Thursday, September 28, 2023

Don’t look for a startup idea, look for a startup problem

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Shreya Christina
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By Maksym Babych, founder and CEO of SpdLoadthe software development company for startups.

There are many different frameworks for finding a product or startup idea. In this article, I want to discuss a framework you’ve probably never heard of and also talk about a counter-intuitive way to find ideas.


The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving – TIPS, or the Russian TRIZ – is a set of methods for solving and improving problems by finding and resolving contradictions.

The idea is that the same methods can solve different technical problems and contradictions.

To solve a particular problem, TIPS users first reduce the problem to a general form. Then they try to solve the generalized problem with an appropriate general method. Only then do they return to the specific situation and try to apply the solution found to it.

Simply put, the theory is based on the hypothesis that whatever problem a person is faced with, someone, sometime and somewhere, has already found a solution and dealt with it. Let’s look at an example.

In the past, people had to call and talk to an operator to get food delivered to their favorite pizzeria. It was sometimes impossible to get through, especially on a Friday. The contradiction is that an operator cannot take more than a certain number of calls.

The solution seems obvious: use an extra operator to distribute the load. That’s what restaurants have done. But really, the ideal result would be without operators and the ability to order by yourself. Over time, someone looked at the problem of restaurants and developed apps for food ordering and delivery.

You’ve never heard of TIPS simply because it was developed by a Soviet engineer, Genrich Altshuller. But with the collapse of the USSR, some well-known brands began to implement a similar approach. Samsung is a good example of this.

Using the tips approach for your startup

One of the fundamental laws of TRIZ states that an ideal system is a system that does not exist but performs its functions.

You might think that in this sentence I would say something like, “You need to think about how you can reduce the product’s features, but provide more value.” But I’m not going there.

The exciting thing is that most successful products do not reduce the number of functions, but increase them, which is contrary to the ideal system. So what’s the way to go?

The product has evolved to reduce the time it takes to use it.

In other words, in the first versions of the product, the user had to spend a conditional hour to get a result. In the second version it is only 10 minutes. And in the third version, you could do nothing and still get results because of the AI.

It makes a product ideal from the customer’s perspective because they don’t spend time on it, but the function is still performed. At the same time, such an approach does not work for time-consuming products: TikTok, Netflix, Instagram, etc.

But insightful or not, there is another side to using TIPS for your startup.

Find problems with known solutions

Another interesting point is that TRIZ is about solving problems, but a startup is about finding problems to solve. So you can try using the mirrored TIPS method and start at the end: find a known solution and apply it to a new or unresolved problem.

The fast and inexpensive method of minimally viable product development is something you can use for quick validation of ideas. Is there an example? Tesla didn’t invent modern electric cars, but it does offer them as a solution to the global energy crisis and environmental pollution.

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