Summary: Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution By Uri Levine
Summary: Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution By Uri Levine

Summary: Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution By Uri Levine

Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Avoid the trap of falling in love with the solution. Instead, focus on the problem you’re trying to solve. A solution-focused story starts with “My company does …” or “My system does …” A problem-focused story starts with “We solve the … problem.” A user-focused story starts with “What we are doing for you is …”

Find a BIG problem worth solving and ask yourself who has this problem. Then go speak with those people to understand their perception of the problem. Prepare for people to tell you your start-up “will never work” or is “a stupid idea.” People don’t like change and your new start-up is a change.

How do you know that you’re ready to launch a start-up? When you’re willing to sacrifice—to give up your current salary, position, and title, and maybe your income, for the foreseeable future. As individuals, we are a very good sample of exactly one person. Only when you hear a problem described by multiple people from different angles do you know you are addressing a real problem.

Work-life balance doesn’t exist for founders, and in particular for the CEO in a start-up. If you fall in love with the problem, you will not want (or be able) to do anything else!


A Start-up Is a Journey of Failures

If you’re afraid to fail, you’ve already failed because you’re not going to try. You’re too much in your comfort zone. That’s true for individuals, organizations, and even countries. Make your mistakes fast. This is how you increase your likelihood of being successful. The faster you fail, the more experiments you can conduct within the same budget and time constraints. The journey of failures will last for years.

Your road map, your marketing plan, your everything is just a series of experiments you keep on trying until you find the one thing that does work. If it doesn’t work, then move on to the next experiment. Failure is an event, not a person. That’s the only way for an organization to embrace failure and encourage fast recovery toward the next experiment.

A second-time entrepreneur has a much greater probability of success than a first-time one. Engage with someone who has built a start-up before as your guide and mentor.


Embrace Disruption

Disruption is not about technology but about changing market equilibrium and the way we behave or do business. Free is the biggest disruption of all. Disrupters are almost always newcomers. Incumbents don’t disrupt because they have too much to lose. Disruption is good; the opportunity is much bigger than the threat. Disrupters hear the same feedback over and over: “This will never work.”


Operate in Phases

What’s the most important stage in a company? They all are—one at a time. Successful start-ups and entrepreneurs operate in phases, usually one at a time. Product-market fit always comes first. Each phase takes two to three years. After the product-market fit phase generally comes scaling up and monetization (business plan).

Trying to work on multiple phases at once is almost always a recipe for disaster. You’ll wind up spending money for nothing and not making progress. Start by deciding on the MIT—the most important thing. Phase transfers are particularly dramatic because what’s changing is the MIT. Not every staff person, including the founders, will make it to the next phase.

Be careful not to hire too early. Otherwise, your talented staff will have nothing to do, and so they’ll leave. Getting your first customer to buy for a second time is an excellent indication of product-market fit. You can charge 10 to 25 percent of the value you provide to your customers.


Firing and Hiring

Firing is by far more important than hiring. For every person who is hired, after one and then three months, ask the question: “Knowing what I know today, would I hire this person?” If everyone knows that someone at the company is not right and the CEO does nothing, it means either the CEO doesn’t know or that the CEO does know but is not doing anything. In both cases, top-performing staff will leave.

Interviewing provides limited insights. References are more important. Speak to people who used to work with a potential employee. Only other CEOs can help combat CEO loneliness. Ninety percent of attrition is because of the direct manager. People join companies but they leave people.

Founders’ vesting is about protecting those who stay, not those who leave. The magic key for decision-making is asking, “Knowing what I know today, would I do something different?” and then, if so, asking, “Can I start doing things differently right now?”


Understand the User—You Are Only a Sample of One

To understand users, start by internalizing that you are just a sample of one and other users are not like you. Imagine your first kiss with your loved one. You can only have a first-time experience ONCE. Most of your users are first-timers and you cannot understand that use case for them. So …

Watch the first-time users. As we agree that no one can experience a first-time experience twice, the only way for you to get a sense of it is to watch those who have never used your product before.  There are three main categories of users: innovators, early adopters, and the early majority.

Users are afraid of change, and early majority users, in particular, don’t like changes. Before using your service, they were just fine, and if they will not use it, they will still be just fine. If something doesn’t work for them, they will abandon the product.

Users don’t know what they are missing. People might be using the product differently, not using a key feature, or not using the product at all. You will need to find a way to reach out to show them features they haven’t discovered. No one reads anything. Not manuals, not app blurbs, not messages. Don’t rock the boat; people are afraid of change.


How to Get to a Billion Users

There are at least fifty ways to bring your users—don’t start the journey before you line up a list of experiments. Measure—If you don’t measure marketing effectiveness, how will you know what’s working and what isn’t?  Simply start—This journey, while it is hard, has short time intervals between experiments. So, simply start your marketing experiments ASAP.

Know when to bring a CMO—When you start your company, you need someone to lead product-market-price strategy. At a later phase, when it is time to grow, that same person may not be the right one. Hire the person who can generate the “fifty ways to bring users” strategy. A sales-focused organization needs marketing to reduce sales cycles and to increase TAM (total addressable market).


Go Global

The formula—Think of all relevant, significant markets and pick those that are easy to win and that suffer severely from the problem you’re trying to address. You want a market where the competition is nearly nonexistent and the customer acquisition costs are low.

Pick a big market—In the US, if you can be successful in either San Francisco or New York City, you are on the right path to win the market. You may decide to start in a smaller place, but rather quickly you will need to go nationwide or to a major market.

Work concurrently—Think of the top markets you’re trying to win and launch a few at the same time. Consider India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and France. Similar countries—Outline comparisons between countries using very few criteria.