The Value of Problems

June 28, 2012

Following a very interesting interaction with Olivier Ezratty - during the Startup Weekend Bretagne (he was a mentor) - about the first questions to ask when starting a business, I'd like to highlight something he said that made a strong impression on me about the value of problems.

The problem is more important than the solution

How many people have you ever heard: "I want to start a business but I have no idea" or "I want to start a business but I do not know if my idea is relevant"? 99% of people (so did I) are chasing the right idea. We look all around us and try to imagine solutions that could meet the constraints that surround us. Can we then try to imagine the potential of this or that idea. More than the value of the idea, it is the value of the problem we are trying to answer is important. The higher the value of a problem, the greater people who have this problem will be ready to buy a solution (ie your solution) to compensate. The point of view of the entrepreneur, one must question the benefit problems that your target initially. Even if a solution is attractive, if not a "real" problem, there is little likelihood that individuals decide to pay for this solution. We all tend to go too fast on this step and we see later (sometimes too late) that our solution - as seductive as it is - does not address a real problem.

Is it about money or emotions?

How to think about the value of a problem? There are two different types of problems: monetary and emotional.

Monetary problems are mostly to problems such productivity gains, problems that cost money to individuals or businesses. For example, software project management such as Basecamp or Trello used to organize tasks and to achieve a considerable saving of time for collaborative work. Supervise and manage collaborative work is a problem that has significant value to companies, and they are willing to pay for solutions that address them.

Emotional problems are problems that affect individual personalities. For example, small GoPro onboard cameras that we see more and more on the ski slopes, surf spots, etc.. allow you to shoot for the "action" or whatever the circumstances and to take for "his own hero." This is an idea that addresses a very emotional and very personal to be proud of cool stuff that you can do and share with those around us and more.


Since we had the opportunity to have this discussion the Startup Weekend Bretagne, it was very interesting to watch the final pitches and note that projects which have caught the jury and participants' attention are mainly those who are committed to provide solutions to real problems, rather monetary problems elsewhere this time around.

From my side, I usually record all my "big ideas" in a small notebook, and I amused myself in this way the back trying to understand what are the problems I was trying to solve and what is value. While some of these problems have real value, many are "fake" problems! Besides taking up my target and reflecting the problems they face, some (which I never thought) have yet great value ...

Hopefully you trying to focus on deeply understanding the problem(s) you want to fix instead of focusing on how your solution is the new killing one.

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