Transcript of: Problem – Solution Fit
Presented by Dr. Kapadia on Oct 2,2020 Watch the Webinar
All right. Okay, we have a good mix. It's a mix of researchers, students and entrepreneurs. Thank you so
much for taking the poll. All right, so let's get started with problem-solution fit. Let's talk about why
should I care about problem-solution fit to begin with? I would like to start with two famous quotes.
One is by Henry Ford that said, “If I had asked people what they want, they would have said a faster
horse.” And Steve Jobs said, “It is not your customer's job to know what they want.”
Often, most people look at these quotes and they think, "Oh, I don't really need to ask my customer
because look, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs didn't feel the need to ask their customer." We will come back
to these quotes a little later in the process.
But I would like to point out that even though these quotes sound like they're not engaging with the
customer, I think these quotes themselves tell you a lot about what they're saying. So the first one, “If I
had asked people what they want, they would have said a fast horse.” Then the customer is actually
telling you what they want right there. They're telling you that they want to go faster, and the current
methodology that they have is not fast enough, which in this case was a horse. So if they could get
something that was a faster horse, they would be willing to buy that.
In case of Steve Jobs, it is not your customer's job to know what they want. What Steve is referring here
to is, it's not your customer's job to design the product. But your customer can tell you what problem
they have. They are not the ones who are actually going to design the products. So that is going to be
your responsibility, it's going to be something that you will do based on what you learn from the
So let's talk about some current quotes. As problem-solution fit has become more relevant and Lean
Startups have become more predominant in our world today. Ash Maurya was the founder of Lean
Startup said, “The biggest risk for startups is to build something that no one wants.” And Dave from 500
Startups says, “Customers don't care about your solutions. They care about your problems.” So it is
these two things that we're really going to focus on today, is how do you build something that people
want to buy, and how do you build something that is actually solving a problem?
All right, so this is one of my favorite infographics. CBI Insights does this every year. They send out the
top… they actually do talk to any reasons why startups fail, and they send this out every year. I pick the
top 10 reasons of the top 20 that they have listed. Almost invariably, every single year, no market need
is the number one reason why startups fail, and it typically accounts for 40% to 50% of the reason why
Then the other one that I want to highlight is product miss timed. I consider the no market need and the
product miss timed as both issues related to a problem-solution fit. It's startups that have not identified
a problem-solution fit who actually fail for these reasons.
The other ones that I have highlighted become important further down in the startup journey. They are
also aligned with a broad problem-solution fit, but more downstream in a startup's journey rather than
early stage when you're actually trying to identify, what is the problem that the customer is facing and
why do you need to solve it?
What should we be thinking about when we're thinking about problem-solution fit? The first thing that
we should be thinking about is, is it required? As in do customers need this? Second is, is it viable? Will
they pay for it? Third is, is it feasible? Can I build it? Often what happens is we start backwards. We start
with, is it feasible? We start with building something and trying to fill say, “Oh, well, I have this really
cool widget, now let me go out and share it with people and see if they want to buy it.” That approach
worked really well in the manufacturing era, where we had this mindset of if you build it, they will come.
Then, given the market dynamics of that time, that seemed a very relevant approach.
But as we are in industry four point now, where the customer is very enlightened, where products are
not necessarily scanned, or what we have to develop is in a very crowded market space, we have to
come up with new things, because the market already has a lot of solutions. So when you're trying to
come up with new things in a market that has existing solutions, you need to make sure that you're
solving a real problem. If we go back to the time of Henry Ford, where the solution was a horse, and he
was building a car, in that phrase, "If we build it, they will buy seems extremely relevant."
But in today's market space, where we have not a one type of car, we have choices on the different
types of cars, we have the regular engine cars, we have the hybrid cars, we have the electric cars, the
people working on self-driving cars. So now in this phase where there's so many different products
available, what problem am I going to solve if I build a new car, or a new mode of transportation for that
matter? So our approach to problems, our approach has changed to innovation to new product
development, mainly because the market dynamics have changed over the years, and in today's market,
it is important to have a problem-solution fit and not necessarily adopt the mentality of if we build it,
they will come.
So I will walk you through five different steps of how we can establish problem-solution fit if we are
innovating via researchers, or if you're startups, what do we need to do in order to develop problem-
So the first step is identifying what is the problem. In order to talk about this, I'll talk about Ted Levitt,
who is a professor, who his most famous quote is, “Your customer wants a quarter inch-hole, not a
quarter inch-drill bit.” So your customers typically buy products just do a job. They're trying to do
something, which is why they're going to buy a product.
