# How to find problem/solution fit (in 4 easy steps)

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One of the main reasons 9 out of 10 startups fail is that founders build a product before they deeply understand the underlying problem. They come up with an idea and immediately start spending time and money building the product, strongly believing their idea is the right one. Later, it turns out the needed solution is different, making the built product (partly) unusable. That’s why anyone with a business idea should apply a lean innovation approach to discover problem/solution fit before developing the solution. This article shows you how.

## What is problem/solution fit?

Timan Rebel

Problem/Solution fit is when you have proof your solution is solving your customer’s problem.

Problem/Solution fit is the first step in validating your business idea. You achieve it by gathering enough evidence that you understand who your customer is, what problem they experience, and that you can solve their problem with a solution.

Reaching problem/solution fit usually takes around nine months and can be done through several rounds of customer interviews and some solution tests. You don’t need to build your solution or have your solution ready to achieve problem/solution fit; it can be validated by running several solution experiments.

## Why is problem/solution fit important?

Problem/Solution fit is important because it is the foundation your business model is built on. Without problem/solution fit and thus proof that your solution is solving your customer’s problem, you can not learn whether there is also a market for your solution and if your customers are willing to pay for your solution.

The sooner you reach problem/solution fit, the faster you can learn if and how your customer will pay.

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## Problem-Solution Fit vs. Product-Market Fit

There is often confusion what the difference is between Problem/Solution fit and Product/Market fit.

Product/Market fit is when you have enough evidence your customer is willing to pay for your product or solution. Problem/Solution fit “only” looks at whether you have proven to solve your customer’s problem. That means you need to achieve it before you can reach Product/Market fit.

Reaching Problem/Solution fit takes around 9 months, while achieving Product/Market fit may take up to 2 years to reach.

## How to achieve problem/solution fit

There are several steps you need to take to reach Problem/Solution fit. You have to:

- Prove there is a problem worth solving
- Prove which customer type is experiencing that problem
- Optional: Prove what your customer is trying to achieve
- Prove your solution can solve your customer’s problem

### 1. Prove there is a problem worth solving

First of all, you need to understand whether there is actually a problem. It happens regularly that although you think there is a problem for a certain customer type, that customer does not have that problem. By doing desk research and by interviewing several potential customer types, you can learn if the problem exists and if it is big enough worth solving. If the problem is a minor annoyance, it might be good to ask yourself if it is worth building a startup to solve that problem, or if it might be better to look for a bigger problem.

### 2. Prove which customer type is experiencing that problem

Once you know there is a problem, you need to find the exact customer type that is experiencing that problem (the most). You might have found several customers that experience the problem, but it helps to focus on the type that experiences the biggest pain. They are most likely to help you validate a still experimental solution.

The ideal customer segment to test your business idea with:

- Has a problem
- Is aware of the problem
- Is looking for a solution to that problem
- Is already trying to solve their problem with alternative solutions
- Has a budget to solve the problem

The more boxes your customer ticks, the easier it is to validate your business idea with them. Especially customers that are already solving their own problem with alternative solutions might be easy to convey to start testing your solution. Common alternative solution are products like Excel, Miro, or

For example, a lot of the customers of GroundControl are currently using Excel to track the innovation performance of their innovation teams, and the innovation teams use Miro to map their assumptions and run their experiments. By showing how GroundControl can unite the different sources of truth and make innovation teams easier comparable, we convince innovation managers to test GroundControl with their teams.

#### Niche down

It is okay if the initial customer type is relatively small. The more homogenous the customer type is, the easier it is to identify potential customers and create a singular solution to their problem. It helps to niche down from a bigger overall customer group to a certain group of customers with very specific behaviour and solve their problem first.

Once you have found product/market fit and are ready to start scaling, you can look at adjacent customer types that might have less of a problem, but are bigger as a group. You can then adjust your solution to also accommodate the larger customer group to scale your business.

### 3. Optional: Prove what your customer is trying to achieve

An optional step? Yes, it is not entirely necessary to validate what your customer is trying to achieve, but it really helps to create a better solution.

In my opinion, there is a kind of triangle between the customer, their problem, and what they are trying to achieve. When you understand all three aspects it is almost logical what your solution should be.

A simple example is public transport. The problem is getting from A to B, but different customer types have different customer needs (or what they are trying to achieve). A business traveler might need to get to another continent to do business and needs a different solution (a plane or boat) than a University student that needs to get to college (a bus or bike).

The context in which the customer experiences the problem largely defines what the solution should be. That is why it helps to try and understand what job the customer is trying to solve, to adjust your business idea to that context.

### 4. Prove your solution can solve your customer’s problem

Now you fully understand what problem you are solving and for who you are solving it, it’s time to take a step back and look at whether you need to adjust your initial business idea. Does your idea still solve your customer’s problem and does it help them achieve their goals? You might need to adjust your solution to make it fit.

Now it’s time to validate your updated solution idea with your customer. The good thing is you still don’t have to build your solution. You can run several solution experiments or tests to find the evidence your solution is working (or not). You can for example pitch your solution to your customer and see if they are willing to use it. Or turn your solution into a service and solve your customer’s problem by hand, like a concierge.

## To wrap it up

Before building a product, you should first research your potential customer’s problem and its potential solution. Then you need to validate that you can solve the problem of your customer with your solution: Congratulations! You achieved Problem/Solution fit.

**You can learn more about running experiments to start validating your business idea in our upcoming Lean innovation training course. **

Timan Rebel has over 20 years of experience as a startup founder and helps both independent and corporate startups find product/market fit. He has coached over 250+ startups in the past 12 years and is an expert in Lean Innovation and experiment design.