How to Validate the Problem Statement

Lean Startup Principles – Validate the Problem Statement

Remember when I said that most companies waste money on mobile and that their smart presence makes them look dumber than when they started?  Remember how I said that the Lean Canvas can be used for product roadmap and feature prioritization? 

Let’s dig in to how I’m doing that with Emphatic, the mobile app for sharing physical books with your virtual society.

Now that we have a heartfelt product backstory, let’s build the business model.  You may recall that I encourage the Lean Canvas.  It can be done quickly enough that you can think through multiple possibilities for what the right “Plan A” business model before you start investing time and energy in developing your product.

Lean Canvas Step #1 – Identify Top 3 Problems

“Validating the pain” means two things: 

  • The pain is significant enough that people would pay you for a better way to alleviate it.
  • The pain is shared by enough people that focusing a product on that pain will result in a viable business model.

In other words – “Do I have a problem that is worth solving?”

Brainstorming for Emphatic

Here is the long-winded brainstorming version of the problems. 

Problem 1 – As a father, time to myself when I can read is limited.  When I wanted to Tweet a quote from a physical book or make a quick virtual note about my thoughts so I’d have it later, the process was distracting from the experience of reading the book.  With limited time to read and limited time to write, the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of trying to do both at the same time was extremely frustrating.

Problem 2 – Keeping track of my thoughts and insights is hard short-term and nearly impossible long-term.  I love “book pairing” – I gain more from reading two or more books with topics distinct enough that the synergy between them is worth more than reading the one book alone.  As an example, reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! at the same time as Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup gave me two fairly different but complementary perspectives on choosing what to create (as an artist or writer or worker) and making sure you’re creating something worth the time you spend.  Of course, he drawback if you want to properly attribute/cite your sources (and you should), is that it becomes even harder to keep track of the insights you gain and which author and book should be credited.  As I shared in the Product Backstory, this is challenging enough when I’m writing a short blog post a few days after reading two or more books.  When writing a 30 page thesis with dozens of sources that were found over a 6 month period, this went from challenging to “maybe I should just find some new books instead”.

Problem 3 – Speaking of research papers, the tougher concept to grasp in high school about bibliographies and citations wasn’t the format in which to provide the information (that just takes practice and a handy set of examples).  The painful part was the grey area between researching as a group with your classmates versus “cheating” – too many shared sources looked like you didn’t do your own homework, even though learning and researching as a pair is far more effective than doing it alone.  The flip side of that is the grey area between what you need to cite in the first place – when I combine my philosophy and MBA background with Austin Kleon and Ash Maurya to produce an idea that is fairly unique to me – what do attribute I and when? It takes so much time to properly cite things in double-spaced New Times Roman MLA format that I went ahead and restricted the number of sources to compensate – hardly what my teacher intended!

Get Succinct – Add the Problems to the Lean Canvas

If I was teaching you this in a workshop, I’d get you boil down each problem statement enough that you could write it with a Sharpie and fit it on a Post-It note.  Us workshop peeps do this for two reasons – the rest of the room needs to be able to see it from wherever they are sitting and you need to be succinct.  Thus, the long version up top represents the conversations and musings I’ve had about this so far (like I’d facilitate in a workshop) while below I’ll summarize them.

As Ash Maurya describes in Running Lean, knowing the pains that Plan A will address is important, but its the ability to validate the business plan as a whole – in this case, by sharing the completed Lean Canvas with friends, mentors, or potential customers – that is the real point.  If you can’t explain to a potential customer what pain you can solve for them in under a minute, they probably won’t care about the business model you’re building around their pains.

So here are the Post-It size problem statements:

Problem 1 – Frustration capturing quotes and notes

Problem 2 – Difficulty keeping track of insights

Problem 3 – Grey areas when citing sources

Validate the Problem!

Remember how the title of the post is “How to Validate the Problem Statement”?  You have to go talk to people!  I’m going to head over to the library and ask people who look like they love books about these pains.

Want in?

If you can empathize with these pains, you’re potentially my target customer!  If you’d like to help me solve this pain we share as an early adopter, sign up for the email list here.

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