If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. – Unknown (Falsely attributed to Henry Ford)
The earlier you are in your validation process, the more open-ended you need to be.
As there are explicit and implicit needs, there are explicit and implicit problems. There are problems you know you have and there are problems you don’t know you have. Solutions to explicit problems typically drive startups towards consulting while implicit problems, through more guesswork, can lead to disruptions.
For example, an explicit problem would be not having a way to track the tasks performed by your team members.
Since you’re aware of the existence of this problem and find it painful, it becomes an explicit problem.
However, spending five hours every week consolidating the tasks of twenty team members can be an implicit problem. You might not realize that the same work could be done in just twenty minutes. Workarounds — like using a shared Excel spreadsheet for this task — are usually expressions of needs.
An implicit problem might be an opportunity for improvement. Although opportunities for gain often require making prospects aware of the existence of the problem, they are valuable in their own right.
In an ideal world, you would be meeting with a C-level early adopter who already knows what problem needs to be solved, has a budget to solve that problem and knows ten other C-level executives ready to buy.
Unfortunately, this kind of “hair-on-fire” problem is often more fantasy than reality.
You can’t ask directly what customers want. Inversely, customers don’t understand the context of your company and can’t tell you what to build — what makes sense for your business.
The best you can do is speak with a lot of early adopters, be open-minded and mindful of their realities to identify the strongest pains and the most pressing needs.
The stronger the pain and the higher up in the company the pain is felt, the greater the likelihood that the problem will be addressed.
You’re looking for the pain of a buyer, not just the pain of any user.
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