Building a successful digital business is very hard. There are an infinite number of things that can go wrong. One thing that we see often is a lack of focus on which problems the team is solving for their customer.
We meet plenty of entrepreneurs who have a grand vision for how they see the world. It feels exciting. It’s infectious to hear someone talk about a better future state. But the ones who are successful at getting to that state are the ones who have the ability to decouple that vision from the day-to-day and create a strategy to get there. Relative to their vision, where they focus is very small. That narrow focus allows them to find a foothold in their customer’s life and puts them on a path towards a successful business.
Founders do a great disservice to themselves when they try to fix more than one customer problem before launching. Four key reasons are:
It introduces unnecessary development and design tradeoffs
Anytime you are solving more than one problem for a customer, you have to figure out how those flows and solutions interact with each other in a product. Even if the problems are sequential in a specific customer journey, the interaction of how a customer goes from one experience to the next can be complicated. Teams tend to make a lot of assumptions around these transitions in the experience, which creates decision fatigue. Going from one problem to two problems is not twice the work. Product surface area grows exponentially as you take on additional problems to solve.
We probably don’t even understand one problem
Before you have delivered a solution to your customers that is being used and paid for it’s just an experiment. You have made an assumption: “I understand this customer’s problem well enough to build this thing that solves it.” I know you made your prototype and have tested its usability and value. I know you have collected emails from your landing page to test market interest. I know your friends and family say it’s awesome. But until you have a stranger pay you to solve their problem you have not proven that you have problem/solution fit. Why even think about adding another problem into the mix?
It becomes harder to measure success
As mentioned above, all new products and startups are experiments. You measure the results of experiments to prove a hypothesis. Coming up with a well crafted, measurable hypothesis takes a lot of work. In mature companies, you frequently have specific KPIs to hit, an audience to test that experiment, and enough data to measure its outcome. At zero customers you have none of that. Measurement becomes more of an art as you may need to have daily conversations with your first users to understand how your experiment is going. Adding an additional hypothesis becomes a distraction.
You confuse your customers
Any time a team is describing their company and they use the word and my prioritization hat goes on. With no brand or success stories it’s hard for customers to understand what value your company can deliver. They struggle to see where you might fit in their life and what you will be replacing. The more points a product interjects itself in a customer’s life, the more incumbents they have to start breaking up with. And we all know how hard breaking up is. Keep it simple for your customers and they will love you for it.
A quality of high performing product teams is their ability to ruthlessly prioritize work. Picking one, very specific problem to solve makes prioritization much easier (how to choose that one problem is a topic for another blog post). If a new idea comes in, and it’s not focused on solving that one problem, you can say no without hesitation.
The beauty of focusing on a single problem is that it makes prioritization easier in the long run. Now that you have created a foothold in customer’s life, you have a captive and passionate audience. And they will tell you where to go next.
“It turns out that once you solve one problem for a customer, they’ll keep bringing you more problems.” — Peter Reinhardt, CEO Segment
As problems to solve become inbound, your experiments have a higher likelihood of success as you understand the problems in more detail. There is also a path to price expansion is you continuously deliver more value to your users.
“But no one will pay for this one tiny solution.” This is a fear we commonly hear. Maybe that’s true. But that’s not what we have witnessed. The amount of value you deliver to someone is not at all correlated to the size of your product. And if value is being received by your customer, you can capture some of that value in the form of revenue. Just ask.
“Starting small” is a phrase that most teams pay lip service too. They feel like they are starting small because they have “future features” that they are ignoring. But ignoring certain features doesn’t help the team focus. To start small and stay focused you need to ignore certain customer problems. This creates a clear strategy that team and the customer can understand.
Challenge yourself to say to no certain problems. And define your one problem with a level of detail you didn’t think was possible. If it doesn’t feel comically small, your focus is still too wide. This level of focus is what creates a foothold in a customer’s life that leads a product towards success.
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