Finding a good problem by actually talking to people

Sarah Hutchinson13 Mar 17

At Mindiply, we’re following the process described in ‘Running Lean’ by Ash Maurya to interview potential users to check if you’re solving an actual user problem — the ‘Problem Interview’.

The process is great because:

a) it gets you out of your comfort zone. You have to talk to 30–60 people. That isn’t going to happen just by asking around your network, you need to be inventive, contact and meet strangers and go to networking events. Fast. Like, get on with it already.

b) it’s a structured interview and you rank how much the users feel the pain. You leave knowing if the person you just talked to is an early evangelist and what their biggest problem is. How much do they feel it? Is it a ‘must have’ or a ‘nice to have’?

I’ve interviewed 10 people now in two weeks (so with my team we’re soon reaching 30) and I’ve been musing on one element of it.

Motivation vs. Pain felt

The main point of the problem interviews is to find out if you’ve identified a problem that people feel enough, that when you build them a solution, they’ll use it, give great feedback, use it even more and introduce it to all their friends. You want to find early adopters. You this by identifying three main problem areas and see how much each of them resonates. What you’re looking for is a ‘must have’ problem. Something that is really really bugging them and, most importantly, they’re already desperately trying to solve. This proves their motivation.

You can vaguely wish something was better for years, but you only become a potential early adopter when you actively go out and try to solve it. You’re looking for people who know what’s out there on the market and still are not be satisfied. So, proof of motivation is hugely important.

But so is pain felt. And in some ways, these are contradictory to one another.

If something is really bugging you, so you got out and find a solution, it’s probably going to bug you less. Even if the solution is not perfect, and you’re still frustrated, you’re going to find it less of a problem. I’ve talked to some people who have been actively trying to solve these problems for years and still haven’t found a solution they’re happy with. So they’re the perfect early adopter. Yay! I want to commission a portrait of them in gold leaf and hang it in my living room.

But I’ve also spoken to a lot of people who do really identify with the problem, but through organisation changes and multiple new initiatives, are kinda doing quite well. It’s a hugely important issue to them, but it’s also their job and they’re spent the last few months/years working hard to make sure it’s less of an issue. So, are they early adopters?

It’s going to be relatively easy for them to implement changes if they see value in the product because they’re on the lookout and the organisation is interested in new initiatives to solve the problem. But the anguish they feel about the problem is no longer huge. It’s a ‘nice to have’.

At the same time, there are people who really really feel the pain but are not in a position to do so much about it. They’re less empowered and in more traditional or dysfunctional organisations. So, they are taking steps and proving their motivation, and the pain is a ‘must have’, but they’re in less of a position to do anything about it in their organisation.

So, who is the better early adopter?

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