7 min read

Falling in love with the problem

Falling in love with the problem

You've got the idea that will be the next billion-dollar business. Following the experts is a straightforward approach:

  • Get investors
  • Build
  • Market
  • Profit

With such an easy recipe, why aren't there more billion-dollar companies?

You've got an idea that will disrupt an industry. Naturally, you start creating your product. After a few nights and weekends of work, you're ready to launch it. You've prepared your announcement, your email, and are ready to get it upvoted everywhere…

Here we go…

Launch day comes, you open the doors, and your big day comes... and goes... and nobody buys... you get a few comments here and there, but crickets otherwise. Why? All the work and nobody gives a shit about your product.

What did you do wrong? Nightmare. Total and complete utter failure. Not even a hallmark failure.

How to guarantee success

What if you could flip the script and guarantee the opposite? What if there is a way you can build the next "Uber for X" and have a repeatable system that works over and over again?

Is there a way you can build your company where sales are an after-thought?

Instead of praying and hoping people want to throw their credit cards at you, you have a waiting list for people wanting to buy your products... how nice the life of kicking back and watching the sales roll in would be.

Fall in love with the problem, not the solution

To make this guarantee you need to sell something that people want to buy. You need customers. Without customers, you might as well turn on Netflix and checkout of the idea of building your company.

You need customers.

What is a startup anyway?

  • The word startup is a fancy way of saying a business
  • Business have one core job: to make money
  • Companies make money by selling their products to customers
  • Customers are people
  • People buy products to soothe or maximize their potential
  • People buy on emotion

Figure out what the customer wants and you've got:

  • a billion-dollar business
  • with a waiting list of people desperate to give you money
  • and a marketing machine that sells for you

It sounds so easy, but don't you need

  • investors?
  • a team?
  • to know how to code?

The "backward" approach

Let’s give up the product idea (the solution) and focus on the customers (the problem they want solved).

We've established that you need customers (I beat this drum often). But wherewher are your customers?

We need to hunt for our customers. We need to know who they are, what they want, and what they'll pay for.

The first (and always ongoing) step is to find where your customers live. Where do they gather? What proverbial water cooler do they hang around? Finally, the most important information you can find is what pain are they experiencing.

Strap in and get comfortable flying the plane while building it as we need to build a model of who our customers are.

The joy of customer research

Research might sound tough, but it’s really just about mining reasons behind why people feel one way or another. We want to soak ourselves in the information they struggle with.

First, we need to find them. Take the product you've thought about and write down words that you think would use it.

As an example, let's say we're building an awesome product like uber, but for dogs. We’ll call it Uber for Puppies. Who would use the Uber for Puppies product?

  • Dog owners
  • Future dog owners
  • Professional dog trainers

With this list, we can niche-down our audience even more:

  • First-time dog owners
  • Professional dog trainers who are looking to expand their business
  • People fostering adoptable dogs

The more acute we can get with how we identify our audience, the more information and better we can understand them.

Just because we're narrowing down our audience does not mean we are building a small company. We're making initial research easier.

If you already have a company and customers, it will be a balancing act on when and how to expand your audience.

Why narrow the audience? We need to find where they hang out, of course.

Where are they?

Finding our customers and potential ones starts with finding them. Are they on job boards? Bulletin boards? Twitter? Reddit?

The step-by-step approach I personally like to take when I'm doing customer research is:

  1. Start with a search engine (like duckduckgo or Google) and open every link that looks interesting in a new tab in your browser. Once there are so many tabs open your computer runs slow, you have enough to start picking through.
  2. Search job postings (people who want to be a part of your audience are great)
  3. Hit up Twitter and Reddit searching for your audience.

What they say

We are aiming to be archeologists of our customers? Through every site you found, hunt for any emotion people in your audience express.

The first step is to gather and then we'll analyze our findings. No need to analyze just yet. Let's go on a hunt.

Do you find a lot of complaints or people asking questions about how to accomplish a specific task? Write it down.

Are people saying things like "it's too much work" or "I've heard it's a bad idea if..."? Write these down.

Do you find people who are answering these questions? Write the answers down.


The fun part is reading through everything you've written down and looking for common threads. What themes are present in your findings?

Some common threads to look for are:

  • It's too hard to do X
  • There must be a better way
  • It takes a lot of energy
  • What if I screw it up

Let's recall our "Uber for Puppies" audience. Common complaints I've found are:

  • Training a dog takes too much time
  • My dog still barks at the mailman
  • I can't get my dog to stop peeing on the carpet
  • My dog pulls on his leash when we go for a walk

The observant reader might see a few commonalities between the complaints. It's too hard and takes a lot of work are two that stand out to me. Can you see any others?

The questions we want to be answered

The work of researching your audience feels like a lot of work, but it will save you countless hours in the future. All these questions boil down to the three questions:

  • What hurts?
  • What do they want?
  • What will they buy?

Next steps

We just started our research and we already have a few common pains we've identified.

Now it's up to us to build for our customers and take the guesswork out of what they want.

Armed with quality research, you can guarantee the dreams of your company being a valuable one.

This process is repeatable. Once you get the hang of it, you can guarantee yourself you can build a valuable company over and over and over again.

Mind sparing a moment?

Is this post confusing? Did I make a mistake? Let me know if you have any feedback and suggestions!