Achieving success in product by solving your own problem

by Sean Boyce

Years ago I set out on a mission to rid the world of product failure.  I thought the crazy high failure rate of products (greater than 9 out of 10) was insane and if I could even make a dent in that number then I could help a lot of people.

A big part of what I do involves helping design the most effective product strategy roadmap so you can crush it in product.  I’ve come to realize there is another pattern that I think can be a game changer for a lot of people that want to succeed in product and it involves selecting your target market audience.

For those of us out there (myself included) who have attempted to solve problems for someone else, I’m here to tell you that you are making your job much harder.  We already talked about how difficult it is to succeed in product and the last thing we want to do is make the job even harder.

In this article, I want to talk about why I think you should focus on solving your problems instead.

Background

The reason why I’m encouraging you to focus on solving your own problems is related to why so many products fail.  We know the vast majority of products fail, but why?  There are multiple reasons, but from what I’ve studied, the biggest reason is a lack of discovery and user research data in your target market.  You simply don’t know enough about the target market to design an effective product strategy roadmap.

There is so much to know about a target market.  What is their biggest problem, who exactly is experiencing it and when, what are they trying to do instead to solve this problem, how well does this work, how much negative impact is this problem causing?  There simply isn’t too much you can know about the target market.  This data is critical to determining whether or not you’ve got a problem worth solving.

What I’m trying to say is that the farther removed you are from the target market industry or the users in question, the harder it is to get this data that you need to succeed.  Think of it like learning a language.  What does everyone inevitably bring up when a conversation about language learning comes up?  The most effective way to learn a language is immersion.  You too need immersion when it comes to truly understanding everything there is to know about your target market.

However, these patterns can shift to being in your favor if you instead choose to solve your own problem.  This is the equivalent of learning that language in the foreign country where it is the primary language.  At that point it’s probably harder not to learn the language.  You would learn it simply out of necessity because you are surrounded by it.

Why solving someone else’s problem makes you more likely to fail

I need you to really understand how powerful this pattern can be to help you succeed in product.  As such, I want to talk more about why taking the opposite approach, focusing on solving someone else’s problems, makes your job that much harder.

If you set out to solve someone else’s problem then it’s likely that you haven’t traveled this path yourself.  If that’s the case, then this is something that you should really do first otherwise you’ll risk floundering as you try to innovate in a space that you really don’t know as well as you should.

What typically happens when people choose this strategy is that they get excited about an idea and rush to build it.  The product typically fails somewhere between the build and just after the launch stage.  If it’s released, it releases to crickets – no one wants to use it.  This is typically because you built a solution to a product that doesn’t exist..ouch.  To put it rather simply, if you don’t understand everything about the target market you are going to miss something that can torpedo your product efforts.

If you choose to solve your own problem, you are way ahead of the game because you already have a ton of data and great perspective positioning you much better for achieving product success.

Why it makes so much sense to solve your own problem

To put it rather simply, you know the target market very well because it is you!  Since you are in the target market, you likely already have answers for the critical questions we asked in the section above.  You know the problem and you’ve already tried to solve it.  If your existing solution falls short, then you know exactly where and why it falls short.  If you know that, then you are the perfect person to think through solution design for making it even better.

One of the most telling questions we ask when performing user research is ‘what did you Google?’.  Here, we’re trying to get inside the minds of people in the target market to get a better understanding of what they are searching for to solve their problem.  Again, since you know the problem space well, then you’ve likely already been searching.  So what did you search for and have you found anything that does a better job at solving your problem?  If not, perhaps it’s time to build that product strategy roadmap and bring your better solution to market.

Another bonus of solving your own problem is that you are also likely to know others like you.  People naturally gravitate toward others that they have something in common with.  You’ve likely built a network of people like you without even realizing it.  As such, if and when you decide to build a product to solve one of your problems, you also may have access to others like you where you can perform discovery to get a better understanding of their situation as well.  This is one of the quickest ways to validate a potential value proposition for your theoretical product before you enter the time consuming and expensive build phase.