So if a customer wants to hang up a frame, they want a quarter inch-hole, they do not care how they will
create that. It could be a quarter inch-drill bit, it could be a hammer and a nail crude. It could be
anything that actually works that would allow them to create the hole. So we really need to focus on
understanding what is the problem that the customer is trying to solve? What is the job that the
customer is trying to do? Because unless and until we have an understanding of that, we will not be able
to develop a solution that the customer wants to buy. The only way to do it is to talk to customers.
There are various ways of trying to get insights, trying to identify the problem. The most common one is
interviews, if any of you are familiar with the NSF i Corps program. If you go through the program, they
will ask you to do 100 customer interviews, not 10, not 20 a 100. You might think that's a lot, and
probably they are a lot, but in my next slide, we will talk about why they didn't ask you to do 100
customer interviews. The more people you talk to, the better will be your problem definition. The better
you will really understand the needs of the customer.
The other few ways of identifying a problem is just merely observation, go to a workplace and observe
and see what they're doing and find where the inefficiencies are. So for example, it's very common
when you're developing medical products to go watch a doctor, especially surgical products. I myself
have gone in Spencer spent a day in a surgical suite, watching doctors perform surgeries, and actually
trying to identify areas where there is an actual need, where we can develop products to help solve their
Another methodology is diary logging. This is where you're asking your potential customer to actually
write down what they are doing. Then you take that diary and you find points of inefficiency that they
are experiencing, or they themselves in the process of writing might express areas of frustration.
So we did this sale process with one of the clients that we had, it was a cosmetics client, and they
wanted to really understand what products they needed to introduce into the market. We did this
methodology with them, and we recruited a few potential customers, and we asked them to just keep a
diary where they recorded what they did from morning to evening, around their skincare and haircare
regimen, what shampoo did they use, what did they do as soon as they got up, what did they do for
their skincare, what do they do for haircare throughout the day, starting from the morning and going to
bed at night? Then we can use the insights that they have captured to try and understand, what is their
routine like, where can we make things better, where are the inefficiencies, et cetera?
The last one is customer journey mapping, where you actually sit down, it's similar to diary login, but
instead of the customer sitting down and writing things, you sit down and you basically talk to the
customer, have them talk to you through their day and you map out, now, not necessarily the day, but
their journey. So [inaudible 00:12:51] for this cosmetics client a day was sufficient because we wanted
to understand their routine from morning to night. So we mapped out the customer journey from
morning tonight and then really had conversations along those lines, to try and understand where the
customer needed more support and where we could actually build products to help them.
If it was a different product, which required a longer term journey, saying a product around healthcare
or a patient going in to see a doctor, that customer journey mapping would be different than this
particular customer journey mapping because then we would start with what is the patient doing to get
ready for the doctor's visit, what do they do when they actually get to the doctor's office, how long do
they have to wait in the doctor's office, what are they doing during that waiting time, what did they do
when they actually visit the doctor, then what do they do after the doctor's visit?
So each customer journey mapping would be different depending upon what product or what area that
you are working in. Some customer journey mapping can be a day, some customer journey mapping can
go on for a few weeks or even months. So if you're talking about patients that are dealing with chronic
health care problems, we might have to do a customer journey mapping to them that probably extends
There are different ways of engaging with your customers. But the key is to really understand where are
the inefficiencies and what is the problem that you're solving. I will quote Steve Blank in this that, "We
are very comfortable doing things from our computers. It's a safe space to build stuff first or research
first, et cetera. But the only way we will actually learn what the problem is, is if we get out of the
building and talk to our customers, because that is where the real information lies in where is the
The next point that we want to talk about is, who is your customer? You would think this all the my
visual was like, “Should I not know who my customer is first before I start talking to them?” Let me
explain that to you.
When I talk about who is your customer, let's say you have a potential idea around, maybe you have
noticed that right now there is a significant inefficiency around adult home care. So there are a lot of
elderly people who are staying at home, maybe alone, and there are not a lot of resources to take care
of them or to support them. Maybe that's an area that you're interested in exploring further.
When you start talking to your customers early on. Often what you're going to do is try and find most,
any elderly person and start having a conversation with them. You're starting to understand them, who
they are and what kind of problems they're facing. After you have a few interviews, you will start
realizing that not all elderly people have the same problems. So automatically, the population starts
segmenting itself into different areas. Those segments can be based on a variety of factors, but the
segmentation can happen maybe if you're talking about the elderly population.
Let's say, we can start segmenting people based on whether they're healthy, or whether they have any
chronic conditions, whether they're mobile, or whether they're immobile, whether they live by
themselves, or whether they live with their children, are they tech friendly, are they using any tech
devices, or are they very old school?" There are a lot of different ways of segmenting customers. You
realize as you talk to them, that clear segments will start forming. Then you have to understand which of
these segments is the segment that I really want to work with? Because you can't help everybody at the
same time. That's the mistake that a lot of startups make at the very beginning.
Yes, when you have a product or when you have an idea, there is a possibility that you will be able to
impact multiple segments. But if you try and be everything to everyone at the get go, you're going to
surely fail. So, who is your customer is very, very important up front, because you need to identify one
segment, what is the problem in that segment, and how are you going to solve that problem? You start
with one problem, you develop a product to solve that problem, and then you will be able to expand
into other segments eventually.
But if you identify five problems in five different customer segments, and you try to solve them all at the
same time, you will be extremely diluted in your effort, your product will not meet the specifications of
any one customer segment properly, and you will fail. So who is your customer, it's very, very important
to start knowing this very early in the process as to which customer segment are you actually targeting.
There are two ways of doing customer segmentation, qualitative and quantitative. We hear a lot of
things around quantitative customer segmentation, this is basically geographic segmentation,
demographic segmentation, behavioral segmentation, or predictive segmentation. So geographic is
simple, where are you based, do I want to work with customers that are on in the United States, or do I
want to work with customers that are in Asia and yeah, depending upon the need, geography, the needs
will be different. Demographic, age, sex, education, family, et cetera. Behavioral, what are their
behaviors? So what are their buying behaviors and predictive? They bought this and they bought X and
they will buy Y with it, so based on that predictive behavior we can make these recommendations.
Now with data analytics and AI, there is more and more and more information around quantitative. It is
excellent information that we should absolutely have and leverage. But in the early phases, when you
are actually trying to do your problem-solution fit, you want to do your research qualitatively. As in you
want to go out, you want to talk to people, you want to develop the different personas, which I talked
about the segments, so the different personas fall under different segments, and then pick the one
persona or segment that you want to build out your solution for. Once you are further down in your
research process, you will use the quantitative tools downstream. You will absolutely literally use the
quantitative tools downstream. But early on in the process, you want to focus on qualitative interviews,
and not just go into quantitative.
It's easy to do the quantitative. We can buy a report from somewhere, or we can hire a data analytics
consultant who will do the work for us and give us a report that we just have to read. That will not give
you the information that you want at the early stage of your startup or your product development
process. So while you might get insights from quantitative, they likely will not provide you the right
insights to help you identify the right problem and the right customer segment.
Often, larger companies actually are very guilty of doing this. Buying reports and making decisions based
on that, and spending few million and a couple of years in development and discovery, only to find out
once they actually have a product that the customer that they were targeting, is actually not interested
in buying their product. So invest a little time and energy early on in your qualitative research, because
that is what will really help you identify the right problem for the right match.
The next question you want to ask then after you've done this, is how are they currently solving the
problem? I will go back to Henry Ford's quote which is, “If I would have asked my customers what they
want they would have said a faster horse.” So the customers were already solving their problem. They
were using a horse to get to places. Maybe they were not getting there as fast as possible, but they were
still getting there. So Henry Ford's competition was a horse.
Now that might sound funny, but often in… and that is what he had to compete against, he had to
convince people that they had to buy his car, which would be faster than a horse. That required a lot of
convincing. That was not an easy sell initially for people who were used to riding horses, and who had to
now operate this heavy machinery to get from one point to the other, and it was probably an expensive
piece of machinery as well.
So, knowing your competition is very, very, very important, because your customer is always figuring out
a way to solve their problem. They have found a way to solve their problem one way or another. Either
they're using existing products, which means that there is competition, there is another company that is
making something similar that is available in the market. The customer may be using it, they may not be
happy about with it because it probably doesn't have all the functionalities that they want, but they're
using that product. Sometimes they may not find one product that can do what they want. So they
might be combining two or three different products to solve their problem.
Classic example is using shampoo and conditioner as two separate bundles. Companies have tried to
combine shampoo and conditioner in one and that has not been a very successful product because that
ratio that people need varies. People with [inaudible 00:24:51] straight hair need less conditioning,
more volume, and people with hair like mine, which is thick and curly need higher conditioning.
So that product combination, even though that is available, or companies have tried to put it into the
market has not been successful, and nobody has gotten that combination right yet. So customers are
still using two different products, because they would love to have one product, a shampoo conditioner
one is a product that I would love to have. But unless and until I find a product that satisfies my needs, I
will continue to combine two or three different products to achieve the results that I want.
Lastly, if there's nothing available in the market, they might just choose the solution. So they might take
existing parts and pieces, put them together and figure out a way to make it work. This is surprisingly
common in the medical field, actually. So I was working with a company and we were developing
pediatric products. In the pediatric universe, it is very common for doctors to [inaudible 00:26:02] adult
products for pediatric applications, because pediatrics is a small market.
So companies don't tend to actually invest in research and development for pediatric products, because
the return on investment is low. So doctors don't have a choice, they will take capital for an adult and
bend it or shape it or modify it in a way that they can use it in a pediatric patient. It is not optimum, and
they would definitely want one that is designed for pediatrics. But since there is nothing available in the
market to address that need [inaudible 00:26:48]. So your customers are always have all figured out
how to solve their problem.
Now, if you tell me that, “Oh, my product is so unique, that my customers currently are not solving it
any way.” I would say that, in that case, if your customer is not trying to solve that project, maybe their
problem is not strong enough. If their problem is not strong enough problem, they will not pay money to
buy your product. So we have to be very, very careful about this where often we get so much in love
with our creations that we say, “Oh, I have no competition. Or what I'm making is so unique. No one else
has done it before.” You might be right, yes, your product might be very unique, and something like that
may not exist on the market, but it still has to solve a problem, it still has to solve a problem that is
existing in the marketplace. Because if it is not solving a problem that is existing in the marketplace, no
one will buy it.
So if you remember the top 10 reasons why startups fail, there was one that said product was missed
time. There are many products that have failed because they were great products, but the market was
not ready for it. So there are the example of Blackberry very early on trying to come up with a smart
phone is a good example of something like that, where they were trying to build something, but the
market was not ready for it. Or maybe you're building something, but it requires resources that we
currently do not have to make that product a reality. Artificial Intelligence is a great example of that.
Artificial Intelligence has been in r&d since the 1960s. We are seeing a massive boom now of Artificial
Intelligence. The only reason we are seeing a massive [inaudible 00:29:02] now for Artificial Intelligence
is because the data required to make Artificial Intelligence a reality is becoming available to us today. So
even though people started working on AI in the 1960s, it could not have been a successful company at
that time, because the resources required to make AI a reality were not available. So are we really
solving a problem that is existed? Can we build a solution that we can solve that problem? So the
product missed time in my mind is very much an issue with misaligned problem-solution fit.
Then let's talk about your solution. So what is your solution and how does it solve the problem? Let's
talk about two examples here. You're probably are familiar with the company OXO, which develops good
grip products. OXO came about because the founder basically saw his wife struggling with a peeler
without the rubber grip, and she had arthritis and she was in a lot of pain trying to use that peeler. So
she asked him to develop something that would help her. That's how the OXO brand came about.
OXO is not a disruptive innovation in any way. They have not redesigned kitchen tools, they have not
made brand new kitchen tools that will change how you cook. All that they have done is taken existing
kitchen tools and made them more user friendly. So even when they did this, even though the
entrepreneur was coaxed into doing this with his wife expressing a problem, they didn't just go out and
start making it. They did a lot of research associated with it. They talked to the Arthritis Foundation, they
talk to other foundations, that were supporting people with disabilities, and really figured out the needs
of the people so that they could design products that people wanted. But after talking to all those
people, they realized, “Yes, this is definitely a problem. If we design products to help solve this problem,
people will buy it.”
The other company that we talk about is Tesla. Tesla is more on the disruptive end. It is still a car, but it
is disrupting the oil and gas industry by developing electric cars. The market need that Tesla is
addressing is people's desire to be environmentally friendly. The car is no different from a regular car,
but the reason why people will buy a Tesla is because they care about climate change. They care about
global warming, and they want to make sure that the world is safe for us in the future and for future
generations. So the need that Tesla is addressing is not the need of commuting. The need that Tesla is
addressing is the need for addressing the problem of climate change that people care about.
Here the geography part becomes very important. If Tesla had introduced its card in Ohio, where I am, it
probably wouldn't have been very successful. But being introducing Tesla in California, where people are
really passionate about this issue helped because it got that initial traction in new geography, where
people were accepting and were really demanding a solution. Once it got acceptance in California, it
started moving into other geographies and started gaining acceptance.
