Finding real problems

There are many ways to find real problems to help solve.


Start with problems that you have personally.

  • What’s lacking or broken in your daily life?
  • What do you wish was available right now?

Many businesses (e.g. Airbnb, Apple) got going after they just solved their immediate problem (Steve Wozniak wanted an affordable personal computer).

The advantage of solving your own problem is that you know it’s real and you understand the pain through first hand experience.

You can also look ahead - what would future-you think was obvious, that isn’t here now? Build that.

Talk to people

If you don’t have problems yourself (!?), don’t worry - other people have plenty.

Once you know who you’d like to help, just talk to them.

Specifically, ask about their life, goals, problems, frustrations and pain points. What have they tried, what’s not working, what have they done about it.

Follow that up by asking what the implication of that problem was for them, to check it’s an urgent problem.

Observe people

Alternatively, observe your audience in an ‘idea safari'

Find where they hang out (e.g. Slack, forums, reddit), and watch for:

  • products and solutions they use and recommend
  • phrases expressing pain or frustration

Notice the patterns, including how they describe themselves.

Working in industry

You can also use your edge, i.e. deep expertise and experience, to find a problem to solve, by noticing what’s missing, frustrating or could be much better in your area of understanding.

This could be technical - deep expertise in an technology, or domain - years of experience within a certain industry (which is why John O’Nolan started Ghost)