Shop the Problem, Not the Product

The Philosophy

“A start-up begins with a vision: a vision of a new product or service, how the product will reach its customers, and why lots of people will buy it.” I believe this sounds right thus far.

“But most of what a startup’s founders initially believe about their market and potential customers are just educated guesses. A startup is in reality a ‘faith-based enterprise’ on day one.” Now that was a humorous reality, but I can still agree. Customer Discovery is “to turn faith into facts…to know whether they have a valid vision or just a hallucination.” (Blanks, 2013, pg. 43)

Customer Discovery occurs when you seek out potential customers to buy your product or service. Blanks defines it as “time to hit the streets and identify your repeat buyers.” This discovery goes beyond gathering electronic market data. Instead it translates into being “…out in the field, listening, discovering how consumers worked and what their key problems were.” (Blank, 2013, p.28)

The Question?

When you began this journey, did you shop your product or service or did you shop the problem that your product or service would solve?

I find this question very important when building a business. Are we following our passion and dreams or actually lending our dreams to a product or service that can solve a problem, which will provide sustainability for your company. It’s like applying for a grant. Many people think they have a great idea for someone to fund. When in reality, your idea needs to fit the goals and mission of a granting organization. It’s all about how you fit in the grantee’s world and so it also is about the consumer that you will be serving.

“The concept is deceptively simple: form hypotheses around the problem that your product solves, and around the product itself, test these hypotheses with those who could be your potential customers to verify, iterate or exit. This discovery process is part of the larger customer development model where the minimally viable product resulting from customer discovery undergoes validation testing among customers.” (savvyinternetmarketing)

I agree with Savvy Internet Marketing when they say it’s “deceptively simple.” You have to get the buy in from a group of strangers that will agree that what you are offering will solve their problem. And remember the problem may not exist yet. Once you gather real data, you are testing or tweaking to make adjustments from their feedback. Then you hit the pavement again to gather another round of feedback. In this round, you have your reality check of where the pairing of the product/service and the consumer provides conclusive evidence; to draw a conclusion you hope will say that you have made the right decision and it makes sense financially.  It’s the beginning or the end.

Just think, you haven’t sold a thing, but you have gathered valuable information that will allow you to be profitable. This in depth approach to gaining a viable consumer following could make the difference in a start-up’s continued success. And don’t think it’s the end, it’s just a place on the journey. Our value position can change over time. That time could be before we open the doors or later on when the market changes. Or even more, the problem could change. Your willingness to be open to your competitors as well as your buyers can make a difference in the footprint of your business.


Blank, Steven G. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win. 2nd ed. California: Steve Blank, 2013.

Customer Discovery Basics. (2016, November 25). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Keep My Eyes on Mexico

You only fail if you quit…

Eyes on Mexico

There is something about time that makes you wiser and stronger if you will allow it to transform you. I don’t mean change, but truly transform. I know there are some mornings I go through two suits, three blouses and four pairs of shoes until I get the fit and feel for that day, which happens to be the first suit, second blouse and third pair of shoes. So change is interchangeable depending on your mood, perspective or your preference. But transformation comes with a type of metamorphosis where you’ll never be the same; that caterpillar to butterfly kind of thing; a total unrecognizable chain reaction that literally causes you to take flight. And the beauty of it all is that you are equipped with everything necessary to make it happen.

That which stands in between the transformation is time and season. If the caterpillar’s life-changing process is interrupted, it dies. Failure is interruption that could cause your life-changing process (dreams) to die. Getting knocked off your twig by nature (failed attempts) can cripple and crush you transformation. But you have to set your eyes on Mexico; you must take flight or death is inevitable. The transformation is necessary for the journey to a warmer climate (better days). If you do not transform, you die from the cold (giving up). You only fail if you quit.

In his book It’s A Jungle In There, Steven Schussler gives three things to learn from failure to graduate to success. One, failure isn’t permanent. You are working with an EXPO marker and not a SHARPIE. “Failure should act as a stimulus, not paralysis.” (2010, pg. 141) An entrepreneur should have the capacity to get back up again. Two, failure should bring humility. “You need to be humbled by your mistakes, not crippled by them.” (pg. 142) Check your ego and how highly you think of yourself. Humility gives you a window seat to the truth. Your idea wasn’t as great as you thought it was or you aren’t as invincible as you thought you were. Thirdly, failure translates into appreciating success-“…how precious it is to achieve and how difficult it is to maintain.” (pg. 142) Each success is a milestone to be celebrated and treasured. Failures transform you, successes transforms others. Your failures forerun a path for others to learn from and avoid.

We are far greater than the butterfly dangling from that twig with hopes of continued life. Life continues when you recover and keep it moving. Time has shown me those things that I counted as failures like my marriage ending in divorce, loss of that significant job where I had influence and power, or not spending enough quality time with my daughter because I am tired and she thinks I work too much were merely reminders that the life-changing process is just that, a process. As I journey on this entrepreneurial landscape, I’ll keep my eyes on Mexico and never quit … How about you?

Schussler, Steven. (2010) It’s A Jungle In There. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.