Startup market insight playbook

An important success factor within any startup is understanding the problem you solve, and who you solve it for. But what specifically do we need to know, and how deeply do we need to know it?

This structure attempts to give you an extensive, yet collapseable overview of what you would ideally know in order to bring your product or service to market successfully.

Use it to identify the focal points of your of market research learning objectives, or as the table of contents for your market insight playbook.

As your market insight grows, this structure will also be increasingly useful as the basis for deciding when you are ready to structure and scale up your go-to-market motion.

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Skills contained in this skillset:

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What sort of impact do we want to make on the world?

Problem 11

What is the problem?

What are they people trying to do which leads them into having these problems?

Which outcomes are they looking for?

Which jobs are they trying to get done?

Which use cases are they trying to solve for?

What is the problem space?

What are the pains and obstacles they are facing with their current way?

What are the root causes of the problem?

How does the problem impact things people care about?

What are different people impacted by the problem with the dimensions of

  • Emotionally
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Financially
  • Lack of progress
  • Lack of growth
  • Socially (loss of reputation and trust)
  • Success perception
  • Personal or organizational ambition

What are the risks associated with not solving this problem?

How does the problem impact an individuals intrinsic success metrics (meaning the things the belive to be intrinsicly important)?

What are the indicators that people are having this problem?

Where and when does this problem usually occur?

The people who are contributing to the problem appearing or growing larger.

The profiles who personally experience the brunt of the problem on their shoulders.

Someone who has a stake in the problem and it being unresolved.

Someone who is responsible for the problem being resolved.

The people who hold the mandate to solve the problem.

Someone who has a strong personal conviction that the problem needs solving.

Someone who researches solutions to the problem.

Someone who is responsible for designing a strategy to solve the problem.

Someone who is responsible for deciding on and allocating resources to solve the problem.

Someone who is responsible for establishing tools and processes to carry out the strategy.

Someone who is responsible for using the tools and contributing to the processes.

Someone who is responsible for ensuring that the work actually gets done and the problem actually gets solved.

A problem worth solving is usually:

  • Unworkable
  • Unavoidable
  • Urgent
  • Underserved
  • Societal


Who get's fired if this doesn't work (if the problem isn't solved)? E.g.

  • Broken business processes
  • Security risk
  • Consequences?
  • Impractical, impossible or far too expensive
  • Social problem


Is the problem so fundamental that you can't avoid it and just have to comply?


If you're not at the top of the list, are you at least in the top three? If not, will you get moved up or down over time? Why?

  • Relative to other needs
  • Priority, which determines resources allocated or choices consumers have to spend their money (there's no use in selling a poor familiy a high-def TV when they haven't got food and running water)
  • E.g. cyber-security, finding a job
  • Are there shifts in the market which have created urgency?

Expect to get delayed or deprioritized if you're not urgent.


You will compete in a zero-sum game. The finite resources you are competing for are:

  • Money
  • Time
  • People
  • Attention


If you are working on a problem with a sufficent societal impact, you might be able to resonate with people who are passionate about rectifying this societal issue.

However, be mindful of finding people who are actually willing to put their money where their mouth is (and not just people who feel good about supporting the issue).

Why the problem is important, and for whom.

Ideal Customer Profile 5

Who has this problem?

What are they looking to get out of a purchase, i.e.

  • Social: The desire to look good.
  • Financial: The want to reduce costs and/or expland revenue
  • Emotional: The desire to feel good.
  • Functional: Get something tangible done.
  • Consumption: Enable others to utilize a solution.

How they perceive and relate to themselves and their surroundings.

How they perceive the world.

How the market perceives the problem is based on how well they understand the problem domain. Let's use the domain of organizational development  as an example.

How someone perceives the problem of organizational development depends on their level of understanding the domain.

If there have little to no understanding, their problem perception is based on the solving the problems which organizational development solves, which might include:

  • Employee retention
  • Reducing friction and effort required to get product out the door
  • Producing predictable outcomes
  • Reducing the skill and behavioural gap

If they have begun trying to address these factors, they might have run into process problems

  • How to we actually align people?
  • How do we actually delegate work properly?
  • How do we actually develop our people?

Once the process issues are solved, we get to an indicator problem:

  • How can we actually measure role clarity?
  • The competence gap?
  • The amount of operationalization?

Whenever someone encounters a challenge, that challenge can be addresses with varying degrees of a holisitic perspective.

Let’s say I’m a team leader and I notice that a team member is struggling to complete a task with sufficient quality within the given time frame.

