From Idea to First Customer: Finding a Problem to Solve

Written by Dan Magill on August 27, 2020 Blog, Sell Online.

In the first post in this series, we discussed why it’s important to find a specific audience to serve and how to identify the perfect group. You also took the time to define your audience and learn more about their needs.

Your next step: find a problem to solve. 

Navigate the Journey:

Part One: Choosing an Audience
Part Two: Finding a Problem to Solve
Part Three: Selling It Before You Make It
Part Four: Creating the Product
Part Five: Choosing an Operating System
Part Six: Getting Your Product to Your Customer
Part Seven: Creating Happy Customers

You don’t yet have a product to sell, but you have a defined market and you know your audience needs. This is a great place to be: it sets your business up for success. Everyone has problems. Lots of them! And if you can solve one of those problems, people will pay you for the solution. That’s what people do.

People buy dishwashers to save time washing dishes. They buy Velcro sandals because it’s easier than a buckle. They subscribe to Netflix because they want to watch movies without leaving home. They buy LED bulbs because they last longer – even if they cost more up front.

None of these purchase decisions have much to do with price. The first consideration in each case is the problem being solved. 

Types of problems to solve

Let’s look at a few general problems that most people deal with: 

  • Physical needs that correlate with emotional fulfillment — they’re hungry, thirsty, or tired.
  • Psychological needs that keep people from achieving their dreams or accomplishing their goals — they’re frustrated, uninspired, or unmotivated. 
  • Cognitive needs that hold people back or keep them from engaging — they lack knowledge, insight, or perspective. 
  • Missing parts or pieces for products they already own — they’re unable to use a piece of equipment they rely on.
  • Relational needs that strengthen their connection to another person — they can’t find the right gift. 
  • Time management needs that keep them from advancing and growing vocationally or financially — they’re unable to work as effectively, efficiently, or productively as they want.
  • Loneliness — they’re looking for friends or life partners.

Notice that most of these are personal, not transactional. They impact how people feel. 

And this is true for businesses as well as individuals. B2B doesn’t require a different approach to developing products. Business owners have feelings, and those feelings often center around use of time and getting more profitable results.

Let’s say you choose the audience of middle-aged mothers with kids between 5 and 15 years old. What problems do they face?

Many mothers are looking for help getting their kids involved in something engaging. What activities can you offer them? Something inside the home like a game or craft project? Something outside the home like sports equipment, clubs, courses, team sports, or music lessons? 

Some are searching for better ways to juggle their responsibilities. How can you help them manage their time better? Perhaps an app that speeds up the bill paying and budgeting processes or lets them check off to-do lists. Or sell time management courses or life coaching sessions. 

Most also want reliable cars and appliances that simplify life and don’t break down every two years. They want to stay healthy. They want to be prepared for retirement. See all the problems waiting to be solved for this one fairly narrow demographic?

Katie Thomson discovered the need for her business when she became a new mother, “I became a mom in 2008 and as I cruised the aisle for food options, I was fed up by what I found. Did you know many baby food pouches have the same grams of sugar as a bowl of Lucky Charms? Mind. Blown. I didn’t want the next generation of babies growing up on So. Much. Applesauce,” she said in an interview with WooCommerce

Square Baby website, where customers can build a meal plan
Photo ©

To solve this problem, she founded Square Baby, a customizable meal-plan company for babies that provides 100% of the daily nutritional value that babies need with a lot less sugar. 

Choosing a problem to solve

Once you’ve thought through all the problems your audience faces, you’re probably looking at a pretty big list. But don’t stop here! Take the time to meet with your audience to discuss what you’ve found and get additional ideas. Then, you can choose a single problem to solve based on the potential for maximum impact. Let’s look at each step in more detail: 

1. Ask your audience

There’s no substitute for talking to people. Trying to dream up solutions for people you don’t know and have never talked to is pretty hard. 

Talk to your audience about the problems they’re facing. Take notes. Be open to their answers and to changing your perception of what you thought they needed. Be curious. 

Pay attention to how they think and how they feel – both are important. You may discover new problems they didn’t even realize they had. 

Here are a few ways you can interact with your audience:

  • Use surveys and quizzes, either online or in person. 
  • Have in-person conversations at trade shows, festivals, and networking events. 
  • Talk with other business owners who serve the same audience and ask what their customers struggle with.
  • Look for discussion boards and comment threads on websites your audience visits. See what people talk about, what frustrates them, and why they love or hate a particular product or company.
  • Read reviews for books related to the problems you’re solving. You can find great insights and nuggets about what is and isn’t working for your audience. Do the same with Yelp and other industry sites.

2. Optimize for impact

Figure out which solutions will make the biggest impact on your audience. The bigger the problem and the more help a person needs to solve it, the easier it will be to offer that person a solution. 

This is not a scientific process of elimination — there’s an art to it. Trust your instincts here. Some of your best ideas will come from the places you least expect. 

And you have to have some personal interest in the solution you’re offering. Someone who hates social media probably shouldn’t build a business helping others improve their social media marketing. It’s helpful to like what you’re selling, at least a little (and ideally, a lot). You want to believe in your products.

Follow their lead

Follow your audience’s lead. Once you understand the core problems that negatively impact them, it’s time to start looking for ways to solve them.

But before you start to create your actual product, there’s still one more step. It’s one that gets skipped more than any of the seven in this series. And if you do it, your chances of success will skyrocket. 

Want to explore this further?

2 Responses

  1. Dazzle
    September 1, 2020 at 10:52 am #

    Yeah you need to identify the gap. In most of the cases you ‘ve to place yourself in customers shoes and look forward whether you would buy this product. In my case Dazzle Accessories is a platform that provides artificial designer jewelery at affordable price. Yeah finding first customer was difficult. But, once they realized the problem we are solving they became loyal customer. So, finding you first customer is going to be difficult but the road after it would be more promising yet challenging 🙂

    • Dan Magill
      September 18, 2020 at 4:40 pm #

      Great point! Connecting with your audience and solving their problems helps you create loyal customers and find success long-term. Thanks for sharing!