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You need problem solution fit before product market fit


Starting a startup is no easy task. There are so many things to think about – from developing your product to finding the right customers. But one of the most important aspects of a successful startup is making sure your solutions fit the problem you’re trying to solve – problem solution fit.

In this post, we’ll discuss what problem-solution fit is, why many startups fail before finding problem solution fit, and how startup entrepreneurs can make sure they have it. We’ll also share some tips on how to find the right problems to solve. So if you’re ready to start building your business, read on! If you’re out of time and don’t have the time to go through the post, just take the problem-solution fit quiz to find out if your startup has achieved it. And once you reach problem-solution fit, check out our ultimate guide to getting product-market fit.


What is Problem-Solution fit and Product-Market fit?

Problem-solution fit

When someone comes up with a new business idea, they usually start by looking for a big problem that needs solving. They think of something that could help fix that problem. That’s called finding a “problem-solution fit” – their solution fits well with the problem.

Once they have a good solution for a real problem, they can try to turn it into a real product. Now they have to find lots of people who want to use it – that’s their market. If enough people want the product, that’s called “product-market fit”. So first you find a problem and figure out how to solve it. Then you make sure enough people want to use your solution. That way, you have a good business idea that can turn into a company.

The biggest reason why startups fail is that they build something no one likes.

After surveying failed startups, CB Insights found that the primary reason they collapsed was that customers showed no interest in their products.

To spare yourself from this agony, achieve problem-solution fit before you deplete your funds – which is the second most typical explanation for a startup’s downfall.

Most startups focus on new cool technology and build products or solutions that are in search of a problem. So, the first thing to do if you’re a startup founder or aspiring entrepreneur is to first find a genuine problem before you even start building the product or writing code.

A problem-solution fit is when a startup has identified a problem that its product or service can solve. It’s a startup’s initial validation that its solution actually solves the problem it set out to solve for a particular target market. It’s important because it gives startups a way to measure whether they are making progress and helps them prioritize what to work on next.

A problem-solution fit is essential for a startup to be successful. Without it, a startup will not be able to achieve product-market fit & acquire customers or scale.

There are three main ways to achieve a problem-solution fit: 1) Identifying a new problem 2) Identifying a new solution to an existing problem 3) Identifying a new market for an existing solution. Let’s take a closer look at each of these:

1) Identifying a new problem: This involves finding a problem that is not yet being addressed by existing solutions. This can be done by observing people and their environment and looking for pain points that are not yet being addressed.

2) Identifying a new solution to an existing problem: This involves finding a new way to solve an existing problem. This can be done by brainstorming creative solutions to existing problems, or by observing how people are currently solving the problem.

3) Identifying a new market for an existing solution: A key aspect of any successful business is identifying a new market for an existing solution. This can be done through a process of market analysis and identifying unmet needs. Once a market opportunity has been identified, it is important to assess whether the existing solution is a good fit for the problem. This involves considering factors such as the size of the market, the nature of the problem, and the available resources. If the existing solution is not a good fit for the problem, it may be necessary to develop a new solution or adapt to the existing one. Ultimately, identifying a new market for an existing solution is essential for any business that wants to succeed in today’s competitive landscape.

Example of Problem-Solution Fit

Slack entered the workplace communication space focusing intensely on fixing one major pain point: unorganized, hard-to-find information spread across multiple tools. After struggling to gain traction with a game product, the founders deeply empathized with users to understand their challenges. They narrowed in on solving information fragmentation leading to wasted time.

By organizing scattered data into instantly searchable channels, Slack perfectly fit users’ jobs to be done. This ultimately propelled viral adoption and market leadership.

The Pitfalls of Neglecting Problem Solution Fit

What happens when you don’t achieve a solid problem-solution fit? Some all-too-common startup horror stories:

The product confuses users: Without understanding users’ struggles, your solution seems convoluted and makes little sense to them.

The product irritates users: It tries to “solve” a problem users don’t actually recognize or care about.

The product bores users: It only fixes a superficial issue rather than the deeper problem that truly concerns users.

The product disappoints users: It doesn’t fully satisfy the underlying needs users have.

These pitfalls result in enraged users that quickly abandon your product to find something better.

Neglecting problem solution fit cripples your product reputation and word-of-mouth growth. Today’s app stores and review sites make user dissatisfaction public knowledge.

In contrast, if your product delights users by solving an acute pain point, they’ll eagerly spread the word about your solution. Obsessing over problem solution fit lays the foundation for viral organic growth.

What is product-market fit or solution-market fit?

According to Benchmark Capital co-founder Andy Rachleff, Sequoia Capital founder Don Valentine coined the term product-market fit. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz would later popularize the term in the mid-2000s.

Product-market fit or PMF refers to the moment when a startup finally finds the right market for its product. This is an important milestone for any startup, as it can mean the difference between success and failure. However, achieving PMF is often easier said than done.

In order to find a market for their product, startups need to first identify a problem that people are willing to pay to have solved. They then need to create a solution that actually solves that problem. And finally, they need to get the word out about their solution and convince people to give it a try. This can be a tall order, but startups that are able to achieve PMF often find long-term success.

