Does anybody care?
Many Startup Owner's Manual readers ask why Steve Blank and I are adamant that Customer Discovery happen in two separate, distinct phases: "problem" discovery and, later, "solution" discovery. There's just no other way but, as Steve Blank has said for a decade, to "get out of the building" and talk to the only folks who matter -- your customers.
Building a solution to a problem of moderate or lukewarm interest to users is a long-term death sentence for startups, where founders will almost certainly commit to 20,000 hours of their lives (or five years of 80-hour workweeks) in order to "beat the odds" and deliver a breakout success: a sustainable, scalable, profitable business.
Why, then, are so many founders so reluctant to invest even 500 or 1,000 hours upfront to be sure that, when they're done, the business they're building will face genuine, substantial demand or enthusiasm. Without passionate customers, even the most passionate entrepreneur will flounder at best. Dropbox is a great example. It scaled like lightning by solving an urgent, painful problem for millions of consumers. The product is so good, helpful, and easy to use that it literally almost does its own marketing organically through the product's viral nature, just as Hotmail and Gmail have done since inception.
What's the honest trajectory?
There can only be one Mark Zuckerberg, and at last look he's young and healthy. Can every startup skyrocket like Facebook or Square or Google? It's downright impossible. The solution: understand your startup's "honest trajectory" and align objectives of the founding team and -- importantly -- its investors to define and agree about what "success" looks like. Thousands of entrepreneurs would be a lot happier if their focus was a solid, growable, defensible niche business that might never go public or be worth $100-million. There's a ton of money to be made "in the middle," a broad swath between struggling or gasping for cash and ringing the bell at the NASDAQ.
Find the right trajectory for your business and focus not only on reaching it, but on assuring that the result is a sustainable, repeatable profit engine that can perform and grow healthily over time. Use Customer Development to identify and refine the potential profitable niche and stay in close contact with customers as you build, to be sure you're building something they'll want to have...and keep.
Stand Out in the Crowd
If you're solving an important problem, make sure your solution stands out in the crowd. Hundreds of entrepreneurs I've met never spent an entire day Googling their industry, other ways to solve "their" problem, and few have spent time "playing consumer," trying to find "their" own product, or one like it, and creating a "market map" that assesses all the competitive solutions, their strengths/weaknesses, and where the new product fits clearly and distinctly in its competitive environment. If you can't figure this out on your own, and relate it to customers succinctly, it's a certainty that your customers never will.