Improve startup success with one question

Answer this Question to Increase Your Startup’s Chance of Success

I’m fortunate to cross paths with many entrepreneurs and business owners. Part of the mutual benefit of crossing paths is the opportunity to share stories about things that work well and perhaps more importantly, things that don’t work so well. Starting a company is not easy and odds are your venture won’t succeed. But chances are you’ll start another venture and keep going until you do succeed. Most of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with (or read about) have one thing in common – they’ve failed before (including myself). But they’ve learned from those failures too. The biggest learning and the root-cause of why a significant number failed is because of the following un-answered (or weakly answered) question:

“What Problem Are You Solving?”

Just like Field of Dreams, there’s a strong belief that “if you build it they will come” amongst many “first time” entrepreneurs. And that’s a dangerous belief if you’re starting a company. You must know what problem you’re solving and validate the problem with potential customers. And as you continue on your entrepreneurial journey, you need to continue revisiting and re-validating the question – as well as the answer. You’ll be incredibly busy and have a million issues needing your attention. If you don’t revisit the question (and answer), you could lose focus because of all the distractions and “shiny things” that come up.

BONUS TIP #1: When a prospect gives you an answer on what their biggest problem is, ask them “why?“. Usually their first answer is a “veneer” answer and chances are they have an underlying problem causing the first problem they mentioned. Asking them “why” the problem is a problem will have them uncover a deeper problem for you. Then  ask them “why” again for a second time to uncover an even deeper problem. Keep asking “why” to get to the fundamental problem.  5 Why’s is a powerful tool for getting the true root-cause of a problem. The true problem is what you’re after and need to solve.

BONUS TIP #2: Understand what emotion the problem you’re solving evokes in people. Is it Frustration? Fear? Lack of Happiness?  Lack of Love? You want to know the emotion so you can use it for pitching or selling your product/service. For example, let’s say the problem relates to the increasing number of “robo-calls” people are getting, causing many unnecessary interruptions and impacting a phone’s effectiveness (ie users ignore the phone calls). This causes people to be frustrated with the increase in “robo-calls” they’re getting. You can use their frustration as part of your pitch, i.e “Are you frustrated with the number of robo-calls you’re getting?”. The emotion (frustration) is tied to the problem (increase in robo-calls). So when you’ve identified the problem you’re solving, also identify the emotion associated with it.

While there are many reasons why a startup doesn’t succeed, not knowing what problem you’re solving (and validating it) is a major one. Make sure you spend time up front to do some startup “pre-work” and increase the chances of success.

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