The Importance of Unpackaged Pains
The startup ideation process has been significantly influenced by product management methodologies in the past few years - and fortunately so. We are all much more attuned to our target personas’ pains and realize that what we do as founders and investors during the startup ideation phase is essentially a product management exercise on a larger scale.
One of the key aspects of tackling the ideation phase by leveraging product management methodologies is seeing the persona interview as a key part of the process. We understand that we have buyer and user personas and that only by obsessing over them can we actually bring a valuable product to market.
This approach has led many founding teams to double down on the “top 3 pains” method, which basically means asking the buyer/user persona what are her/his current top pains. The premise behind this process is that this target persona has recently reviewed their own processes and have a clear intent of optimizing them.
Also, it assumes that the target persona has managed to identify these unoptimized processes, define their problematic nature and occasionally, even provide a vision with regards to how to solve it.
This is what I call the “pain packaging” process. Truthfully, many of the more urgent problems do go through this packaging process (to a degree) within your potential target customers. But naturally, these packaged pains are more quickly targeted by many early stage startups and quickly become more of a rarity.
But, rarity is not the only issue with packaged pains. We’re all familiar with the (alleged) quote by Henry Ford - “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.
I encourage you to try and trigger a process with target personas around unpackaged pains. There are several advantages to this - firstly, your creativity can lead to exponential leaps in the solution landscape rather than linear advancements (i.e. faster horses). Secondly, if you are the one connecting the dots, you are also likely to gain a degree of an edge over potential competition and get a head start. Lastly, and obviously, this approach is much more likely to originate ideas in otherwise barren landscapes.
It assumes that the target persona has managed to identify these unoptimized processes, define their problematic nature and occasionally, even provide a vision with regards to how to solve it. This is what I call the “pain packaging” process.
The danger with unpackaged pains is that they are occasionally unpackaged for a reason (usually, a lack of urgency). So it is definitely important to thoroughly validate that your pain packaging is indeed correlated with an urgent need using many persona interviews.
Moreover, for a founding team to be able to carry out this dots-connecting process, a certain degree of domain expertise is crucial before a persona interview is carried out. This is only logical and is an important part of balancing a top-down (theoretical thinking) vs. a bottom-up (persona interviewing) driven ideation and validation processes.
The last key part to point out when focusing on unpackaged pains is that this type of pain requires more market education already in the validation process. Target personas may be unaware of some of the dots you have connected and require some "education" before recognizing the pain. Consequently, you will need to already face some push back in validation and counter it with solid insight. Needless to say, and as mentioned before, you need to be careful that you are not connecting dots which make sense only to you. But if you manage to find the right ones - you are likely on to something big.