In order to pursue any product idea — a new product, or a new feature for an existing product — you must make sure it’s a problem worth solving.
If it doesn’t solve a tangible, real problem that lots of people are facing, and are willing to pay to have solved, it’s not worth spending your time on it. Move on to your next great idea.
So how do you go about figuring out if your product actually solves a problem that’s worth solving?
And what makes a problem worth solving?
In their book, Tuned In, authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott talk about this in detail.
In order to know whether your product idea solves a problem that’s worth solving, it must it must satisfy the following criteria:
- Is the problem urgent?
- Is the problem pervasive?
- Are customers willing to pay to have the problem solved?
These three questions need to be answered before investing a ton of money or resources into developing and launching your product.
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you need to pivot.
Let’s talk about each of these in turn.
Is the problem urgent?
Any product idea you’re pursuing must solve a problem people really care about. It needs to be a real pain point, a critical need, or a super important job for them.
The pain may manifest as costing them money, time, resources, effort, credibility, or some other significant inconvenience or frustration. Even perhaps emotional or physical pain.
The need or job could be social (look good, gain status, etc.), emotional (feel better, feel more secure, etc.), or functional (an important job that must get done).
If it’s truly a pain point or priority need/job, people will have expended time or effort to have tried to solve the problem. They may even have “hacked” together their own solution, or spent money on trying to solve it. This is what’s meant by the problem being urgent.
But why does this matter? Why is it so important to validate the urgency of the problem?
Because nothing is more frustrating than working yourself silly trying to solve a problem that either doesn’t exist yet or that people describe as “not a big deal”.
Here’s an example:
I hate taking out the trash.
I have to do it 2x a week, put it out on my driveway in the evening so the garbage truck can pick it up first thing the next morning.
I especially hate doing it in the winters when it gets really cold.
Is it a job I need done?
Is it a pain?
But have I done anything to solve my problem?
I keep complaining about it. But I’ve done nothing to change the situation.
It’s just not a priority for me — it’s just not urgent enough.
As product people, we’re naturally wired to look for solutions. So we quickly and easily fall in love with our solutions.
(Thanks, Ash Maurya, for representing this first on your Lean Canvas.)
But we need to care about PROBLEMS.
So if you’ve got a product idea, you need to first care about your customers’ problems.
This is true whether you’re thinking about your next new feature or a wholly new product.
Just make sure the problem is an urgent one.
Is the problem pervasive?
The urgent problem needs to be one felt by a large enough number of people to make it worthwhile for you to develop and sell your product.
Say one product will cost $1,000 to make, and only two people in the whole world will pay you $10,000 each for it, and another product costs $10,000 to make, but 10,000 people will pay you $10 each for that one.
Which product is better worth your time?
Quite simply, if enough people aren’t experiencing the problem, then the market potential for your product idea isn’t big enough, and it’s not worth pursuing your product idea. Period.
Even for a new feature, you need to size the market opportunity for it.
Your company has a choice of whether to focus its resources on developing feature A or feature B. In fact, it has a choice of whether to have its resources focused on your new feature idea or something else entirely.
So no matter whether you’re pursuing a new feature or a new product, make sure it’s solving a problem that’s pervasive.
Are they willing to pay to have the problem solved?
This is critical — you may find a lot of people are complaining of the problem you’ve identified… but are they willing to pay to have it solved?
Most people have all kinds of problems that they’re just not willing to pay money to solve.
For example, I may whine about taking out the trash, especially in the bitter cold of winter.
And it becomes an urgent enough problem that I finally get my teenage son to do it. (Hey, it builds character.)
And lots of other people may be doing the same thing as me.
But neither they nor I are willing to pay to have someone come to our house twice a week to put the garbage out by the curbside.
Even for an existing product, a new feature must be able to create some tangible business value. Will customers pay for the new feature? Will the new feature justify a higher price for your product? Will it increase customer lifetime value, or accelerate new customer acquisition?
As long as you’re in a profit-making enterprise, it’s worth solving an urgent and pervasive problem only if the people with the problem are willing to pay for your solution.
Are you done? Not quite…
In order to decide whether to pursue your product idea or not, you need to consider a couple of additional things.
First, it’s possible that your company may have (likely has) a point of view (spoken or unspoken) on what it considers worthwhile revenue opportunities.
For example, at a $7 million company, a $50k opportunity could get the CEO’s attention…
…But at a $500 million company, anything less than $250k may not get much interest.
If so, it’s important to consider whether your product idea meets this threshold to be worthy of consideration.
Second, your product may have specific strategic business goals, such as driving new customer revenue, or generating expansion revenue from existing customers, etc.
If so, you’ll need to evaluate whether your product idea contributes in a meaningful way to achieving those goals.
In other words, is there enough monetizable value in your product idea?
If your product is currently generating $50 million in revenue with a goal to grow 15% in the next year, and you estimate your product idea could drive $500k in additional revenue, that means it will contribute less than 7% toward that goal.
Whether that’s good enough will depend on how it compares to other ideas that contribute toward achieving the goal, or whether it can be combined with other ideas in some rational way as part of a theme — then it will come down to how the theme in its entirety contributes toward the goal.
So to recap:
To pursue any product idea, make sure it’s a problem worth solving.
This means the problem must be urgent and pervasive, and your target customers must be willing to pay to have the problem solved.
Furthermore, your product idea must have enough monetizable value to contribute meaningfully toward your company’s strategic goals.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to learn how to do this. 🙂
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