Solving a Problem Is Not Enough


The NEF 2014 cohort was lucky enough to have a 2-day session with Chris Coleridge, a professor of Technology Entrepreneurship at UCL (amongst other things). What he usually does in weeks with his masters students we attempted in hours.

The gems from his years of experience came thick and fast but one in particular stood out to me:

 

Solving a problem isn’t enough to have a successful business.

 

Wait, what? Isn’t that exactly what we’re meant to do – solve problems? Pretty much every startup book or blog you read will tell you to ruthlessly sniff out these ‘pain points’ to give you your initial ideas. They eagerly advise you to conduct consumer research so you understand your ‘customer needs’. Doesn’t this make perfect sense?

 

Necessary but not sufficient

Yes, it does make sense. But thinking this is the whole story is dangerous. The old ‘necessary but not sufficient’ maxim rears its ugly head, grinning as your precious sparkling startup idea melts into sand between your clasping hands.

Of course you have to solve a problem but there are other factors in play.

 

Let’s take Chris’s head-to-head example of Miscellaneous Loyalty Card App  vs IKEA.

 

Everyone agrees that stacks of loyalty cards in your wallet are a pain. If asked in a survey most people will enthusiastically tell you, yes – this is a genuine problem. But do they really care enough to download your loyalty card aggregator app? Nope. To pay you? Hell no! Loyalty cards are such as small part of people’s lives that even asking consumers to change their behaviour even a little bit is going to be met with resistance.

Furniture used to be very expensive and awkward to deliver with long waiting times. IKEA comes along and says “we’ll make it cheaper than ever before, fit in your car and you can have it today… if you assemble it yourself”. Luckily for them it worked. In consumers’ minds, spending an infuriating weekend constructing living room sets was a fair bargain – the huge behavioural change was balanced by the equally huge value Ikea put on the table.

 

Key Points

– A successful idea is (at least) the function of its ability to solve a problem and the change in consumer behaviour it requires.

– Either make your offering frictionless and super-slick – like Yplan for example.

Or be sure to release the biggest atomic bomb of value in your customer’s face so that they’ll have no choice but to take notice and change their habits to make you part of their new improved lives.

 

A lot of startups are solving problems. But many are solving only minor problems. Some aren’t even solving anything. I’ll leave you with this, naturally covered by Techcrunch:

‘Bar Power’ – http://goo.gl/8eZ49g

 

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