For readers of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, here’s a page with all the links from the chapter “Additional Resources for Finding Market Problems.”

Many people have put out excellent guides on how to find and validate market problems. Or, as they often put it, how to “find a product idea.”

Most of these guides are about finding new market problems to solve as a startup. But the techniques are equally valuable if you need to find new features for an existing product, or come up with new products to augment your product portfolio.

  • Paul Graham saidThe very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.” Graham’s essays are a great resource for thinking about products and startups, although I think that many failed startups have met those same criteria. In case you don’t know, Graham is also the founder of the most famous startup incubator, Y-Combinator.
  • Teresa Torres is one of the best coaches and consultants on “continuous discovery,” as she calls it. Her series of articles is a must read, and has influenced a lot of my guidance in this book.
  • Amy Hoy’s approach to finding and validating a market problem is quite different from Paul Graham’s. For one thing, she’s more focused on “lifestyle businesses” versus becoming a billion-dollar enterprise. Her technique is called a Sales Safari, and the big difference is that you aren’t solving your own You can get the gist of the Sales Safari in a video she shares. (You can attend her online course 30×500 – which I have not done – to learn more.) The fundamental idea of 30×500 is to find a problem that 500 people will pay you $30 a month to solve. This provides a good income if you are a sole proprietor.
  • There are lots of other examples of that same approach– find a domain, not necessarily one that you know anything about, find where the people who work in that domain spend time, and start to listen. For example, Poornima Vijayashanker has some great online courses (some free) at
  • Then there’s just going out and talking to customers or potential customers and exploring what their biggest problems are. This is best illustrated by Justin Wilcox’s “How I Interview Customers” You have to start with some idea of what you might want to work on – a hypothesis about a problem. But instead of starting to build something, you start talking to people who might have that problem. You can validate they have the problem, that it’s urgent, and that they’ll pay for a solution. His videos help you get started doing that.
  • This Slideshare deck on “Entrepreneurship 101: Finding and Validating Your Idea” is a good summary of various “finding a market problem” approaches. It’s from The MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub, incubator and accelerator in Toronto. It does a good job of bringing many different techniques together into one place.
  • Dane Maxwell has started multiple successful software companies based on simply going out to small businesses, such as real estate agents and pool cleaners, and engaging them in conversations about their biggest problems. Once he learns about one of these problems – and validates it across multiple businesses – he sets up a software company to provide a solution. The beauty of this approach is that he doesn’t have to be an expert or even knowledgeable about any of his client businesses. He just has to be excellent at discovering their problems and defining good enough solutions. Here’s a link to an incredible interview Dane did with Pat Flynn about his process.
  • The Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework is a popular approach that purports to be able to find all unmet needs related to a desired outcome. The methodology is fairly complicated and time consuming, and usually requires a consultant to execute. But the results reported have been compelling. info is a good overview site. leads to Strategyn, one of the foremost practitioners of the Outcome Driven Innovation approach from which JTBD arises.

I hope you find some of these guides valuable and interesting for helping you find and validate market problems that you can solve with your startup, or your corporation.

About the author 


Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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