Startup explorations #14 / Restating the problem; validating solutions

February 15, 2021

At this nebulous stage of the work where things are taking more and more shape but could still veer off in one direction or another, it becomes a tough balancing act to solidify the ideas in my head while trying to validate them at every step of the way. It's ever so tempting to just let the imagination run wild—which is why it's necessary to make sure we're on course by always going back to the problem we're trying to solve, and finding different ways to state it if needed.

I stated the problem and my proposed solution a few posts back; I've even gotten as far as to create a simple wireframe to help visualize the solution, about which I also wrote earlier. But as I float this project idea in its current form to prospective users, I find it difficult to get substantial feedback—more than a simple, "Yeah! This looks cool," or "Great, can't wait to see more." In truth, it's not their fault; because the way I've stated the problem, I haven't accounted what actually makes a user stick to using a particular product—not just thinking it sounds like a great idea but actually feeling no need to use it.

To reiterate, I previously summed up the problem as: 1) Building an audience from the ground up is too intimidating or discouraging; 2) Careful searching for like-minded people to follow is too time consuming; and 3) Difficult to engage with already established people.

Notice how, while these problems do point to a specific pain point, that is, the frustration of starting out to build an audience from nothing, it says nothing of the other, more human piece of the whole puzzle: that it takes steady, consistent effort over a long period of time. I would thus restate the problem as follows:

  1. Building an audience from the ground up is too intimidating or discouraging; difficult to engage with already established people.
  2. Careful searching for like-minded people to follow/engage is too time consuming.
  3. Audience building needs to be systematic and consistent to get results.

Therefore, it also leads us to a solution that enables our prospective users to make such a commitment:

  1. A platform on top of social network sites like Twitter that recommends the best people for you to engage with.
  2. No need to calibrate or manually enter a whole bunch of parameters; the platform would base its decisions on your follower count, frequency of engagement, keywords, etc. and would learn about you and your ideal audience over time.
  3. It would break down a large target into small goals, and walk you through a plan daily.

Because this problem-solution statement now takes into account the need for a prospective user to commit to a plan in order to get the value we're offering, the project idea now requires a much more robust approach to validating it, which will hopefully give us quality feedback, whether positive or negative.

The third point of the solution is particularly an interesting area to investigate: what if we actually walked a prospective user through, say, a seven-day plan to build out their audience even a little bit? If it turns out to yield value, then we know there's something in this project idea. At any rate, as I hope to have shown here, revisiting the problem and thinking through it a little more carefully each time can lead us to solutions that we might have otherwise missed—and the solutions themselves offer the clues as to how they can be validated.

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