“To build a product you need to start with a problem, then come up with a solution.”

But actually, that’s wrong for new products.


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Let’s see why this approach works well for established products:

  • You already have a core product that creates value. The PM’s goal is to improve it, but not reinvent it. No need to build something so much better that people get inspired to switch from another product.
  • Ideally, find areas where the product is failing current users.
  • Once you understand the problems of current users, most of the time you will naturally come up with a solution.
  • The solution will probably be simple: a new feature, different activation flow, better UI, new pricing plan, etc.

So why does “start with a problem, come up with a solution” almost never work for new products?

  • Founders start working on a problem they have.
  • Research shows there are other people with this problem.
  • These other people are even ready to pay for a solution. That’s when new founders usually get excited.
  • However, most problems people research this way don’t have an easy solution. Even a deep understanding of the problem doesn’t guarantee a better solution than the ones already on the market.
  • Renting an apartment in London or New York is an awful experience. But there is no obvious way (at the level of a new feature or UI solution) to make it better.
  • There are lots of people who get burned out at their job. But there is no obvious digital scalable product to solve that.
  • Teams get stuck thinking up a better solution or build something that doesn’t solve a problem. A problem that exists. A problem they understand relatively well.

Most new products start with an insight into a potential solution. It might come from personal experience, random luck, seeing how people “hack” other products, transferring experience from one industry to another, or learning about a new technology early on.

Once you have this insight you start exploring the problem. This process shapes and changes your initial idea about the solution.

To start, you need that kernel of an idea. Or else you don’t have anything to build on.

But where do you look for that idea? What are your sources of inspiration?

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