Ideas and Validation September 15, 2020

How do you find problems?

Bilal @seattlehacker

We've all heard it. We all know it even if we don't follow it. Start with problems rather than solutions. So...where do you find your problems? :)

  1. 12

    In this video Amy Hoy outlines a technique I've been testing in recent weeks and so far it seems pretty effective. The first time I have felt genuine market pull is due to this (will write it up on IH once I've see my experiment through to sales).

    Here's a summary of her video:

    To make a product that you know will sell you should not "fail fast", or "find product-market fit" or hope & pray. Instead you should research.

    How to do research to find a problem that real people have:

    1. Pick an audience. Choose a group of people you like and want to serve. If you have an existing interest that is a suitable place to start.
    2. Find out where they hang out online. Make a list of places.
    3. "Lurk with a purpose". Sign up to those forums or Subreddits etc. and read and take notes.
    4. Make note of everything they say they need, what they want, and what they buy. This means writing down pain points, beliefs, worldviews, complaints, questions, struggles, products, desires.
    5. Do this for 30 to 40 hours without thinking about solutions yet.

    Once you have done this it will become obvious the unsolved problems and desires these people have and the types of things they will buy (and how much they will pay) to solve them. After that you can build solutions. The good thing is you will understand the language your customers speak already. You will understand what kinds of prices they pay for what things. You won't even really have to sell to them as you can just come with the solution to the problem they have already described in their own words, and simply give it to them.

    I did this process recently. After weeks of lurking and reading and taking notes, I posted a single screenshot mockup of a solution addressing a common desire. My post got a ton of upvotes and people asking to be put on the list of testers. So far this is a million times better than any of my other failed products. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

    Note: I am completely unaffiliated with Amy. I just think her ideas are great and I am trying them out at the moment. I have not bought her product.

    1. 2

      Thanks for the summary. I've read a few articles from her and she really has a good eye to spot some obvious but unnoticed details.

      tl;dr Don't lurke, be vocal and became authoritative figure in the niche(fake it or make it). Find solutions to the problems where money flow.

      I liked the points except the third. This is what I tried and why I think it failed. It's like a small experiment.

      1. I targeted Substack Authors
      2. On Newsletter Crew & Substack Newsletters groups @IH
      3. Notes; Most of discussions were about getting the first a few subs. And under a post people complaining about the lack of customizability.

      So it sparked, I could build something for them to customize their Substack pages. This way they'd have a chance to be more unique and maybe grab their initial subs faster. They can place ads to start money flowing. First I tried to start a discussion about it, didn't worked. Then I've created a pool to see the interest, That's where I believe I shouldn't lurk, but instead I shall yell "I got this, I'm building this, follow me there, follow me here, it's happening. bla bla bla." I got almost no response.

      I continued with the project I got MVPs of both SaaS and stand-alone versions. Those get like 20 visits or so. So I lost interest.

      Then I focused on getting the first a few subs problem, planned to create an aggregator for newsletters, then I realized I need to solve problems where there is already a money flow, people tend to pay for solutions to generate more revenue. It's harder to persuade someone while they didn't generate any. So I put that aside and built this. A tool to see Substack subscriber count. Did it take any attention, of course not. I'm gonna turn it into analysis and reporting tool for hardcore newsletter authors, who already makes 4-5 figures and curious about their competitors. We'll see if it's going to work, taken lessons taught me anything or not.

      note: no need to check the links and read 'em, I put them just as a proof.

      1. 2

        Yes once you have settled on a solution I think you should stop lurking for sure. A great place to validate your potential solution is simply by posting it in the same forums and asking for feedback. Hopefully you can do this before writing any code.

        1. 1

          Hopefully you can do this before writing any code.

          This, this I miss every time. A great reminder. Thanks

    2. 1

      Seems like a very good way.

    3. 1

      Could you give us an example of what you did? It sounds intriguing! I would like to try this out...

      1. 2

        I did what is described above. Hung out in the forums where the community I want to serve are, and took notes for a few weeks. Then I posted a solution to a desire they express using language and imagery they use. I am now building the app to give to all the people who said they want to be testers. Will write up a post about how it goes when I am done.

    4. 1

      Thanks for sharing! Some great food for thought :)

  2. 9

    Some thoughts:

    1. It’s always better to solve a problem you are have first hand knowledge of. Which means you have to do things outside of hacking. Be eccentric. Travel. Pickup hobbies. Try new things. Buy a cheap piece of land and build a cabin. Have babies. Whatever, man. You will find hundreds of problems worth solving. Another route is to work in a field unrelated to software, which exposes many problems that software can fix. I have a list of about 100 structural engineering tools/softwares I wish I could have or want to build. But they require the marriage of software and structural engineering skills.

    2. Problems far removed from computer programming likely have the lowest hanging fruit (ie the problems which are most trivially solved with software, and without any existing solutions). That doesn’t necessarily mean they are good businesses. Problems within the software community will have lots of competition. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad businesses.

