How to Guarantee Your Startup Idea is a Lifesaver

Andrea F Hill
3 min readJan 9, 2017


No startup founder or product manager wants to work on a product no one wants. So how can you be sure your idea is going to change someone’s life?

Well, you should ask them for a start.

Now, I’m not advising you to just come out and ask that directly. Rather, you need to dig deeper to understand your users’ deep-seeded needs and fears, and understand how important it is to solve this problem for them.

Here are three tactics for better understanding how important this problem is to the customer to solve.

1. The Five Whys

Originally from the manufacturing world, this approach seeks to figure out the root cause of a problem or situation. This can lead to a technical shortcoming or an emotional need: it’s really pretty interesting in which way a conversation can go!

2. Substitutes and Alternatives

Another way to understand how important solving a problem is to a customer is to ask him how he solves it now. The best customer is one who is actively seeking to solve the problem, and perhaps has even cobbled together his own solution. He’ll be eager to share his experiences and encourage you to improve upon it.

Questions to Ask

How are you solving this today?
If {your stated solution} weren’t around, how would you solve this problem?

What To Listen For

Positive Signals:
– Has tried something before
– Expresses dissatisfaction with current solution

Negative Signals:
– Apathetic response “I just make do”
– “I use {solution}” (without any negative sentiment)

3. Frequency or Severity of the Pain

A third measure of how important it is to solve this problem is related to the severity of the problem. This is the answer to the question George Deeb raised in Entrepreneur magazine, “Is Your Product a ‘Vitamin’ or ‘Painkiller’?” Although the world has places for both types of products to be developed, you will have an easier time if you are able to identify customers who deeply feel the pain associated with the problem you’re seeking to solve. A combination of frequency and sentiment can help you understand how aggressively this person may be seeking a solution to the problem.

Questions to Ask

How many times in the past month have you encountered this problem? Tell me about one time and how you dealt with it.

What to Listen For

The more frequently a person encounters the problem, the easier it may be to establish a habit (using your product) to solve the problem. (For more on this, check out Nir Eyal’s book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products or his blog
Pay attention to how he describes his challenges and how he solved them. Was the problem simply an inconvenience or is he passionate about the problem and the importance of solving it?

Not everyone is going to have the same problem, or respond the same way to your solution. Using these interview techniques, you can get a better sense of whether your startup idea is truly a lifesaver and important enough to pursue.

Originally published at in December 2015.



Andrea F Hill

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.