Market & Customer ResearchProduct & Prototype

The Most Valuable Problem Establishes a Solid Startup Business Foundation

By April 30, 2019December 6th, 2022One Comment

“Ah, yes. The problem question, “ wrote one entrepreneur when I asked. The dismissiveness teemed off this one sentence. I already knew he was off the rails. He did not establish the most valuable problem.

Many new entrepreneurs believe from the beginning that because they experienced a problem, solving it will make a business. They think, “Because this problem bothers me, it must bother enough other people that this is a business.”

Did you buy into this myth yourself? Most creators buy in so quickly, right from the beginning, that they do not even realize it:

  • People are anxious when they experience a problem
  • So they get really, really excited about the first solution they find
  • The anxiety goes way and serotonin pumps when the creative juices flow
  • Yet, if they go with the first solution they find, they may come up with something obvious

Why do you think there are so many travel, food and event startups that solve the problems the same way?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

– Albert Einstein

How was Einstein Einstein? He stayed in the uncomfortable spot of analyzing the problem.

Instead of plowing forward, ignoring important details, you need to hang out with a variety of potential customers. Explore the possibility that there’s a bigger problem, a better problem to solve; there’s something non-obvious out there.

It will not be easy but you will eliminate a lot of heart-ache down the road.

Your Startup Strategy & Roadmap

From my Innovation Cycle Framework (which replaces Product-Market Fit), the first stage is “Problem Exploring.” Inside Problem Exploring, you should seek to meet the first two benchmarks:

  • Founder / Problem Fit
  • Problem / Value Fit

Within Founder / Problem Fit, you’re establishing why you and your team are the right people to solve this problem. These are all things investors look for: right team, right time, right skills, passion, commitment, and connections.

Within Problem / Value Fit, you’re proving that you have found a problem that is worth solving. Your goal is to find that clear, compelling problem statement that everyone can nod their head to. You’re also looking for customers that are willing to commit up-front, either money or time, at a chance to solve the problem you identified.

Notice that we’re not looking for a solution just yet.

Why do you need to know how to state the problem your startup business is solving?

When people start asking about what you are working on, you want to start with introducing the problem in a way that grabs their attention, raises their eyebrows and gets a few nods:

  • $1-$3 billion goes through non-profit, volunteer-driven animal rescues and shelters each year in adoption fees, and they do not have enterprise-grade software to help manage the process. (Dana Romano, PetParent)
  • Households waste 40% of the food they purchase. That’s like buying 3 bags of groceries and leaving one in the parking lot. (Alison Mountford, Ends and Stems)
  • Over 80 million people are online dating, yet 50% lie on their profiles and 30% have no intention of ever meeting anyone in person. (Christina Weber, Deepen)

You need a sentence that is instantly relatable to everyone. You’re going to talk to a lot of people about your startup business idea. This problem statement should invite them to think about the problem with you.

Going straight to talking about your solution can shut down the conversation. When you state the problem, you may conjure up new information you didn’t know about from your audience.

most Valuable Problem Is this a a vitamin or a pain killer? is the struggle worth i?

Your Startup Business is Based on the Most Valuable Problem

What’s the process to identify this strategic problem?

From the moment you have a spark for an idea, you must be searching for a clear and compelling problem statement. You need to marinate in the problem, viewing it from other peoples’ (hopefully, customers’) perspectives

What are you looking for in sticking with the problem? The Most Valuable Problem. You cannot have a minimal viable product without the Real MVP. This is the problem that, if you solve it, people will pay you.

The Most Valuable Problem is the problem that, if you solve it, people will pay you.

– Lindsay Tabas

In the process of marinating in the problem like Albert Einstein, you will answer very important questions that create the foundation for your business. Questions like:

  • Is there a problem worth solving here?
  • Is the problem so painful some market segment will pay you to solve it?
  • Is this a vitamin or a pain killer?

And, in the uncomfortable mess of anxiety that comes with sticking with the problem, you will figure out if this is a problem you are committed to solving.

Other Readings

Use this definition of Product-Market Fit if You’re a Pre-Seed Startup

Validation, Feedback and Testing the Market: Always Start with 3

The Top 10 Reasons Startups Fail All Have the Same Source


Personal Opinions, Random Use Cases: Agile Product Team Problems

Market, Customers, Users & Earlyvangelists