Conventional wisdom in the product space (be it digital or physical) is that you’re in the business of solving a problem for people. And that, in exchange for solving that problem people will pay you money.

The other conventional wisdom says that not being sure of the problem you’re solving is how most start-ups fail.

Products fail when they don’t meet product market fit. At the risk of sounding obvious - People aren’t going to buy things they neither need nor want.

Knowing this, why is it that so many products fail? There’s thousands of reasons, but let’s start at the very beginning: defining the problem.

Common Issues

  1. Not understanding the problem sufficiently
  2. Not checking if it’s big or painful enough
  3. Fear of finding flaws with the opportunity

1. Not understanding the problem sufficiently

It’s not enough to see a problem. You have to become a master in what we call ‘the why’ of the problem. You’ve got to dig deeper.

But what if you’re trying to solve a problem in a domain you’ve got years of experience in? This is a common catalyst for a lot of products, where scratching your own itch has lead to a revelation that, hey, maybe others need this product too?

This is a great way to start. However, we advise caution in diving in before setting a direction on what problem you’re really solving. You have to step outside the comfort of what you believe to be true and validate it, but even more when you’re an expert due to your bias.

2. Not checking if it’s big or painful enough.

Some problems just aren’t that painful to fix or too narrow that it impacts too few. Not always a bad thing, but assuming everyone has the same caliber of problem can lead to poor results.

3. Fear of finding flaws with the opportunity

When you don’t challenge your idea, or at the assumption of the problem the idea fixes, you run an enormous risk of mishandling your product-market fit. You should challenge your idea and your understanding of it. Ask others if they are afflicted by the same challenges as you are. Ask what they do about it. Go looking for how people are solving the problem.

How to de-risk defining your problem

  • Talk to people impacted in the ‘problem-space’ directly.
  • Review any research or secondary research in the space you’re in.
  • Talk to a subject matter expert (most experts' rates somewhere between $150 to $300 an hour) the ROI on a few hours with an SME on their area is well worth it.
  • Checkout specific community or sub-groups ( is a gold mine for what people are experiencing or thinking)
  • Keep asking why something happens (if your answers become philosophical you may have gone too far)
By putting an MVP out there and testing how customers respond, founders are supposed to avoid squandering time and money building and marketing a product that no one wants.*
Yet by neglecting to research customer needs -before- commencing their engineering efforts, entrepreneurs end up wasting valuable time and capital on MVPs that are likely to miss their mark..
Harvard Business Review - Why Businesses Fail by Tom Eisenmann

Defining the problem: common issues

Most products fail. Some fail because they fail to define the right problem. Here are some common issues we see.

Brent Wallace

March 6, 2024

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