Dude, what’s your problem? If you’ve got a solution looking for a problem, you’ve got a REAL problem.

I meet with inventors and entrepreneurs all the time. One of the great joys I take in my career is seeing the passion that these innovators have for their ideas, and for the businesses they are building. Almost all of the inventor-entrepreneurs I meet have a story of inspiration – the epiphany they had that lead to their product idea, and started them on their journey.

As far as epiphanies go, they tend to be inspired in several ways. One of my clients got frustrated because his bottled water warmed up too quickly during the summer; this frustration lead to an epiphany and a great, simple idea to keep bottled water cold. Another got upset when he was served Merlot in a wine glass that wasn’t completely clean. Yet another felt that there could be a better way to prune shrubs and trees. Another was a doctor who felt a certain procedure was inefficient. Others have been carpenters, nurses, flight attendants, business people… Each of these individuals encountered a problem or challenge in their daily lives and had an epiphany which lead to a new product idea.

As odd as this may seem, the problem is far more important than the solution…

But, not all epiphanies are created equal.

I tell people that the best products start with good problems, and that you will never get the product right if you don’t get the problem right. Too often, I see inventors focus on creating the product that they can create or want to create, instead of the product that they should create. This almost always leads to disappointment (though I will admit that lightning does strike occasionally, and people sometimes get lucky without focusing on a problem to solve).

Some inventors find a problem or opportunity in their own personal life, and then automatically extrapolate that to a much broader set of people. In some cases, that extrapolation works well because the particular problem does have an element of universality to it. But, sometimes, the inventor is blinded by his own idea, and can’t see that the problem they are trying to solve really isn’t that big a deal to other people, or to enough other people to justify a new product.

Other times, and perhaps even a worse approach, the inventor focuses on something they’ve discovered, assuming that it’s a solution to some sort of problem. Sometimes they are right, but often times they are left with a solution looking for a problem to solve. Until that good, meaty problem is found, then they don’t have a viable business model, no matter how interesting their discovery is. The wheel, after all, was just a novelty until someone attached it to a cart or used it to grind grain.

Then, there are the instances in which the inventor has found a great problem to solve, but their solution is a total mismatch for the problem itself. There are a lot of people out there who have $100 solutions to $10 problems, and that just doesn’t work in business. Yes, I too get frustrated that the ice in my freezer sticks together sometimes, but I don’t need (or want) a $75 tool to deal with that problem; I already have a 5 cent solution: I can just dump the ice before bedtime, and by morning I’ve got nice fresh ice. Unfortunately, there are a number of people in the inventor-entrepreneur community that get so blinded by the novelty of their idea, that they downplay the business model aspects of launching their company.

Great products do start with real problems.

If you have a very clear product idea, but the problem it addresses isn’t that clear, then you have a real problem (just not the kind we’re looking for). For a successful product business to develop, the problem should be universal enough to justify a solution, and the solution must match the scope of the problem.

Need help aligning a problem with a product? Need help developing or manufacturing your invention? Need help brainstorming your problem or your product? Contact us! Product QuickStart. We focus on helping inventor-entrepreneurs and early-stage companies develop and manufacture their products.