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Lastly, if you do end up bringing a product to market to solve your own problem, you wind up with a much better worse case scenario then if you had chosen to solve problems for someone else.  Your product should at least solve your problem, which means progress moves forward for you.  So if you’ve thoroughly vetted the market for a better solution and haven’t found one, the one you build will move your mission forward.  With any luck, that same product can be offered to others to benefit them as well and generate potentially significant value for you.  So instead of failing entirely and being a total loss, the new potential worse case scenario for your product is providing you with the solution you always needed.  As far as worst case scenarios go, that’s not bad!

Exploring real world examples

If you’re anything like me, whenever I explore a new strategy I always find examples helpful.  As such, I’ve provided a few below, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, more worth exploring.  I encourage you to study these and find others.  Email me about what you found at sean@nxtste.io.  I’d love to discuss it with you.

Basecamp

The story of Basecamp comes originally from a software services company called 37 Signals.  The founders of Basecamp are Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson who have published several excellent books together.  The one that tells the Basecamp story in detail is called Rework, and I would encourage you to read it.  It’s a great story and one that I wish was more often told when people talk about succeeding in product.

Basecamp came to be from the work done building the software company 37 signals.  When they experienced challenges related to managing their client projects, they started searching for existing solutions.  Having come up empty to meet their requirements, they began to design what they felt would be a better tool.  Ultimately, they found out that many others felt the same way and today the largely project management software platform generates 10s of millions in dollars in profit per year and it all started by solving their own problem.

Online Jobs dot PH

The founder of onlinejobs.ph is John Jonas and I’ve recently had him on my podcast to tell his story.  John also created a product to solve his own problem, the story of which he tells best on my podcast so I would encourage you to listen to that when you can.

John was unsatisfied with the existing options he had available to grow a team around the online business he wanted to build, and as such, started looking for better solutions.  He wound up discovering a tremendous opportunity to build a team of people working from the Philippines.

Online jobs dot ph was born out of necessity as John wanted more direct access to working professionals from the Philippines that he needed to grow his respective business ventures.  Upon seeing the success he was achieving, it turned out that others had a pretty big need here as well.  As of recently, John shared with me that his product has grown to more than 400,000 employer accounts.  Sounds like a pretty big problem was solved in a very effective way.  The best advice John shares on my podcast episode is to solve your own problem.

As I mentioned, these are just two of the many stories of people who have achieved runaway success in product by solving their own problem first.  I encourage you to find others and report back to let me know what you’ve learned.  I’d love to hear more from you.

Product strategies you can leverage to solve your problem with a product

I want to continually reinforce that your product solution doesn’t have to be just software.  You can really productize anything, even a service.  In fact, in another one of my articles I talk extensively about the pros and cons of considering whether or not you should build your product in software or as a productized service.

Before you rush into a build, explore your options for how to best solve the problem with a product.  The faster and more cost effectively you can bring a product to market, the better. Not only will you receive the cost savings from that efficiency, but you’ll be able to validate your value proposition that much sooner.

Read my article linked about to dive deeper into a detailed comparison between these two effective product strategies.

Getting Started

If you like this idea of starting by solving your own problem first, then what you need to do first is identify your top problem worth solving.

Think along the lines of what is impacting your success as a business the most.  To think of it another way, what’s preventing you from helping 10X as many people as you do today?  This thought process should iron out a few ideas for where to start looking.

Once you’ve identified your top problem worth solving, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can solve it better than anyone has before.

Hiring Help

If you don’t have the answer to the previous question or are unsure how to get started with this process then I can help.

I’ll audit your operation to identify the top problem worth solving that is preventing you from reaching a level of scale you never thought was possible.  From there, I can build you a product strategy roadmap to unlock tremendous value for your business.To start tapping into some of that ROI, email me at sean@nxtstep.io.

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