What Problem Does Your Idea Really Solve?


Clayton Christensen once provided what we call “The Milkshake Example.” Basically, what he said was that the competition for a milkshake sold at a fast food restaurant wasn’t other milkshakes sold by other fast food restaurants. Instead, the competitors were donuts, Snickers bars, bananas, and bagels - all foods that commuters were choosing to eat for breakfast on their way to work. 

To apply this rationale to your business, you need to consider the following question:

What is my customer really hiring my product to do, and if not for my product, what else might they choose?

Let’s explore this a bit further. 

For instance, in our upcoming book - I Am Not a Bot - we discuss an example of our own: Kraut by Sørensen. This is a fictional company, but basically the idea is selling our homemade sauerkraut at our local farmer’s market. (We’ve shared it with friends who insist that we sell it someday.) You could argue that people are buying sauerkraut from us to solve their kraut problem: they don’t want to buy heat-processed kraut from the grocery story, which is often white, slimy and worm-like. Instead, they want our pink, vibrant conception instead, with all of its crunchy and garlicky goodness. But what problem does our kraut really solve? In this case it would be heartburn, indigestion, nausea, leaky gut, constipation, etc. How does it solve this problem? By helping our customers add healthy bacteria and live cultures to their gut through our natural fermentation process. So, if we were to advertise our product, we wouldn’t be competing with other kraut products. Instead, we’d be competing directly with probiotics, yogurt, and heartburn medication. 

Another example: Tony’s Chocolonely. You could argue that the market didn’t need another chocolate company, or even more chocolate bar options; but that’s not the problem this company truly solves. Instead, they’re working to solve the issue of child labor and slavery in the cacao industry, which major chocolate companies ultimately endorse through their supply chain. So Tony’s isn’t solving the issue of chocolate variety in the grocery store. They’re solving the problem of customers actually having limited choices when it comes to purchasing chocolate that doesn’t utilize child slavery to produce. 

Yet another example: If you were to buy drill bits, you wouldn’t really be purchasing them just to have drill bits. You’d be purchasing drill bits because you wanted to drill holes into something. In essence, the problem a drill bit solves is needing a hole. The customer is purchasing the opportunity to make holes. 

So really think about your product and your target customer. What are you really selling? What problem does it really solve? Based on your answer, how can you compete more effectively in the marketplace?