What problem are you solving?
Published: May 19, 2022

How do go about building a global technology enterprise, employing over 10,000 people and selling innovative products across the world? You start with a problem. That’s what James Dyson did way back in 1978. He was annoyed and frustrated that normal vacuum cleaners didn’t do a great job. The bags inside them became clogged with dirt and dust which reduced their performance.

Dyson set about solving this problem. He came across a local sawmill that was using cyclone technology to separate sawdust particles from the air. He decided to try this approach on a new type of vacuum cleaner. It took some time, but 5,127 prototypes later he’d built the Dyson DC01, the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner.

Over the following decades Dyson has grown from one man with one idea, to a company employing thousands of people across the world. Nearly half of them are engineers. From acoustic to robotic, software to electronics, they use their skills to solve the problems others ignore.

All answers start with a problem. Which begs the following question.

What problem are you focusing on?

If you want to build a business of value, it’s worth taking a long hard look at your product or services and ask yourself – what problem are they solving? Does your product answer the problem of cost, by being cheaper? Does your service solve the problem of inferior offerings from your competitors? Do you produce something that makes life easier or better for you customers? Does your product come with design features superior to others? Does your product save time for your customers?

These are important to consider because of product market fit. To what extent does your product meet a genuine consumer demand? If you have a real point of difference, you’ll not only attract more and better customers, you’ll bring on board the talent you need, and grab the attention of investors and buyers. The reverse is also true. If your product or service is samey, with no clear point of difference and not answering a clear problem, then why should customers talent or investors come to you?

Once you’ve created a product that’s different you need to then start looking for others. Over time patents will run out, and competitors will start copying what you’ve done. That’s why businesses like Dyson put so much into research and development. Resting on laurels is not part of their DNA.

You may have started a business by solving a problem, but it’s worth considering – is the problem now being solved by others with better, cheaper products or services? Is the problem still relevant or been superseded by market changes? How easy is it to replicate what you’re doing? Are customers and stakeholders still excited by what you offer? To grow value in your business you may need a new issue to solve. But that’s one of the good things about problems. There’s never a shortage of them.