    1. 2

      Thanks! Your insight about focusing on non technical fields has me thinking. It makes sense that there is probably more opportunity for even basic software solutions to add a lot of value because the industry is just behind and/or being neglected.

      Sadly I fail on point 1 because hacking is pretty much all I do ugh. Need a life. But I need a life for far more important things than coming up with ideas to do even more hacking. :D

    2. 1

      the problems which are most trivially solved with software, and without any existing solutions

      I like this. Pick a micro-niche.

    3. 1

      While #1 sounds good and all - do you have any specific suggestions on how to look for these? I realize I live in somewhat of a bubble so anything would help...

  3. 6

    Any annoyances that I have in my day to day life get added to a google doc.

    1. 2

      This is a good idea too

        1. 1

          Why don't you use something like Trello?

      1. 1

        This comment was deleted 3 months ago.

    2. 1

      I telegram myself with ### symbol to search later.

    3. 1

      I use text file in computer, always opened in Sublime text editor, ready for any moment ideas, todo's, thoughts. Surprisingly efficient yet easy.

    4. 1

      Yup. I do this too, but use Notion now :)

    5. 1

      I do the exact same thing!

    1. 2

      Thanks for sharing. This was a great read!

  4. 3

    Fall in love with the concept of knowledge gaps and resistance paths.

    Linktree is basically a static website with links...they do $3.5M ARR bootstrapped, because for indie hackers it might be basic knowledge but for linktree (instagram) audience something as simple as a website is ridiculously complex to build

    Same can be said about probably 50% of all shopify apps - the audience is very non-technical which gives you technical arbitrage

    Lastly to what the others have said, your habits are your enemies when trying to find problems. You would have conditioned yourself to be okay with inconveniences. Find any small problem you face, those inconveniences are billion dollar ideas because inconveniences have ripple effects. Ordering a taxi was annoying, nekminut $40 Billion business

    1. 1

      Thanks. Yeah this is solid advice. Someone suggested this experiment of writing down 3 things that bother you every day and within a month you'll have a million dollar idea. Regardless of if that's true, I think that's a good way to be more tuned to issues around you.

  5. 3

    Make a list of markets you have an affinity with, then search sub redits/communities for those markets for keywords like 'app' or 'software'

    1. 1

      I agree. Also, sticking to one market makes you reliable for the customers. Makes it easy to learn about more problems to solve. Just hear out to your customers. And once you build the next one, you already have an audience ready.

  6. 3

    Finding problems is a great deal of introspection, first. The easiest is thinking about every single thing you do on your daily life, and think about what could be done better. Many larger companies have policies called of continuous improvement, and you can adopt them individually as well.

    Some silly examples: imagine you lose your keys repeatedly, first you need to understand what problem it generates. For you, it could be that you lose time trying to find the keys, and you don't like wasting time. It may be that the keys are important for safety, and losing them means: you won't be able to evacuate a building, or that someone else can grab the keys you lost. Of course, it may be that you don't care too much about finding the keys because it never takes you longer than 2 minutes to find them.

    The biggest issue with identifying problems is being mindful. Finding the keys, for you, may not be a big deal. But it can trigger you to thinking about ramifications of the problem, such as the security guy, perhaps older folks with worse sight or who are more forgetful.

    And most likely you find problems over and over again that you don't actively think about. For example, I hate the armpit stains. They reduce the lifespan of clothes, which in turn has a big environmental impact, it becomes expensive, and a stylistic concern. How often do you forget to buy something in the supermarket? How do you optimize cooking to reduce waste?

    Now, of course, if you circumscribe yourself to your daily life you will miss a TON of opportunities. Starting with your own problems is the beginning. See, for example, the story of Ring, beautifully told in this podcast episode of How I built this. The other important thing to do is to expose yourself to problems from others'. If you are working in a company, pay attention in meetings, chat as much as you can with colleagues. Especially focus on any complaint they have about anything at all. Every complaint is a problem. If you don't have colleagues (for example if you are a freelancer), there are many meetups that you can join to expose yourself to people and understand what their problems are.

    For example, there is a Nobel prize winner (he is actually a banker) who realized that many people couldn't even afford to go to job interviews, much less to even buy cloths to go to the interview and that the traditional baking system was leaving them outside. Things you may give for granted in your context may not be universal. Ask around to teacher what they think about online education. That is screaming PROBLEM with all-caps.

    And, of course, you can always hang out in here, reddit, etc. Every time someone asks 'how to', that is a sign. You may assume that if you reach the point of publicly asking is because Google didn't answer and there is something non-trivial to be solved.

    Problems are all around us, all the time. It depends on the level of sensitivities of each one of us to actually perceive them. Of course, finding a problem is only the very very first step in a long process.

    Hope to read from you soon on your problem hunting path!

    1. 1

      Thanks for sharing! This is greta advice :)

  7. 3

    I scour Twitter hashtags

    1. 3

      How does that work exactly? Are you following certain topics or filtering for particular words that you're interested in?

