The thinking, project work, content, and processes that are Worksody are now a part of the Cospace Builders Program. Cospace is launching a new website in April 2012 to accommodate the needs of its members and of the greater Austin community. Business and product building and the ‘Builders Program’ are a key focus. Stay tuned!
Here’s a simple template we use at Cospace Builders to conduct Problem Interviews. You know, the get out of the building and start solving problems worth solving kind of problem interviews. Our approach is influenced by one of our favorite authors and lean builders, Ash Maurya, and his book “Running Lean“.
Problem Interview Template
Before You Get Started
Tools needed: Paper & Pen
Location: In person or over the phone
Time Requirement: 20-30 minutes (max)
Prep: Lean Canvas, C-P-S Hypotheses (at a minimum)
Goal: Confirm Problem(s), Confirm Magnitude of Problem(s), and Identify Current Solution:
- How do customers rank the top 3 problems?
- What is the pain-level caused by these problems?
- How do customers solve these problems today?
Bonus: Solution Interview Prospect and Problem Interview Referrals
Welcome (Set the stage) – 2 minutes
Briefly set that stage for how the interview works:
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. I appreciate it and it’s an important of our process.
Before we start, I’d like to stress that we do not have a finished product yet and our objective is strictly to learn from you — we’re not selling or pitching anything to you.
We are currently working on a (tool / product / service / business) for (customer segment) that (UVP (unique value proposition)). The idea came about (tell the story of how and where the idea came from). [ e.g. Cospace - We started Cospace because we, as entrepreneurs, needed a place where we could gather resources to help us build our businesses.]
The point of this interview is to confirm with you that the problems we are trying to solve are real and are important enough to be solved.
The way the interview works is simple: I’ll describe the key problems we are tackling and ask you if they resonate with you as problems and how painful or important they are to you to have them solved. I’ll also ask you if you have identified problems we haven’t. Then, I’ll ask you to rank the problems in importance, relative to each other.
Does that sound good? Any questions?
Collect Demographics (Test Customer Segment) – 3 minutes
Ask some introductory questions to collect basic demographics about this interviewee.
Before we go on to the problems, I’d like to ask you little bit about you and your organization.
Can you give me a short 30 second bio of your background and your role in this organization?
[ Response ]
Confirming the Problem(s) (Test Problem Hypotheses) – 3 minutes
Illustrate the top problems with a story and confirm that it is/isn’t a problem for them.
Okay, let me give you a context of the problem(s) we’re tackling.
The first problem we encountered. (tell the story) [ Example: AlumniCharger: The first problem we encountered for alumni association leaders is managing contacts and communications with active members. With the advent of social media to go along with email, it has become very difficult for alumni association leaders to maintain accurate communication channels for their members. ]
Is this a problem for you? Yes or no.
[ Response ]
The second problem we encountered (tell the story…). Is this a problem for you? Yes or no.
[ Response ]
The third problem we encountered (tell the story…). Is this a problem for you? Yes or no.
[ Response ]
Are there other problems you are experiencing that we have not identified? Please describe.
[ Response ]
Ranking the Problem(s) – 2 minutes
Restate the problems and ask for their ranking of the problems.
Okay, let’s drill down a little bit. Of the problems we just confirmed, let’s discuss how much of a problem it is for you. Here is the scale we’ll use:
- Must-have problem; solving this problem is important, if not critical, to the success of your business
- Nice-to-have problem; solving this problem is important, but I have a work around for the time being
- Not-a-problem; I don’t see this as a problem at this time
The first problem was (headline of problem) [ Example: AlumniCharger: Accurate communication channels ]
How would you grade this problem — must-have, nice-to-have, not-a-problem? [ Response ]
Repeat for each of the confirmed problems.
Okay, great. Now, let’s rank these problems relative to each other. Which are the most important to solve first?
[ Response ]
Keep track of the problems as + (must have), 0 (nice-to-have) and – (not-a-problem) and use simple numbering 1, 2, 3…to rank the problem priorities.
Explore Current Situation (Test Competition & Solution Hypotheses) – 10-15 Minutes
This is the heart of the interview and the best part? There is no script.
Go through each of the top problems in turn. Ask them how they solve the problem today. Then sit back and listen.
Let them go into as much detail as they wish. Ask follow-up questions but don’t lead the witness or try to convince them of the merits of a problem.
In addition to their raw responses, judge their tone and body language (if you’re doing an in-person interview) to confirm the problem and how actively they are or would like to pursue a solution.
Wrap Up (The Ask) – 2 Minutes
Have you earned their interest and trust? If so, they’ll commit to a follow-up interview and refer you to others.
