Why it's important to develop your core problem and core values
When initially starting a new business or product line, it is key to focus on defining the problem you are planning to solve and the product you are constructing to solve that problem.
The problem-solving product will look different across industries, but ultimately whether you are building software, developing a service offering, or manufacturing a tool, your success depends on fielding the right product for the right market.
Over and over, however, I find that business founders spend such an inordinate amount of time debating, discussing, and stressing over what their product is or does, that they neglect to revisit the reason they are building a product at all: the problem they identified from the beginning.
The assumption I see founders make is that their understanding of the problem was well defined and accurately validated from the beginning, and thus treated as an immutable, static destination.
Contrast this with how most people approach product development. Whereas the problem definition is seldom revisited, the solution to the problem is aggressively dynamic.
For most founders, the product development process is way more fun.
The business feels like it’s sailing with the wind at its back when code is written, team members are debating drawings on whiteboards, and new features are rolling out.
That is certainly movement, but without a true north star to guide you, that progress often propels you in the wrong direction. Software development is hard work, but it’s work that produces a tangible outcome that can be measured in velocity, lines of code, and pixels on a screen.
Make no mistake: the lure of solving your problems purely via engineering is seductive. “New and Better Product” at high speed promises you the success you are seeking, but it’s usually a disastrous path if not paired with a well-defined problem as its counterpart.
One of the hardest things to do as a business owner is to stop working IN your business and take the time to work ON your business.
With never-ending things on your plate to properly serve current customers and meet deadlines, it is easy to feel like big picture items such as market/problem definition, considering our process systems, talking to clients to get feedback, developing better team dynamics, and meditating on the core values of your business are just perpetually on the backburner for these more impactful tasks.
I wholeheartedly believe that three things lead to more wasted time and increased anxiety than any software bug, incorrect feature, or missed deadline ever will.
The absence of real, hard-won customer understanding,
the limited explicit development of your own core values as a business,
and the lack of doing the hard work to deeply validate the problems you’re solving.
By neglecting real development of your customer understanding and the unique values you bring to the table in order to solve that problem, you are robbing yourself of the exhilarating experience of developing a product in tandem with a well-defined, values-driven problem space to guide you.
Here are three ways you can take action on this today:
Take two (2) hours one morning and step back to consider what you’ve learned about your business, customers, product, and market so far. Leave the office, grab a table at a coffee shop, and take some notes.
Bonus: if you have previous resources, lean startup canvas(es) or structured thoughts from when you started the business, find those and compare them to what you’ve written down.
Schedule three (3) to five (5) intentional conversations with current and/or potential customers. Work with them to understand the problems you currently help them solve, learn how well you are solving them now (good and bad), and ask if there are more problems you can help them solve. Ultimately, these conversations are going to be incredibly revealing, motivating, and humbling.
Answer your own business position and purpose statement. Suzanne Muchin, founder of Mind and Matter Studio (add link), host of The Big Payoff podcast (@bigpayoffradio), and a key mentor for my previous company, had us go through a key process early in our life as a company that led to a lot of our success. The exercise was to answer fill in this statement:
(Company) is the only (thing) for (user) that (value proposition) in an era where (unique set of circumstances that makes it the right time for this company)
We spent many hours working on our answer to this positioning statement early on, and we revisited it often after the fact. The answer to this created the core of our identity and purpose, and everything from product to marketing to branding found its footing in that core value statement.
Take the time to work on your business and the core of your values. It will leave you with more direction, better products, and less wasted resources.