When deciding to venture down the road of entrepreneurship, many people will tell you that you need to define a problem, attack the problem, and of course provide a solution in order to develop a viable product. Killer products should do more than solve problems.
I hear proponents of the problem identification approach transfer advice all too often to wide eyed wannabe entrepreneurs. Quite frankly, I wish they’d stop.
Why? Two reasons. Some of the most innovative products (and mind you not all) don’t solve problems, they provide value instead; they satisfy a latent need. By looking first at problem identification you limit yourself to the scope of what’s already out there. This effectively blocks you from making something completely new, unique and phenomenal. Think Hyperloop.
Don’t buy it? Fine, let’s look at a product examples.
Example numero uno, and only uno cause this is gonna be a quick one: Twitter.
Let me ask you a question. Was there a deep-rooted underlying need to broadcast 140 characters in February 2006 via non-text message means? The answer is no, and the longer answer is nope!
Proponents of the problem ideology will claim that it was solving a communication issue, that people were writing too much on blogs, and it needed to be less. Truth is, you can make a case for anything, i.e. read this Quora Link, it’s short. But the honest truth (and unless Evan Williams tells me otherwise) is that they just built some cool shit.
Why did it work? Because it was riddled with the V word. Value. There was massive value in broadcasting a message that limited you to the character limit in a SMS, but on the web (this is after all pre iPhone revolution).
What was that value? Unclear at launch, but people have a fun way of bringing about ingenuity and discovering excellent uses for awesome things. Now, Twitter is a news reader, a conversation medium, a broadcast network, a popularity contest, etc. It’s also a dynamic and robust platform that provides tantamount value to masses of individuals. Even if it’s stock price shows otherwise.
But what if Twitter & Co. was devised initially as a solution to a problem? What if it were devised as say a “social news reader” – problem, your friends and you have similar interests, and the web has loads of blogs, how do you find out about the blogs your friends read? You make a website that lets people share the blogs they read via social means. Lame.
It’s extraordinarily limited in scope. Products that are typically engineered to resolve an issue will do just that, they may have sustainable business models, they may even be profitable, but they’re never going to be game changers.
Since we’re on the topic of Twitter, I reckon we ought to look as well at Snapchat, it too didn’t really do anything but send short videos between users and has since grown into a phenomenal means of delivering ads and content to Snake People (Snake People) and is worth about 20 billion to boot.
Whereas on the other side of the spectrum you have something like a Google+, it was phenomenally engineered to fill the gap between Facebook and Twitter, case in deck that shows exactly how Google+ was contrived and positioned.
And as for what it does, it does well (or poorly depending depending what you’re studying), it fits into this strangely ambiguous space, between the interest and social layers. But it just misses something, and that something is – it’s not organic, it’s a platform that was engineered to fill a void in the market (or to get Google into the social game), but it was never built with “cool shit” in mind, the product is just too analytically devised, and it will never have the scope or reach or ingenuity of a Twitter or Snapchat, because even Google’s billions in cash just can’t buy that certain Je ne sais quoi.
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