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

5 thoughts on “Shop the Problem, Not the Product”

  1. Hi Michelle,
    This is a thoughtful post about creating a product that solves a need. This class has been enlightening in regards to interviewing potential users of my services. I’ve been fascinated by the interview responses I’ve received. I’ve been surprised by how many people have been willing to offer their insight, advice, and wisdom when it comes to my entrepreneurial ideas. I like how you point out this process is just the beginning, how our value proposition can change over time.
    I appreciate your writing skills and how well you bring the reader through your thought process, too!

    1. Wow, thanks Joy! I have always considered that everyone was created to solve a problem in the earth. We just have to find out what our gifting is to offer solutions.

  2. This is an interesting look into approaching business concept. I guess I intuitively followed the notion of shop the problem. In my line of work I have a lot of moving pieces I needed to tie together and I approached it with that problem in mind. It makes a lot of sense now that you have explained it.

    1. Sometimes we are so focused on the final result, that we miss a step or two and do not end with the right answer. I think about calculus, where our teacher would give us points for the process even if we did not get the right answer. Sometimes we have time to make corrections and get it right before we turn in the work. When we get it wrong, we need to really see what caused the error to make sure it doesn’t happen on the final.

  3. I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thank you, I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your website?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *