pursuing and should give you conviction that you’re targeting the right problem space.