Problems can’t be validated, only discovered.

Hi there -

Here is this week’s “1 principle, 2 strategies, and 3 actionable tactics” for running lean…

1 Universal Principle

“Problems can’t be validated, only discovered.”
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Stop the next three people you meet and ask them if they struggle with any one of the following:

  • Eating healthy
  • Staying fit
  • Saving enough for retirement

I’m neither a mind reader nor a magician, but I predict they’ll say yes to all three.

Pick one and follow up with a list of 3-5 specific problems (from your Lean Canvas) and have them rank the list by priority. If you want to be truly open-ended, add an “other” option too.

Repeat the process with 20-30 people. Analyze your responses to find the top 1-3 problems. To scale your efforts further, build a survey next and send it out to a hundred more people. Then, build a solution to address the top problems.

This is how many founders attempt to validate problems their solutions set out to solve only to have a rude awakening down the road when the same people interviewed and surveyed above refuse to buy their healthy meal, fitness device, or investment product.

Why does that happen?

It’s all too easy to place the spotlight on specific problems like the ones above only to bias your customers and yourself to faux validation.

Acting on false positive problems is costly because you end up wasting needless time, money, and effort building something nobody wants.

A better approach is adopting a discovery-before-validation mindset.

2 Underlying Strategies at Play

I. Don’t measure what customers say. Measure what they did.

Given a soapbox, everyone becomes a critic. In the case of aspirational outcomes like the ones above, it’s easy for anyone to hypothesize problems but you shouldn’t focus on hypothetical problems but actual ones. The only way to uncover actual problems is by interviewing people who have attempted and struggled to do any of the things above.

II. Validate your problem insights using an offer before building a solution.

Problems can’t be validated, solutions can — but building out a solution takes effort. A better and faster approach is testing your solution through a proxy.

Meet the offer.

Once you’ve discovered one or more problems worth solving, get the same people to first buy your “promise of better” packaged in an offer before building anything.

Demo-Sell-Build versus Build-Demo-Sell.

3 Actionable Tactics

I. Only talk to people who have attempted the job.

Already covered above, but bears repeating. It’s that important.

II. Use carefully unscripted 1:1 interviews.

The best and fastest way to learn about problems isn’t with a survey or focus group, but carefully unscripted 1:1 interviews. This sounds like a less efficient way to learn, but I’ll take 10 “good” interviews any day over a 1,000-person survey.

III. Go beyond symptoms to get to root causes.

Most people don’t introspectively study themselves, and so when prompted for problems, they only manage to come up with surface problems. Surface problems are often obvious and not all that interesting. In order to get to a breakthrough, you have to go deeper.

Like a true detective, your job is to start with things you know about the customer (like a gym they joined) and then work backward to reveal causality in their story (why that particular gym). Do this enough times, and you start understanding your customers better than they do.

See: A Blueprint for Understanding How People Buy Anything

That's all for today. See you next week.




P.S. If/when they start calling you a mind reader during your offer pitches, you know you’re on the right track :)


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