If I have a very narrow focus, I might just solve the problem for them.

If I zoom out, I might give them some pointers on how to solve it.

If I zoom out further I might point them in the direction of the skillsets they seem to lack or the processes they seem to have an unclear grasp of which is causing them trouble.

If I continue to zoom out I might ask why they did not possess this knowledge in the first place, and what that says about our training, onboarding and work allocation.

To a lot of people, zooming out is neither intuitive nor motivating. A lot of the time, people just have the energy or mental capacity to solve the problem that is right in front of them, and then move on.

Another factor to consider is that, when zooming out, we might reach a zoom level where the responsibility and mandate for solving the issue no longer belongs to us. In the example below, the issue of training employees might be an HR responsibility, and work allocation an operations responsibility.

From this post by Matt Lerner:

People have a long list of things they want from a payments provider: Card processing, fraud management tools, multi-currency support, easy integration, high-converting checkout flows, fair prices, good customer service, fast access to their cash, and compatibility with their other systems, to name a few.

That’s way too much for a headline… and, again, nobody can guess if “all-in-one payments system” includes multi-currency support or one-click checkout?

After listening to enough sales calls, I realised that people think about their needs in a predictable sequence like this:

1. We need to set up payments – “accept payments online”
2. Oh wait, is it compatible with… (Shopify, Woo Commerce, etc.)
3. Is this easy for my buyers?
4. Great, it’s live, wait… when will I get my money?
5. Now I have customers from other countries, how do you handle other currencies?
6. I just got ripped off. Hey customer service… Haaalp!
7. How do I set up fraud filters to prevent this next time?
8. Wow, we’re getting big, do you guys offer a volume discount?

For a payments company, “accept payments online and in apps” was the best headline. It was the “tip of the spear” in the customer journey, the thing they thought they were looking for in the beginning.

What do they perceive as their constraints?

How do they perceive our solution?

How are they going about accomplishing their tasks?

Alternatives 2

How are they currently addressing this problem?

Solution 12

How can you solve this problem better?

This is the difference between the features that are shiny, emotionally or intellectually appealing, vs those that actually continue to get usage over time.

Outreachable is a made up word which attempts to describe how likely you are to succeed when you reach out to someone and ask if they are interested in commiting to your product.

Some products are more outreachable than others due to the difference in required

  • Timing
  • Mindset
  • Level of commitment
  • Trust
  • Understanding (complexity)

Let's illustrate with an example:

Flowers are not very outreachable. Basically, there is no one calling around to individuals asking them if they want to buy flowers.

Why is that?

The answer resides in the factor of timing.

When most people buy flowers, it is as a gift to celebrate or offer our condolances in a particular situation. The time period between when that situation arises and when the flowers are needed, is usually pretty short. And due to the perishable nature of flowers, the time between purchase and usage needs to be even shorter.

Target market 4

In which part of the market will you focus on solving this problem first?

For instance, in a small organization, the buyer and user of leadership development might both be the CEO, whereas in a larger organization the CHRO might be the buyer and middle managers the users.

Approach 9

How will you approach people?

Where can they be found?

What do we hook people with?

How do we package our offering?

For what do we charge?

ABM, inbound, PLG, etc.

Buying 5

What are the buying considerations when selling to this market?

Behavioural drivers are the things that drives us to behave in a certain way. Getting people to align with a behaviour for which they do not have a driver can be extremely costly in terms of both time, money and energy.

Some examples of behavioural drivers include:

  • Hopes and dreams
  • Values
  • Mission
  • Incentives
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Deadlines
  • Stakeholder needs
  • Objectives
  • Priorities
  • Desired outcomes
    • Jobs to be done
    • Pains to avoid
    • Gains to achieve
  • Responsibilities
  • Risks
  • Fears (including fireable offences)
  • Challenges

Behavioural hurdles are the things that trip us up and keep us from behaving in a certain way. Examples include:

  • Incentives
  • Identity
  • Culture
  • Completence
  • Priorities
  • Method
  • Operationalization

Buying behavior refers to the process that consumers go through when deciding to purchase a product or service. This process involves several stages, such as problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation. Buying behavior is influenced by a variety of factors, such as personal characteristics, social influences, psychological factors, and marketing stimuli.

Spending behavior refers to the way consumers allocate their income and resources to various categories of goods and services. Spending behavior is influenced by factors such as income, price, availability of credit, consumer preferences, and economic conditions.