Problem Discovery: Finding pain points to help others

As a programmer I’m usually up to my ears in problems. Problem discovery is something I recently came upon as a technique to help build a business. Basically you find a problem that people have, then build something to address the problem.

But of course its not that simple, how do you even start with something like this? I’d like to share with you a recent experiment I did where I attempted to do some problem discovery on a pain point I was experiencing: Finding a master mind.

Define the problem (if you can)

I chose to go with a problem I was having of trying to find a mastermind. I had some resources on where to go get into one, but I had lots of questions.

Inspired by all of the tales of entrepreneurs “asking the people” I decided this would be a good time to test out Twitter Ads with a survey.  I put together a quick little survey on Google Docs, and then made a tweet with the link. A few minutes later I had a promoted tweet ready to go.

Now this approach was pretty focused: I had an idea of a problem, and with the twitter ads I was able to focus in on a very specific group of people (twitter users who are looking at the tweets of certain developers-turned-entrepreneurs). On one hand this is the definition of niche-ing down. On the other, I might have been able to widen the circle a little bit and get more people to see/take the survey.

In all this experiment cost $30 (the actual out of pocket expense was $0, I got a $50 credit for signing up with Twitter Ads), and it netted 4 email addresses and bunch of experience with problem discovery.

How can you do problem discovery if you have no ideas?

I was lucky with my experiment I had a pain point I could start with. If you don’t have one, you will have to go out and find one. The best way to do this is to talk to people.

And not just any people, but people who are doing things that either make money or cost money.

For example, if you try to do problem discovery with a bunch of college students you are going to find some problems. BUT… are these problems that people would be willing and able to pay to have solved? Not always.

A better path is to talk to business owners and find out where they are having issues. If you can address a problem that affects how much money they are making (e.g. solving that problem will make them more money or cost them less money) then you have found a great problem.

Another good idea is to solve the problem of people already spending money. iPhones are the perfect example of this. People pay several hundred dollars to get a fancy shiny iPhone. But what happens after a few weeks? The phone gets dirty and scuffed up. To prevent this people will protect their investment with a phone case. If you can provide an attractive alternative to damaging an expensive phone, people will beat a path to your door!

Get out there and find some problems!

These are just 2 approaches you can use when doing problem discovery. I like these because they are more active: you are getting out there and starting a conversation and that tends to directly and quickly get to the root issue.

There other more passive techniques such as watching forums or mining social media to see what people are complaining about. I’m not a fan of doing that though because people like to complain about a lot of things, but they don’t always like to pull out their wallet to make the complaints go away.

And that is what you are trying to do: Find the thing that people will pay to solve. Its not always easy, but it can be very worth it in the end!

What’s your biggest problem?