I want to thank you for your time and participation in this interview. It’s extremely beneficial to ensure we build a great product that solves problems worth solving. Can I ask two favors of you before we close?
1. Can I follow-up with you in [ N ] 2-3 weeks [ however much time it takes to have mockups or a prototype of your proposed solution ] to share our proposed solution? [ Set the appointment ]
2. Would you be willing to introduce me to other people you may know who may be experiencing this same set of problems? [ Jot down the names and let them know you'll follow-up to get their contact information ]
Again, thank you for you time today. Good-bye.
Follow-Up (Thank You / Next Steps) – 3 minutes
Send a follow-up email within 24 hours to say ‘thank you’ and confirm next steps (solution interview and referrals).
Thank you for your time today/yesterday. I appreciate your support and feedback.
As we discussed in the interview, you mentioned you would be interested in participating in a solution interview to review our proposed solution. What day/time works for you?
Also, you mentioned [Names of Referrals] would be interested in participating in a problem interview. Could you please make a short email introduction? If it’s easier for you, I would be willing to make the connection directly. It’s your call.
Thank you and please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
All the best,
We hosted a meetup at Cospace this past Tuesday, June 28th to help entrepreneurs get started with the lean process. In the discussion, we shared our approach; key terms including customer discovery, problem-solution fit, product-market fit, and pivots; recommended resources like Ash Maurya and his book “Running Lean“; and our own personal lean process story at GroupCharger, Cospace, and ShareOnce. Fred Casteneras, a local podcaster who targets entrepreneurs and small business owners, was on hand and recorded the discussion for his Struggling Entrepreneur podcast series.
We talk with people daily who either are building things (products, businesses or economies) or who want to start building things. The starting point for us is simple: a) you must understand lean, especially the value of “customer discovery”; and b) you have to “find a problem worth solving” or you are wasting time and money.
To help you get started, we have curated a short list of recommendations:
- Stanford’s 2011 Entrepreneurship Conference – Video of Investor and CEOs having a discussion at a level of lean you should hope to attain…product/market fit and scale. [ Tip: You should find investors that not only understand lean but value it. ]
- Ash Maurya – Ash is a successful entrepreneur and lean startup evangelist based here in Austin. We think he is one of the best kept secrets in lean that isn’t so secret anymore. Thank goodness! Ash’s Blog | Ash’s book, “Running Lean” | Ash’s Lean Startup | Lean Canvas – our go-to 1 page business model tool and testing tool. [ Tip: Lean is like swimming...never go it alone! Find a mentor, book or online guide that you're comfortable with. Better yet, get into an accelerator or peer group like Cospace so you can learn faster. ]
- Steve Blank – Steve founded several companies, coined “Customer Discovery,” wrote a great book called “The 4 Steps to the Epiphany” and is a professor at Stanford; Steve Blank at Stanford’s ecorner (video) [ Tip: There is amazing free stuff on the web; tap into the goodwill of others and make sure you give back too! ]
- Eric Ries – Eric successfully grew his last startup IMVU to acquisition, coined “Lean Startup” and has been evangelizing nationwide ever since. Eric’s blog | Eric’s video [ Tip: It's good to know the science behind the methodology. ]
- Venture Hacks / Angellist – What’s not to love about people who change the world? These guys have decided to turn seed, angel and venture investing on it’s head for the betterment of all involved. Talk about transparency…from how to pitch “lean” to finding angel investors who get and value lean startups, these guys let you go for it! VentureHacks | AngelList [ Tip: It's critical that you find the right investor for you. ]
- James Weddle – James has a long list of successful projects and ventures in IT, professional services, and entrepreneurship. He’s co-founder of GroupCharger, co-founder of ShareOnce, and has many successful projects and ventures from around the U.S. under his belt. James’s blog | Cospace Network (Austin) | GroupCharger | ShareOnce [ Tip: Get straight to the point! Be relevant. Be compelling. Be actionable. Know your audience! Life is short. Get to it. ]
- Kirtus Dixon – Kirtus brings a passion for learning and discovery to the table. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur, co-founder of Cospace in Austin, and co-founder and CEO of GroupCharger (and more to come). Kirtus’s blog | Cospace in Austin | GroupCharger [ Tip: Always ask 4 questions of yourself and the people you lead: 1) Are you having fun? 2) Are you learning? 3) Are you being productive? 4) Do you have the resources you need? ]
Kirtus and James
To learn more about the lead process, read through our blog. We’ll keep adding articles, best practices, and announcements as we go. If you need more help, send us a quick hello and, if there is a fit, we’ll send you a short “Project Pitch” link for for you to fill out.