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4. The Problem


If you have a solution in search of a problem, then you have a problem.

Too often, in conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs (especially inventors and “tech” entrepreneurs), when they start to describe their idea, they start with their invention or the specific features of their service. These conversations can sometimes last for an hour or more before they stop talking about their solution, never mentioning a problem that it solves.

Consumers, in general, do not seek new products, services, or technologies to buy. They instead seek solutions to their problems and are willing to pay money for solutions that work. What problem are you solving? How is the world a better place with your innovation in the hands of your customers? Does it save people time? Does it save them money? Is it similar to an existing product, only much better? Is it a breakthrough invention, solving a problem that everyone has but no one yet realizes is a problem?

What problem am I solving?

To help demonstrate this and other topics, I provide four sample technologies: Bird Watch, Concrete Battery, Close to Home and Ensibuuko. For each of these technologies, I answer question #10 above. For this section, the question is: “What problem are you solving?”

Bird Watch—[The problem]: It is time consuming and difficult to measure wildlife in the wild. Currently, researchers use colored leg bands on birds’ legs and “chirping” radio tags on larger wildlife. However, these devices provide only periodic glimpses of wildlife’s movements within a confined area. They measure a small sample of animals in a habitat but offer little opportunity to measure anything beyond that.

Concrete Battery—[The problem]: Wind, solar, and most other alternative energy sources produce power intermittently. Meanwhile, consumers expect their electricity to be available at all times of the day and night, every day, continuously.

Close to Home—[The problem]: Every year, natural disasters destroy tens of thousands of American homes. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and fires plus the occasional earthquake, volcanic eruption, and tsunami. In many of these cases, a significant area of a city or town is destroyed, forcing the survivors to move to neighboring cities. This in turn further destroys communities.

Ensibuuko—[The problem]: The banks in East Africa do not serve the rural farmers (60-80% of the population). Instead, these farmers traditionally have formed their own savings and credit cooperatives, known as SACCOs in Uganda, CHAMAs in Kenya and Tanzania. The problem is that these SACCOs use paper-based processes, often losing deposits to both errors and corruption. Plus, the deposits to and withdrawals from these institutions can only be made in person, despite the burgeoning “mobile money” systems in this part of the world.

Note how these examples focus solely on the problem, not the solution. In all four cases, the next sentence, if added, could naturally talk about the solution. Your problem statement should do the same, as you’ll later use the description of your problem in conjunction with a description of your target customer and your solution.


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