This is part 1 of a 2-episode series about customer validation – that is, the process of interviewing customers, testing prototypes, and researching the market that gives you the biggest chance of building something that customers will pay for.

To listen to Part 2 with David Altounian, click here.

Episode #


After sitting through more than 200 pitches in Austin, Boston, and Pakistan, here’s what I would tell people who just had an idea and are excited to jump into building it.

Don’t start by building it.

Take a step back, grab a piece of paper or a computer, and let’s map out 3 questions you absolutely absolutely have to answer

  • What problem will your product be used to solve?
  • Who will use your product?
  • How will your product solve the problem for the people you’ve identified?

You, I, everyone you know, everyone out there don’t pay for products or services because they have extra money. We pay for products or services because they solve a problem or address a need for us.

  • We pay for washing machines is because they wash out clothes for us.
  • We pay for uber because it gets us immediate transportation on-demand.
  • Music lovers pay for spotify because they can listen to any music anywhere and take it whatever they do.
  • Marketers pay for mailchimp because it helps them sell things on through their email lists.
  • Travellers pay for AirBnB because it saves them money on lodging and connects them to the locals in the city.

Here’s an excerpt from Ryan Holiday where’s he says the same things – just more much eloquently. Shoutout to Ryan for allowing me to use this. If you haven’t already, check out his new book, Perennial Seller, and one of my most recommended books, The Daily Stoic.

The one question creators don’t ask themselves is this:Who am I making this for?

I’ve asked thousands of startup founders, authors, and more this question, and the answer is always appalling. Most of the time it’s “I Don’t Know.

You should be able to fill that out. You NEED to be able to fill that out. This is an X that does X for X.

Ryan Holiday

Entrepreneur. Author. Marketer.

Okay, if you’ve been able to figure out what problem your idea solves for who – still don’t build it.

What you need to figure out is this – is my product or service a better alternative than what my potential market is currently using? That’s your competition, existing solutions, that solve the same problem. You have to be better – whether that’s because what you’re selling is faster, cheaper, or easier to use.

Think about your proposed product and service, and how human beings in your target market are solving the problem currently.

Kristine Kelly, co-founder of Equine Exchange, said this to me once, human beings are driven by solving problems. We’re fueled by it. Every single idea that is a product or service and solves a problem, whoever the customer is was using something else to solve it – if there’s nothing that solves that problem out there, that means there’s no markt for it.

Here’s 3 examples for you to think about.

  • I just invented the washing machine! Now, you don’t have to spend hours every week washing your clothes. It’s so much easier!
  • I just invented AirBnB! Now, instead of going to experience hotels that leave you disconnected from the local experience, save money and be connected to the local scene when you’re travelling.
  • I just invented Netflix! Now, you don’t have to pay late fees!

In the next episode, I’m sitting with David Altounian, serial entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneur, to talk about how we can test our solution once we’ve identified a problem worth solving.

But before I sign off, here’s my friend Marc Nathan in an interview I did with him a longer time ago.


The bottom line is this:

Don’t fall in love with your idea.

Fall in love with a problem.


Marc Nathan

Strategist. Speaker. Advisor.