Where is the problem?

illusion-bike-Problem… I’m the most stupid person to test any idea on. If I can understand it, the world will.

Can you explain it in simple word, like if you were talking to a 7 years old kid?

ex.:  Mama (target market) is sick (pain/problem). If we don’t do anything, she could die (How critical is the problem/pain). We have to do something, right? (check if people agree on the problem you see. If they won’t agree, they would NEVER buy your solution). Ok. Now, You run to pharmacy to buy medicine and I call for a doctor (your solution).

It’s fundamental that people would first agree with you on the pain/problem you want to solve, IF not, they would NEVER buy into your solution suggestion.

I coach about 10 African entrepreneurs every month. Some are rich enough to pay me, but most can’t, so I have to help them for free. Some are very articulate with rich business background, but most are recent graduates and first time entrepreneurs. Regardless of their background, the most difficult part of our conversation and the most time consuming is when I challenge them to show me the invisible elephant in the room, or simply ask them “Where is the problem are you trying to solve?”.

Most of them are too much focused on the solution they want to bring to the world, without demonstrating their deep knowledge of the problem they want to solve. When they have a hint  about the problem, they’d present it in too vague and un-inspiring ways. Some presentations sound look like a governmental program or a huge NGO blab, not a startup pitch

“Statistically, only 10% of product-push startups or programs succeed, while 80% to 90% of demand-pull startups succeed since they have paying customers. So focus on solving a customer’s “pain points” with must-have-yesterday solutions. Customers will rarely pay for fancy, nice-to-have solutions.” said the Startup Guru Steve Blank (Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything)

That’s the reason why in entrepreneurship the knowledge of the problem your are trying to solve is far more important than the solution to that problem.  However, Clarifying the problem statement could be an exhausting fight for sanity, but this battle is the first one you have to win before you have any change to win the war.

If you’d succeed, your company presentation should be something so simple, and so compelling that you can pitch it to friends in a bar without being afraid no one would invite you anymore to all the fun parties in the city.

Here is a framework that works quite well for problem statement:
1. Who are the people you want to help with your solution?
ex: We want to help illiterate people living in remote villages in eastern Africa to …..
2. What is the PAINFUL problem the people above are having that your are building a solution for?
ex: to …. let the world know their ordinary story / to … access vital information about weather and seasons cycle / to … get better price for their crops / to ….
3. What question our solution is the answer to?
ex: What is the right time to plant seed? What is the price of beef meat now in the capital? How to cook a delicious meal for my wife?

After answering those questions in simple and down to earth way, you can formulate your story:
ex.: During the last 20 years, People living in remote villages in eastern Africa, have produced more crops but in the same time they became poorer and underweight. The main reason is that there are between them and the marketplace numerous middlemen who are taking all the benefits of their hard work. We can do something to help here. Our plan is to build a real time market price mobile app for the 10 basic local commodities and put that app in the hands of those people even if most of them could not even read. That’ll be Awesome, isn’t?

It’s not an easy task. It’s frustrating, but believe me, you have to discipline yourself regarding this, FORCE YOURSELF to dig deeper and clarify the pain/problem description before anything else.

In his seminal book “The Four Steps to Epiphany – Successful Strategies for Products that Win“, Steve Blank made a vivid portrait of the best customers a startup could dream about. Those customers have the following 5 characteristics:

1. The customer has a problem.
2. The customer understands he or she has a problem.
3. The customer is actively searching for a solution and has a timetable for finding it.
4. The problem is painful enough that the customer has cobbled together an interim solution.
5. The customer has committed, or can quickly acquire, budget dollars to solve the problem.


According to Steve Blank, customers with above characteristics are the best any startup could dream about. However, any sane startup founder should focus his or her attention ONLY on customers possessing  the characteristics 4 and 5.

They are called “earlyvangelist customers” wrote Steve Blank, and they are “found only at points 4 and 5: those who have already built a homegrown solution (whether in a company by building a software solution, or at home by taping together a fork, light bulb and vacuum cleaner) and have or can acquire a budget. These people are perfect candidates to be earlyvangelists. They are the ones you will rely on for feedback and for your first sales; the ones who will tell others about your product and spread the word that the vision is real. Moreover, when you meet them, you mentally include them on your list of expert customers to add to your advisory board”

In summary, there are 2 kinds of needs said Steve Blank:

(1) a latent need (the customers have a problem, or they have a problem and understand they have a problem) –  a latent need is not enough for anyone to do a business with.

(2) an active need (the customers recognize a problem – they are in pain – and are actively searching for a solution, but they haven’t done any serious work to solve the problem) – this kind of need could be enough to address if the startup is in B2C industry and is well funded, but not good enough if the startup is in B2B.

A B2B startup should consider to server only customers with an active need and vision

(3) Vision (the customers have an idea what a solution to the problem would look like, may even have cobbled together a homegrown solution, and in the best case, are prepared to pay for a better solution). – customer with an active need and a vision are the best customers any startup could dream about, and therefore launch a discovery program to identify them, talk to them, and build solutions that serve them. That process is called by Steve Blank “Customer discovery”.

The best customers a startup could dream about are the customers who were dreaming about meeting a Company like that Startup.

My deep belief, based on years of hustling is that the best and most successful businesses are those which act less as “change agents”, but more like “obedient and convenient servant” any customer could hire to do better what they have been already doing, but with frustration and pain points.

“Change agents” want customers to discover them and their products, while servant entrepreneur first want to discover their customers, their business and their pains, and proceed to serve them effectively.

Successful entrepreneurs see themselves as servants. Dictionary.com defines a servant as “a person employed by another, especially to perform domestic duties.” The person who employs the servant see “domestic duties” as necessary tasks to be done, but don’t have time for them, don’t like to spend time doing them, or don’t know how to them. In the other hand, he or she has enough money to hire a qualified, professional and obedient servant to help out.

Another way of  seeing entrepreneurship is to define it as a voluntary servitude, servitude defined as “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life” – Merriam-webster.com

Defined in that way, the journey of an entrepreneur starts with the will to serve someone else with dedication, humility, and consistency, to the point that the entrepreneur is willing to lose the freedom to determine his or her one’s course of action or way of life, but would ground his or her service on the only one thing that supremely matters: customer satisfaction and retention.

This kind of mindset could be called the Servant Mindset.

Sorry for my adult teaching tone. I’m seeing a doctor for that already.



About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at mk@linkcrafter.com.

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