Innovate at the Point of Pain

I get a lot of ideas across my desk and I’ve learnt the hard way that you need to question everything before offering to back someone else’s idea with your own reputation. One of the first questions I ask aspiring technology entrepreneurs is – what is the problem you are trying to solve?

This may seem like an obvious question but you would be surprised how many projects are launched on the basis of a good idea rather than upon a soundly researched market. It pays to question the market data as well because, after spending hundreds of hours on development, an enthusiastic technologist will do just about anything to justify their emotional investment in a product.

Many great ventures began as a personal point of pain for the founder. But the ones that survived were those that actually identified a mass market and then went on to execute well. A good idea on its own is not enough and the fact that there is “no competition” is not a selling point either. You need competitors for benchmarking and to validate that a market really exists.

For example at ideegeo we made a conscious decision to build a domain registrar site that rejected traditional norms of presentation because we observed that a lot of people really disliked having to grapple with poor navigation and invasive advertising found on other sites. Although the product caters for a design-centric niche user base, it turned out to be a winner because other companies approached us to help them improve their own offering.

Before you write a line of code or partition off your first protein molecule, ask yourself – where is the point of pain? What is the problem that you are trying to solve and are there a million other consumers out there who are suffering the same pain? If you can answer that question objectively and in the affirmative, you might just have a successful product on your hands.

3 thoughts on “Innovate at the Point of Pain

  1. That’s an interesting design lens, and I think it definitely helps in finding a focus for your efforts.

    While I’m still in the academic research side of things, I feel I’ve identified an area in which people are struggling and I’m looking to refine my research questions so I can take steps towards solving a problem and relieving a pain. One of the issues there is that I’m working in a much-hyped field (3D virtual learning environments) which has to date largely over-promised and under-delivered both academically and commercially. On the other hand, I can look at what people were frustrated that they couldn’t do with that technology and investigate ways of making it happen.

    Another project I’m involved with at a hobby level is indie game development. The platform we’re working with, IndieZen, was born of the pain of trying to use the existing (and increasingly more costly) engines and realising there must be a better way to make games both easily and cheaply, without locking developers into using a frustratingly limited set of technologies and tools in the process. They seem to be making good progress thus far, but without that focus and initial vision of a problem they wanted to solve, it would have been difficult to maintain the clarity and inertia they continue to have.

  2. GGG looks like an interesting sort of event. And if it wasn’t a few days before I depart to the US for a month on the trip my travel budget just disappeared into, I’d be quite interested in attending.

    As to IndieZen, there’s quite a bit of good stuff in the works but much of that isn’t quite ready to hit the public just yet. We do have the groundwork set for an RTS and an MMO game, but those are still under producer NDA for now. Though if you have a GGG10, then I’d certainly be interested in coming along and seeing what I can bring for show and tell :-)

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