Think like a consultant not a salesperson

In surveying the advice out there for how to get startup ideas, one of the big things I found was the idea of “problems not solutions”. MAKE sums this up well:

A lot of companies start not from the problem but from the solution. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Technology needs to solve a problem. If you make a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, it might look sexy technologically, but it won’t get users.

When new technology becomes available people want to use it to build something. A great example is the endless amount of apps that have appeared since smartphones got GPS chips a decade ago. The first thought is, okay, let’s use this to track each other. So you make a map with friends on it and where they are. This has been tried over and over and it’s still a pretty terrible idea. I don’t have a strong curiosity to know where my friends are and I don’t necessarily want them to know where I am (due to privacy). The problem doesn’t exist. When I meet up with friends, we simply say a place we’re meeting up and we can find each other.

Now a good example where this technology is used to solve a problem would be Tinder. It does use your GPS location, to find people around you to date. That works because you don’t want to match with people on the other side of the world. It solves a problem and the solution is enabled by available technology. The problem should always be first, not the technology, not the solution.

I think I have an analogy that would help in adopting this perspective: think like a consultant, not a salesperson.

Suppose you build this “Friend Map” product (mentioned above). And suppose that you take the mindset of a salesperson. What happens next?

You go around trying to sell it. To get users. To make money. You spend time trying to convince people to use your product. That it will be helpful and cool.

Now, instead, suppose that you take the mindset of a consultant. What happens next?

Well, I imagine something like this. You approach potential users of your product. You say:

Hey, I’ve got this thing that might solve your problem. What do you think? If you don’t like it, tell me more. I’m here to serve you. Tell me what your problems are. Tell me what you’d like me to build for you.[1]

Or, even better, you have a hypothesis about a pain point and a product that would address that pain point, but before even building anything, you just go talk to people.

Hey. It looks like you have this problem and I think that I could help. Wanna chat about it? Are you experiencing the problem? Tell me about it. Do you have any thoughts on what can be done to solve it? What do you think of this idea I have?

Hopefully taking this approach would demonstrate that people aren’t actually too interested in where their friends are physically located at the moment. But they have been struggling to find a date. It’d be awesome if there was a way to browse through local people who are single-and-looking, and have a way to reach out to the ones who seem interesting.

Hopefully it’d bring you from Friendster to Tinder.

  1. ^

    Well, “tell me what to build for you” isn’t quite right. That can lead to the faster horse problem. It can also lead to people just proposing something that doesn’t even solve their problem. A drunk horse, if you will. What you really want to do is learn about their problems. From there it’s on you to develop a solution, not them.