So, in both of these examples, you'd see that the solution is addressing a problem, but the problem in
both cases is very different. So, really, really understanding that problem becomes key to trying to
define the solution and then which is the right target segment for you to introduce your solution to Who
is your first adopter who will actually buy your product?
Then the last piece of this is how are you unique? What is your unique value proposition? So, as we
talked about, your customer has needs and wants, your competition has products that are trying to
solve those needs, and then you are trying to develop products that is trying to solve your customers
needs. Where you want to be is in this space of where you are solving something that your customer
wants, that is currently not being solved by your competition. This piece becomes very, very important.
Because often when you go out and pitch something, they say, “Oh, why should I buy this? There's
already this company that is doing this, how are you any different?”
For all the entrepreneurs in the house, I'm sure you're very, very familiar with this question, [inaudible
00:35:06], and any investor that you go join, even any customer that you go to, you'll get asked that
question, “Why should I buy this when I already have this existing product?” Unless and until you can
convince them that what I am offering really is unique and different from what the competition has, and
it's going to solve the customer's problem, either better, faster, or cheaper, you're not going to be able
to get a lot of traction in the market space. So those are my five tips for establishing a product problem-
As we talked about, I went over, how do you define your problem by really, really talking to customers?
Understanding which customer segment you wish to go after? Understanding how is the customer
currently solving their problem, then really thinking about what is your solution and what specific
problem is that solution solving? Then lastly, how are you unique? How are you different from the
competition that will allow you to really differentiate yourself in the market space? So with that, I will
open up for questions, if you have any. It was a pleasure being here with you today.
Thank you, Dr. Kapadia. We have any questions from the audience, I'd like to take those first before I
take some of the emailed questions that came in. Please feel free to either unmute your mics and
engage directly. But here it is one to kick it off. What if I'm already a researcher and I already have
patents in place? So can I still use this problem-solution fit that you're referring to?
Absolutely. Yes. That's a great question. So yes, you can still use the problem-solution fit that we talked
about. Because even though you might have a patent in place, even though you might have a
technology in place, you still need to really identify what problem are you going to solve for your
customer? You still need to identify what customer segment are you targeting? Then you need to decide
what features do you need in your product to actually solve that problem? You might maybe have a
badging that covers a lot of different things. So you might have a product that might have address
multiple needs. But if those needs are not really a problem with the customer, you really need to figure
out what features do you actually want in the final product that will help solve the customer's
It's also about really thinking about making sure you're not gold plating stuff. As researchers, we get
really attached to our technologies and we want to keep making it better and better and better, because
that is very cool to us. But if the customer does not need that, all that you're doing by keeping on trying
to make it better is jacking up the price of the product without really understanding if that is a problem
that the customer needs to solve, and if that is something, if that battle in your mind is actually a battle
in the customer's mind. Right?
Absolutely. Now, can you suggest… I'm going to go talk to 100 customers. Can you suggest some tools
that people can use [inaudible 00:39:20]?
Yes. I like the Lean Canvas by Ash Maurya, his book, The Lean Startup is one of the books that I use. So
the Lean Canvas that he recommends in that, or the Lean Canvas that he's developed, I think is a really
good Canvas for early stage problem-solution fit. Once you get more mature, there are other tools I
would from the Lean Canvas to the Business Model Canvas once you have established your problem-
solution fit and then go on from there. But the Lean Canvas is a really great starting point for doing this.
Fantastic. Any other questions from the audience so that we can field directly last chance before we
close out the session? I don't see anything coming in. I wanted to just speak briefly about our next event
coming up with Dr. Kapadia as well. I think we have a slide that we can put up here. Yes, there it is.
Tuesday, September 29th. That's next Tuesday, same time. It's product market fit. Now Dr. Kapadia, do
you want to speak a little bit about the event?
Yeah. In the next session, we will start talking more about… so today we talked about the problem-
solution fit, which is early stage, you're really trying to understand what problem are you solving and
then developing a solution that will actually help solve that problem? Product market fit is the next
stage of your commercialization efforts where you're then looking at, does this product actually have a
market need? We're going from customers that might be a few to looking at it from a larger market
perspective, and really trying to understand what is the market that I'm going to go after? How big is the
market? How am I going to make money in the market, and how am I going to position my product in
Fantastic. Thank you. Well, we're really looking forward to that next week at two o'clock. That wraps up
our session. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you ScienceDocs and Dr.
Kapadia for coming out and speaking with our audience today.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out. We are just one email or phone
call away. So thanks for joining us and stay well, take care now.