An Idea-Stage Founder in a Gray Area

I recently met with an idea-stage entrepreneur. He’s built an MVP of his solution and is thinking about ways to scale the solution. At his early stage, he’s testing and tinkering a surprising amount.

During our conversation, I realized he’s clear on the solution but hasn’t crystallized the problem he’s solving. This means he’s not sure who his customers are, either. His solution addresses a few potential problems, and he’s considering a wide variety of businesses as potential customers. He’s holding his solution tight and the problem it solves loosely.

This is the classic solution-in-search-of-a-problem approach that some idea-stage entrepreneurs unwittingly take. This approach has landed this entrepreneur in a gray area where he’s unsure what steps to take next.

At the idea stage there isn’t much to undo, so there’s a simple remedy for being in a gray area. Simply flip the approach. Let go of the solution and zero in on a specific problem. Said differently, hold a problem tight and be flexible on the solution that solves it.

I suggested that this founder consider pausing work on his solution and doing discovery of potential customer groups about the problems he thinks his solution could solve. I suggested he read The Mom Test and follow the customer discovery methodology outlined in the book to identify the specific problem he wants to solve and develop a deep understanding of it. Hopefully, that will put him in a position to build a great solution that solves a painful problem customers will happily pay for—and keep him out of the gray area he’s in now.