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Building a tech startup? Fall in love with the problem, not your solution


Gareth Langley

Articles by Nova’s Startup Consultant, Gareth Langley.

Updated 20 April 22



Have you ever come up with a really fantastic idea?

Great, us too.

Now, did you come up with that idea whilst exploring different ways to solve a specific problem?

Nope? Us neither… well most of the time anyway.

The thing is, us creative thinkers are guilty all too often of coming up with ideas based on whatever is going on in our lives at that moment. For example, maybe you’re jumping on the 192 bus back home when you realise you don’t have any change. Then BANG! It hits you: ‘If only I could pay for this bus ticket with Bitcoin!’ Genius.

Sometimes these ideas are amazingly creative and wonderful, but a lot of the time they can slightly miss the mark. Whilst you might get lucky and stumble upon an idea that resonates with 100,000s of users, usually it’s a sign that you’ve fallen into the Pygmalion effect: you’ve fallen in love with your creation. Now that you’re infatuated, you search for Aphrodite in the form of a VC, angel investor, wealthy friend, family or fool to bring your creation to life.

It’s only human to fall into this trap. You ‘know’ you have a brilliant idea, so you search for confirmation to prove to the world that it is as brilliant as you think. But, confirmation bias isn’t refined to just the startup world. It can be seen everywhere; in our belief that the BBC is biased, whether this candidate is best for the job, or whether we’ve chosen the right loan, house or car. We look for anything that confirms that we have made the correct decision.

So, once you’ve thought of this really great idea, you might ask your friends, and they tell you they think it’s a great idea too. You ask that really clever relative who knows all about that kind of thing, and they say, “I’m sure it will be really successful”. And they’re so clever that they must be correct, right? Once again, we focus on any scrap of evidence that proves we’re right rather than taking note of the things that contradict our thinking.

Whilst it’s critical to do your absolute best when it comes to avoiding confirmation bias in everyday life, there is something you can do even earlier in the startup world.

When that moment of inspiration hits you, instead of celebrating your million pound idea, take a step backwards and think about the problem that needs solving.

So when you’re boarding the 192 bus for the third time this week, and you realise you haven’t got any spare change again, the problem statement you need to solve is ‘people not having money to pay for bus fares’.  

A problem worth solving

Now that you’ve identified a real problem, you’ve got to decide whether it’s worth pursuing. It can be soul destroying spending 3 to 5 years building a product that frankly nobody wants, so start conducting problem interviews. Find out…

  • The last time they suffered from this problem
  • What they do currently to solve this problem
  • Why their current solutions aren’t awesome

If your problem affects two sides of a market place, then make sure you speak to both. Not having enough change for the bus doesn’t just affect the passengers, it’s also a nuisance for the bus driver. So find out their pain points, ask how they deal with this problem and how often they face it. But don’t stop there, speak to people further up the management hierarchy and ask them how the problem affects their business or bottom line.

Once you’ve explored the size of the market, you’ll be able to make the decision of whether it’s a problem worth solving. And if it is, well… hopefully you’ll have fallen head over heels in love with it.

Solution thinking

Now, and only now, is it time to start thinking about different ways to solve your problem. And we’ve got one word; Brainstorm.

Bitcoin bus payments... That’s one solution. What else?

Building a cashpoint at every bus stop... Maybe… what else?


Bus fairies on every bus - short of cash? Just call the bus fairy!... What else?


A screen that plays adverts - if you promise to sell your soul… we mean watch the ad… you get a free bus journey... What else?


Contactless payments… interesting. What else?


Prepaid multi-journey bus tickets? What else?


Pay via an app… Arriva and First do this, is there room for an operator agnostic solution that could work on every bus? What else?


Teleportation so you don’t need the bus at all… Tricky, but awesome. What else?


A taxi service you can call from your pho… oh wait, it’s been done… What else?

By falling in love with the problem, it opens our eyes to lots and lots of possible solutions. Some of course may be better than others, but by loving the problem we are solution agnostic. We don’t care what the solution is, as long as it’s the best solution for solving your users problem.

We believe that this is the best way to realise your ambition. So go forth and fall in love.

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