There are a number of factors that contribute to PMF, including market size, competition, and customer needs. Achieving PMF can be a challenge, but it’s important to remember that it is possible to change and adapt as the market evolves. The key is to have a clear understanding of your target market and what they need from your product or service.

Difference between problem-solution fit & product-market fit?

In the startup world, there are two key measures of success: problem-solution fit and product-market fit.

Product-market fit is when your product meets the needs of a market. Problem-solution fit is when your product solves a specific problem for a customer. Although both are important, problem-solution fit is often more important in the early stages of a company when you are still trying to find your product-market fit. Once you have found a product-market fit, you can then focus on improving your problem-solution fit.

Problem-solution fit is a measure of how well your product solves the problem it was designed to solve. Product-market fit is a measure of how well your product meets the needs of your target market. Achieving both problem-solution fit and the product-market fit is essential for a successful startup.

Problem-solution fit is all about whether or not your product actually solves the problem it was designed to solve. To assess it, you need to understand the problem your product is trying to solve and then test how well your product actually solves that problem

A product-market fit is when a startup has validated that there is a market for its product. A product-market fit is important because it means that the startup has a real chance of building a sustainable business.

A problem-solution fit is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a product-market fit. In other words, startups need to have both a problem-solution fit and a product-market fit to be successful. In other words, a startup needs to have a problem-solution fit before it can achieve a product-market fit, but achieving a problem-solution fit does not guarantee that a startup will achieve a product-market fit. There are many startups that have a problem-solution fit but never achieve a product-market fit because they are unable to find a market for their product or service.

problem solution fit vs product market fit
problem solution fit vs product market fit

How to solve any problem?

What is a product-solution fit?

First of all, there is no such thing as “product-solution fit”. Most people mistake it for problem-solution fit, where you have to find out what could be the best solution to a particular customer problem.

A problem-solution fit is when your product solves the customer’s problem. If your product does not solve the customer’s problem, then it is not the right product for them and they will not use it.

So, to have a problem-solution fit, you must first understand the customer’s problem. Once you understand the problem, you can create a solution that solves it.

How to find problem solution fit?

There are a few different ways to achieve it. The first is to identify a problem that your target market is facing and then create a solution that solves that problem. This can be done through research, interviews, and surveys. Once you have a potential solution, it’s important to validate that there is indeed a problem and that people are willing to pay for a solution.

Once you’ve identified the problem – let’s call it ‘X’, the next step is to validate the problem. You need to ask potential users/customers the following questions:

  • Is ‘X’ a problem for you? ( to understand the nature of the problem)
  • How have you tried to solve for ‘X’ in the past? (to know about existing solutions in the market)
  • How much time & money did you spend to solve for ‘X’? (to find the market size and intent of the customer)
  • What could be a suitable solution to solve for ‘X’? (to brainstorm potential solutions to the problem)
  • How much would you pay if a solution for ‘X’ was available in the market? (to understand the price and value the solution will bring to the customer)

If you receive positive responses to the 5 questions and figure out that the problem is true, and big, you can brainstorm potential solutions. Do you need to build an app? Do you need to use AI?

Then you need to come up with an MVP or minimum viable product which is a prototype of the product you will build or could even be a basic version of the product, just to get feedback from the market. The closer your MVP is to the final product/solution the better you will be able to validate your fit.

How to validate problem-solution fit?

Before starting to work on a problem, it is important to first validate that the proposed solution will solve the problem. This process is known as “validating problem-solution fit.” There are a few different ways to go about doing this.

One is to talk to potential customers and get their feedback on the problem and the proposed solution. Another is to build a prototype of the solution and test it out in a real-world setting. Once you have validated that the solution does indeed solve the problem, you can move forward with confidence, knowing that you are working on something that will be of value to your target audience.

Once you’ve identified a problem worth solving, it’s important to make sure that your proposed solution is actually a good fit. There are a few key ways to validate it:

First, try to understand the underlying causes of the problem. If you can identify the root cause, it will be easier to develop a targeted solution.

Second, speak to potential customers and get their feedback on the problem and your proposed solution. It’s important to get an objective opinion, so be sure to speak to a variety of people from different backgrounds.

Finally, look at other companies that have successfully solved similar problems. See how they approached the problem and what kind of solutions they implemented.

Qualitative vs Quantitative Validation

On the qualitative side, strong positive language and emotion are signals of good fit. Specifically:

  • Over 75% of target users describe the product as “amazing”, “awesome” or other intense praise
  • Over 50% say they would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer access the product
  • Users express visible enthusiasm and excitement when talking about product benefits

Quantitative targets related to retention and willingness to pay also indicate good fit:

  • 40%+ of free trial users convert to paying customers
  • 60%+ of customers are retained month-over-month
  • Customers are willing to pay over 2X the initial pricing targets


Strategies to Discover Problem Solution Fit

So how do you systematically unearth those critical user problems and design winning solutions? Follow these proven tactics:

Immerse Yourself in Users’ World

Empathizing with users is the foundation of nailing problem solution fit.

