The Unmet amp; Unspoken Needs of Customers

Identifying big opportunities is part science, part art. If someone pitched you in 1999 that we need to create a fully open micro-blogging platform that each person can post up to 140 characters for anyone to see, your reaction might be the typical “What problem are you trying to solve?”. If you think about the great tech companies of the last four decades, like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, they all share the same start. They solved a problem that either people felt was solved already or they solved a problem people would have been incredulous it was a problem worth solving.

That’s what is so hard in identifying great opportunities. If you use a typical research strategy by asking customers what problem they have, through modern customer development tactics or traditional market research, you get pigeon-holed into a very strict view of the world. And the more you hear the same need, the more it validates to you that it’s a real need and you know the customers who will buy it. You go, you build, and you start selling. Then you realize there are dozens and dozens of competitors popping up everywhere. It’s exactly because that need was identified and verbalized by potential customers.

We heard this famous quote from Henry Ford many times: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. And that’s the problem. People have a hard time imagining a radically different future. Even entrepreneurs. Even “innovators”! When many customers can verbalize their exact need, the time to start solving that problem has passed because the solutions are already hitting the market.

I’m not opposed to Lean Startup and Customer Development, but it leads to a very narrow view of what’s possible and what should be done.

It’s a lot more powerful when you hit a problem that you have identified and you don’t believe people are solving it because the market doesn’t need it yet. This is how Yahoo got started. Or, when an entrepreneur can paint a picture of a future that’s so unique that you believe she’s crazy, or that she’ll fail, or that the market will not exist for it.

The reason building Unicorns are hard it’s because they go against conventional wisdom. It requires a lot of conviction from an entrepreneur and the necessary resources and skills to go after it.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.