How Being Problem-Obsessed Can Grow Your Company

Sam Hysell is a Partner at Known Unknowns, a company that helps organizations successfully innovate through customer understanding and principles of the lean startup model. He’s led workshops for hundreds of new product teams all of over the world, from startups to innovation teams at corporations like Capital One.

90% of solving the problem is realizing that it exists.


This is one of the wisest pieces of advice, handed down from my grandfather, to my father, to me. What’s funny is, as I’ve gotten neck-deep in the startup game, this advice rings true, now more than ever.

Way too many startups create technology in search of a problem. In other words, they come up with what they believe to be an awesome idea, and then reaffirm that it’s a great idea after investing countless hours into manifesting it. Once there’s finally something they feel that’s ready to be shown to customers, their prospect doesn’t light up the same way they do. In a sales meeting, the team spends their time trying to convince leads that they need this product.

This is all wrong.

First of all, if someone clearly doesn’t want something, then instead of continuing to assume that you’re right, you need to take a step back and LISTEN to your customer. Their insights are more valuable than the “no.” What’s happening is likely one of two things: either you’re talking to the wrong customer, or you’re building the wrong thing.[bctt tweet="If the customer doesn't buy, it's either the wrong product or the wrong customer -@samhysell"]

Secondly, coming up with ideas is great, but allowing your idea to evolve with your learnings overtime is one of the keys to succeeding in this game. Twitter started as a podcasting site, YouTube started as a dating site. Companies evolve over time based on learnings and, as a startup employee, your allegiance should revolve around learning, finding customers, and making them happy.[bctt tweet="Focus your efforts around learning, finding customers, and making them happy - @samhysell"]

This is cool because it means that the first step to launching your own company doesn’t have to revolve around a good idea. I cringe when I hear something like, “I want a start a company, I just don’t have any great ideas yet.” This is the wrong approach. The first step should always be to explore a problem and once you feel like you stumbled across a big enough problem, then it’s time to start thinking about applying solutions. If you can find a consistent X customer-type, that consistently has Y problem, then you’ve made it past many fallen startups. Similarly, as a startup employee, the lean startup model should remain central to your practice no matter what your role. Don't have tunnel vision in regards to marketing plans or sales strategies; keep an open mind. Identify the problem, explore solutions, then refine.

I think this graphic real hits the nail on the head:

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.13.34 PM
Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.13.34 PM

So in a nutshell, your allegiance to a specific problem will take you much further than the bias of a specific idea. Seek to deeply understand the problems near and dear to your company and the solution will present itself over time.[bctt tweet="Your allegiance to a problem will take you further than a specific idea. - @samhysell"]

For more by Sam Hysell, check out his tactical advice in 6 Hacks to Attract Life-Changing Mentors.

Photo credit: Bright Vibes via Flickrcc