  • Observe users in their natural habitat while they attempt solving the problem with current solutions
  • Engage in ethnographic research – study users’ environments, habits, and mentalities
  • Interview users and probe their difficulties and thought processes
  • Immerse yourself in your users’ world to grasp their reality

Tools like user journey mapping also help walk in users’ shoes. The deeper you empathize with the user’s worldview, the better you can design solutions tailored to them.

Ask Why Five Times

Users often fixate on surface-level issues when describing their troubles. You need to dig deeper by repeatedly asking “why?”

For example:

  • The user says they want a ridesharing app with cheaper prices. Ask why cheaper pricing matters.
  • They explain it’s because their current option is too expensive. Ask why that’s an issue.
  • They say the expense exceeds their budget. Ask why that budget is important.
  • They explain they are saving for a house. Now you’ve unearthed the deeper motivation.

Keep probing why until you unpack the true underlying problem driving user behavior.

Focus on Jobs-To-Be-Done

People don’t simply buy products; they pull them into their lives to get a job done. Figure out the functional, social, and emotional jobs users need done, and you’ll identify fruitful problems to solve.

For instance, a milkshake isn’t just a sweet treat. It helps busy parents feed their family breakfast quickly in the car. When you frame the problem around the “jobs-to-be-done,” creative solutions become apparent.

Test Problem Framing with Users

Once you’ve brainstormed some promising problem frames, validate them with real users. Ask:

  • Does this problem resonate as a major frustration for you?
  • How well does our framing capture your struggle?
  • Would a solution that solved this problem meaningfully improve your life?

Problem framing is an iterative process. Let user feedback sharpen your understanding until the problem clicks.

Design Solutions Users Love

With clearly framed user problems, brainstorm solutions that perfectly nail them. Get creative and leverage insight into user needs:

  • Generate wild and varied ideas without judgment
  • Then narrow down concepts that intuitively address user requirements
  • Ask for user feedback early and incorporate it
  • Iterate until you have a solution that hooks users

Build mock product prototypes to test whether your solution concept actually resonates.

Measure Qualitative Feedback

Quantitative data isn’t enough. Track qualitative user reactions:

  • Is the user smiling and enthusiastic when describing the solution?
  • Do they describe the solution as a “game-changer” or “addictive”?
  • Would they be disappointed if they could no longer access the solution?

If users aren’t gushing with praise, you don’t have problem solution fit. Keep refining until your solution delights them.

Prioritize Learning Over Growth

The quest for problem/solution fit is a learning process. Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics like downloads. Instead, obsess over questions like:

  • Are users consistently raving about the solution?
  • What pain points haven’t we fully resolved yet?
  • How could the solution better satisfy user needs?

Maintain an experimental mindset and be ready to pivot based on user insights. Learning trumps growth until you’ve nailed the problem/solution bullseye.

Create a Problem-Solution fit Canvas

The problem-solution fit canvas is a tool that helps entrepreneurs to assess whether their business idea is likely to be successful. It does this by forcing them to consider the problem that their product or service is solving, the size of the market for that problem, and the competition.

The canvas can be used at any stage of the startup journey, from initial ideation to launch. To use the canvas, simply download it and fill in the blanks. Once you have a clear understanding of the problem you are solving, the size of the market, and the competition, you will be in a better position to assess whether your business idea has potential.

Crafting your problem-solution fit template

Here is a template that can be used to determine problem/solution fit for a startup:

Startup Name:

Target Customer Profile

– Demographics (age, gender, income, location etc.)

– Values and priorities

– Pain points and needs

– How are they currently solving the problem (existing alternatives)

Customer Problem Statement

– What is the key problem your target customers face?

– Why is this problem so important to solve for them?

– How does this problem make your customers feel?

– What happens if this problem is not solved? What are the consequences?

Proposed Solution

– Briefly describe your proposed solution

– How does your solution solve the key customer problem above?

– What are the key benefits customers will get from your solution?

Validating Problem Solution Fit

– What methods will you use to validate if customers resonate with your problem statement and proposed solution? (e.g. surveys, interviews, prototyping etc.)

– What indicators will suggest you have achieved problem/solution fit? (e.g. customers calling your solution a “must-have”)

– What qualitative feedback from customers will signal you need to refine your understanding of the problem or solution?

– How will you iterate based on customer feedback to improve problem solution fit?

This template ensures you are grounding your startup in a solid understanding of customer problems before designing solutions. Iteratively filling it out will help drive toward greater problem/solution resonance.

Iterating Based on Feedback

The process for iterating based on feedback should focus on speed and learning:

  1. Compile feedback from support tickets, NPS surveys, social media, app store reviews etc. into an organized system like Canny.
  2. Cluster feedback into themes based on problem areas. Prioritize by customer impact and feasibility.
  3. Rapidly build minimum viable solutions to top problems through prototypes and release experimental features.
  4. Gather quick user feedback on those iterations through in-product prompts and surveys.
  5. Analyze feedback, pick a direction, and build out features. Stay focused on delivering value, not perfection.
  6. Repeat process frequently to incrementally improve fit.
Business idea evaluation tool

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