The biggest mistake in product discovery: missing the value

Posted on October 27, 2014.
The Joke Shop where the lad lived.
The Joke Shop where the lad lived.

In 2010 we visited Ireland for the first time. My wife and I made Galway our first stop. This was the first time we’d been this far away from the kids so we wanted to make sure our mobile phones worked properly. Sure enough, as these things have a way of working out, we were having problems getting our SIM cards to work and needed to find someone to help us unlock our phones. We took the obvious steps — chat and calls to AT&T back in the US which, of course, failed. We then moved on to the local mobile phone stores. We stopped at the unfortunately named Carphone Warehouse and got this curious response to our query,”There’s a lad who lives above the joke shop. He unlocks phones. He’s on the 3rd floor. Go there.”

Coming from NYC this whole sentence sounded sketchy to us. And what the hell is a “joke shop” anyway? So we kept walking — next to the Orange store and then on to Vodafone. Without fail, the advice came back the same. “There’s a lad who lives above the joke shop. He can help you.”

After a bit more sleuthing, we found the joke shop and, sure enough, 2 stories above that we found “the lad.” He ran a small, very local business based on helping people — local and tourist — deal with minor cell phone problems including the issue we were having.

There are no shortage of mobile phone service providers with physical outlets in Galway and yet, this one guy had found a niche that met the needs of the local population, solved their problems with minimal hassles and was significantly cheaper than the big players. He didn’t advertise. He didn’t do any marketing and his hours of operation were often limited. And yet, there wasn’t much the big players could do to compete with him because he was the simplest and easiest answer to these problems. He was Galway’s “life hack” for minor mobile phone issues. A bigger, fancier or more complex solution had no value to the local population.

When working to figure out if your product or feature idea has the potential to succeed you start off by identifying your target audience and the pain point or need you’re product will satisfy. But that’s not enough. It’s equally as important to ensure that your target audience values your solution as well. As was the case in Galway the target market (locals and tourists with minor mobile phone challenges) existed and they certainly had a problem that needed fixing. However they had found a simple, easy way to solve that problem that was going to be pretty hard to unseat in the short term.

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The same goes for your products. Just because they work and solve a real need for real people doesn’t guarantee success. Humans are remarkably adaptive and find ways to deal with problems. Your solution has to clearly and significantly be better than their current “life hacks” for them to value it. And until that happens, they’ll continue relying on “the lad.”


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