    2. 1

      Curious about this as well.

  8. 2

    Try thinking about this problem differently.

    Stop looking for problems to solve, start looking for positive experiences to deliver.

    Solving problems is just about half of what you can accomplish with this tool called business.

    Create something that specific people find valuable. <- This is the secret sauce.

    Tom Hanks doesn't solve problems.
    Disneyland doesn't solve problems.
    Cirque du Soleil doesn't solve problems.
    Coldplay doesn't solve problems.
    etc.

    ^ They all offer something that specific people find valuable. Very valuable.

    Don't just look for problems to solve, look for ways to satisfy powerful human emotions and see if that's a better fit for you.

    Start your inquiries with How do I want to feel?

    You'll start noticing that the opportunities to create positive emotions are nearly endless.

    Awe. Inspiration. Laughter. Joy. Contentment. Calmness. Excitement.

    There's an entire experience economy out there. There are billions of people who would not say no to being swept off their feet to feel something - a rush of bliss.

    :)

  9. 2

    Well, my most succesful projects all solved my own problems and pain points.

    I wouldn't say that I pursued them as "a new venture" in the first place. Just try to solve it for myself and later turned it into a solution available for others too.

  10. 1

    Can you tell how do I start something like this.

  11. 1

    @seattlehacker There are many ways to find the problems but here the one that I would love to share that helped me to find the problems and lauched my premium info product Side Hustle Beta.

    Here the ways to fine the problems:

    1. Community: Communites like GrowthHackers, IndieHaackers are the best source to find the prolems. You need to search the problems you are facing or for which you want to provide the solution. These communities are very active.

    2. Q and A Site: Quora, Yahoo questions and answer are th two best source on the internet planet to fine the problems. You will able to search and find the problems\solutiuons on any topic on these two Q and A sites.

    3. Ask about the questions: You can find the problems by asking questions on the social media, social media groups (Facebook, LinkedIn Groups)

    4. AnswerThePublic: On this site you will find all sort of questions folks asking on the Internet.

    5. You can find the problems by running Quiz on your sites.

    Other these there are som manyh other wyas to find the problmes. I hope this answer help you. See you.

  12. 1

    Theoretical:

    • Identify what you think is a problem and validate with other people if they think about it the same way.

    More practical:

    • Use Google Trends to see what are most googled content and see if you can think of problem with one of these trends
    • See if you can find complaints by customers on companies Twitter and see if you can observe, find patterns of frustrations
    • Get into Slack/Discord/Reddit groups in different topics/industries and ask people what they are facing in terms of frustrations around that topic
  13. 1

    Hi Bilal, check out needgap where people post the problem they have for the startups to solve.

    Understanding the importance of solving the right problem i.e. the problem with enough need gap, that people are willing to pay for getting it solved and of course the problem which we want ourselves to be solved plays a huge role in building successful products.

    When I started coaching entrepreneurs, I found that the common theme for failure among early stage startups is building something just because they can and hoping everyone needs it. It became a professional necessity for me to come up with a way to validate problems/need gap.

    So, I started building needgap a problem validation platform where problems are the first class citizens. Posts are created by the consumers(incl. entrepreneurs) who have a problem, want to find a solution for their problem, check if others share the same problem, how ever small the problem might be. Builders can post their products in the comments if it solves that particular problem or else discuss with others to create a product to solve that problem(There are couple of products built/being built for problems from needgap).

    I'm not saying I've solved the issue of validating problems, far from it. I think I now have a direction towards understanding the 'language, grammar of problems and startup ideas' which might one day result in making validation easier.

    1. 1

      Nice. I actually had a similar idea about an idea marketplace. Looks cool. :)

  14. 1

    My current thoughts are something along the lines of people being more receptive to solutions that create the illusion of progress rather than solutions that actually solve a problem(eg: people who want to stop smoking can just stop, but the "quitting smoking" industry is massive, same for weight loss). Many problems are also not real, and many large businesses exist based on creating an illusion of progress to resolve a problem that doesn't exist. Keep that in mind and don't limit yourself to actual problems.

    1. 1

      Doesn't sound like you're coming at it from a healthy point of view man. I'd try and keep a default 'add value' mindset rather than 'how can I get away with this'. I'm not looking down on you I say that as some one who's been on both ends and trust me it doesn't work.

      1. 1

        My thinking is always to add value, that's the problem. The market is responsive to things that only pretend to add value and true value building is not accepted as easily.

  15. 1

    People like me, They all day sit in front of the computer and have very limited interactions with outside world because of that you have no idea what non-tech people or even tech people are going through or what issues they have. So, I would suggest same as what @ggcdn said. Get out and do something which you have not yet done. probably, it will give you some clues. (Not an expert on this topic. Just a thought)

    1. 3

      no idea what non-tech people or even tech people are going through or what issues they have.

      Sounds like a problem.

      1. 1

        Idea: create software to make Indie hackers more aware of non tech problems! :D

  16. 1

    A good start is to talk to people where you already hangout.

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