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Starting a digital startup? Why getting up close and personal with the problem is the best approach


Mariel Rubinstein

Articles by Nova’s Marketing Executive, Mariel Rubinstein.

Updated 20 April 22



Sometimes being too close to something can act as a disservice. You’re told ‘Hey, step back, look at the bigger picture, don’t get caught up in the small details’. Although this kind of thinking applies to a lot of things in the early stages of starting a business, it’s not the case when it comes to the problem your startup is trying to solve. In fact, as a founder, being close to the problem so much so that you’ve experienced it yourself, only serves as an advantage.


You’re more likely to build the ‘right’ product

Sometimes, it can be easy to overthink whether your app looks better in green or blue and you can feel like this decision will make or break the success of your business. But actually, your time is much better spent worrying about whether people really want the product you’re building in the first place. Why? Building the wrong thing is still the number one reason startups fail across the world.


When people buy a product, they’re ‘hiring’ it to get their ‘job’ done, to solve their problem. So if you don’t have a good understanding of the job your target audience is trying to achieve, you’re less able to create a business that will help them. Likewise, if you have a real understanding of their problem, or even better, have experienced it first-hand, you’re giving yourself a much higher chance of creating the right solution. If you feel the problem, you’ll know when the solution is working.


A video that explains this concept really well is ‘Understanding The Job’. The video talks about the time a major fast food chain tried to improve the sales of their milkshakes. They asked their customers how to make their milkshakes better - “do you want is chunkier, cheaper, more chocolatey?”. Based on this feedback, the chain improved the product, but still saw no increase in sales. That’s when they started to think more about the ‘job’ their milkshake buyers wanted to get done.


To their surprise, the company soon discovered that their customers mainly bought milkshakes before 8am on their commute to work. This gave new insight into the job their customers wanted milkshakes to help them do:


1. Commutes are boring and on customer’s drive in to work they have an extra hand free that they wanted to fill.


2. The commuters wanted to eat something quite heavy before work, so it would keep them going until lunchtime.


With this information, the fast food chain could begin to adapt their milkshakes in order to help their customers solve these problems. The lesson to be learnt here is, sure, adding extra sprinkles and chocolate sauce might make your product look better, but if it doesn’t solve the problem, it’s pretty much useless. You’ve got to understand the problem, to create a good solution.


Watch the full video below:





Investors are more likely to back you

Amongst a lot of things, investors will look to see if you have knowledge and expertise in the problem you’re aiming to solve. This is because founders who have experienced their problem will find a lot of what is required to start a business much easier. For example:  


  • Identifying your potential market size: If you already suffer from the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll easily be able to identify people who also experience it. Determining that your business has a good sized market also demonstrates growth potential, and this is something investors want to see.


  • Accessing & building a user panel: At Nova, we ask our founders to find and build a user panel. This allows for quick user feedback, allowing you to learn and improve the product as you go. If you’re already a target user for your product, making connections with potential early adopters will come more naturally. You’ll have the empathy and understanding to build relationships and engage people with what you’re trying to achieve. Building a user panel also supports your case for investment - if potential users say your idea is great, investors are more likely to think so too.


It’ll make you a more resilient entrepreneur

Starting your own business is tough. One minute you feel like you’re on top of the world, and the next it seems like everything is crashing down around you. So, wanting to ‘be your own boss’ or become the next big entrepreneur, isn’t a good enough reason to start a business. Having a real passion to solve a problem for yourself and others is essential to endure the ups and downs along the way.


You’ll also find that your passion will rub off on others around you - your designers, marketeers, developers and product owners in your team, even your customers, early adopters, and investors. It’ll make you a better seller, better leader, and ultimately a better entrepreneur.


If you’ve got an idea for a tech business, sign up to our Startup School for free mentorship and the opportunity to pitch for funding!




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