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in Starting a Startup by Wooden (2,160 points)
What is the difference between "solving a problem" and "fulfilling a need"?

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by Wooden (2,160 points)

The foundation of all ventures is a good idea—an idea that solves a problem. The foundation of all successful ventures is a great idea. Rather than simply solving a problem, a great idea fulfills a need. All entrepreneurs should be able to distinguish between solving a problem and fulfilling a need.

Clayton Christenson defines solving a problem as getting a job done for a consumer or customer. For instance, a company like United Airlines gets a job done for customers by providing air transportation from one destination to another. In doing so, United Airlines does not necessarily fulfill what is defined as a fundamental human social need.

Fulfilling a need requires that you satisfy a human social need such as friendship, entertainment, communication, art, or networking, among others. A company like Facebook satisfies a need by allowing users to forge, maintain, and strengthen friendships virtually. Companies that tackle human needs tend to enjoy larger market share and higher margins. In fact, Steve Blank even goes as far to say that billion dollar startups all satisfy human needs.

While it is not imperative that your venture solves a human need, it is important to take this into consideration. If you already have a specific problem you are solving, it is beneficial to think through how you might incorporate basic human needs into your value proposition. If you haven’t identified a problem yet, evaluating potential problems in terms of basic needs will be a useful tool.

As mentioned above, needs can also be divided into three general categories: unsatisfied, new, and hidden.

  1. Unsatisfied need: an existing need that is not being fulfilled for the customer. e.g. The company Uber fulfilled an unsatisfied need of the customer: the ability to secure reliable, safe transportation on-demand through a mobile application.
  2. New need: an emerging need that the customer previously did not have. e.g. Prior to the invention and sale of consumer electric cars, customers did not have a need for charging stations. As more electric cars come on the market, there is an emerging need for charging stations.
  3. Hidden need: a need that the customer is not aware of and is not able to articulate. e.g. Before social media emerged, not all customers were aware that they needed a way to virtually connect with individuals. Many individuals thought that their needs were being fulfilled through traditional forms of communication such as the telephone and may not have been able to articulate the need to use the Internet to maintain relationships.

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