Ultimately, a product or service exists to solve a problem, or it addresses a need or goal of the customer or user. Without that fundamental piece, a platform or app is doomed to failure. Understanding this is an important part of validating your idea. This article looks at what to consider, and why it's important to understand the problem your solving when you want to build a product.
So, what's the problem, need or goal?
At the end of the day, you don't want to spend your time and effort building something that isn't helpful to people in some way. Whether it's around productivity or maybe just entertainment, your platform or app has to have some purpose for people to use it.
Generally, we talk about solving problems with products. That's because people are driven to look for products or solutions because they're having trouble with something. Some problems are more trivial ("I'm bored, let's find a game to play" or "I’m hungry") and some things aren't ("How do I do my taxes?” or “What insurance should I buy?”). Bottom line – if there’s no problem, you’ll find it very difficult to get people to use your platform or app.
It's not always doom and gloom, and that's why I like talking about needs and goals too. To me, needs and goals are a variation of a problem, but with a positive intention – if you’re looking to meet a need (“I want to learn a new skill”) or if you want to achieve a goal (“I want to book a holiday in Perth”), then you’re equally motivated to find a solution.
Regardless, in order for it to be successful, your platform or app needs to do something useful for someone.
Is that problem painful enough for people to seek a solution?
Your platform or app is the solution to a person's problem, need or goal. By using your product, your clients and customers will achieve the outcome that they're looking for. But how painful is the problem? Is it a little itch or a full-body rash?!
If you think about the buying process, there are generally a few steps that people go through before pulling out their wallets and purses. This means that you want to make sure that the problem you're solving is painful enough for people to go looking for a solution. If I have a hole in my sock, do I look for a hole-fixing service or do I just buy new socks? Conversely, if you're talking about needs and goals, then you're thinking about how important this is to someone.
If you're product is free or low cost, then it's less of an issue as it's low-risk for an individual to try your service or download your app. People will use it as an option for evaluating different alternatives. The challenge then falls into my next point.
Are there enough people with the problem? And how often do people have this problem?
I've combined these two questions together because they speak to how many people you need to use your platform or app. You've found people with problems, and they're painful enough to look for a solution. But are there enough of them?
Unless you've got a high-ticket price, volume is key to any platform or app. There are a lot of overheads to cover with a platform or app. You're looking at 10-20% of your initial development costs to keep your systems running every year. This means there needs to be enough people with the problem to use your product, so you can pay your bills. This is a really important point. Be realistic about the number of people that you can get to sign up to your platform or app when doing your financial analysis. This is usually where a business falls over.
Another element of the volume equation is how often will people use your product. Problems are not all equal in importance. Some problems can be solved as a one-off (e.g. buying a present) and some happen over and over again (e.g. ordering takeaway). You can solve a problem in a minute, while others take years. If you have a subscription or membership product, then you want problems that take a while to solve. For smaller problems, you want people to keep coming back every time they encounter the problem. While it’s important to have a large number of users for your platform or app, you also need them to use it again and again.
Why should I care?
If you don’t first understand the problem, need or goal, then it’s no point building a solution. No one will use it. “That would be cool” is generally not a good reason for building a platform or app.
I’d also encourage you to explore the problem. This involves thinking about how painful it is. You want to understand why people might have the problem, and what motivates them to want to solve it. If the problem you’ve identified isn’t a big deal for them, then you’ll have a tough time convincing them that you have a solution for them. This research will also help you to build a better product by making sure you address the pain.
Finally, think about how many people this problem affects. How many of them you could realistically get to use your platform or app, and how often can you get them to use it. This is critical to the long-term success of your product. Your product may be great at what it does, but without volume and consistent use, you’ll struggle to keep it going.
At the end of the day, products are created to solve problems, so take some time to think about the one that you want to address in order to have a successful platform or app.