Startups tend to approach this in a number of ways.
Often times, we see startups come up with a cool idea and then try to find the right market for it. Don’t be fooled by stories like Pinterest, who took 22 months before eventually finding the perfect audience. That’s an exception. You don’t want to be a solution searching for a problem.
Other times, we look at a “persona”. It’s a hypothetical person that should theoretically have this problem that our product aims to solve. That’s better, but still not ideal. The problem is, it’s still pretty easy to convince yourself that this person exists while you still don’t really know if you’re actually solving a fundamental problem.
There’s a difference between a surface level problem and a fundamental problem. If it’s fundamental, it gets to the core of human need. It alleviates a pain or helps them attain a hope that’s central to their life.
A fundamental problem is a need, not a want. Facebook for example, solves for the fundamental need to communicate and connect.
How do you know you’re solving a fundamental problem?
By identifying one actual person and solving their problem.
If you can truly solve a fundamental problem for someone specific, make them crazy happy, change their life for the better, then you have the strong foundation you’ll need to build a long lasting company. Once you know you can solve that problem for one person, you know you can solve it for many more who share their pain.
It’s not easy to focus on just one person. There’s a lot of influence to think really big, shoot for huge markets and try to help as many people as possible right out of the gate.
You can still validate an idea by putting it out there and seeing if people will pay. But just because they pay, doesn’t mean you’ve identified a fundamental problem. It might be surface level. If you want to build a great company, not just a good one, then you must solve a fundamental problem.
Force yourself to find a real person. There’s no fluff at this level. It’s either you’re solving the problem for them, or you’re not.
Ditch the persona and market data. Just find a person and help them. Then go from there.