How To Solve Problem

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In the example above, we recognized too late that the real problem we should have been solving was not “travelers want to hang out with other travelers”, but instead, “travelers want to find high quality non-touristy things to do.” Hanging out with other travelers is one solution to this, not the actual problem.

Luckily another team recognized this and ended up launching a much better solution, Airbnb Experiences, a few years later.

The product is beautiful and the experiences smooth. A small percentage of travelers give it a shot, and it generally goes OK, however it’s far from the reaction we were looking for.

We iterate a bit, make some incremental improvements, but a few months later we end it and move on.

We work long and hard to design an amazing experience for travelers to discover fun local things to do with other travelers.

Fast forward to 6 months later when we launch the V1 in San Francisco.As such, it makes sense to devote as much attention and dedication to problem definition as possible.What usually happens is that as soon as we have a problem to work on we’re so eager to get to solutions that we neglect spending any time refining it.The initial problem we defined and aligned around was reducing host response time —shrinking the average time it took a host to respond to a guest’s message.Our hypothesis was that hosts would respond more quickly if their unread messages were more prominent, and were also reminded that reply time impacts their search ranking.Continue refining the problem statement as you learn more. This criteria becomes incredibly important throughout the project because it helps you make decisions and prioritize. Have you ever seen those Chipotle billboards along the highway (pictured below)? Everyone on your team has a unique version of the problem in their heads. Your job is to eradicate this misalignment early and often.Does feature X increase the chances of achieving the goal you set? Ideally this is a specific metric, with a defined goal, that you can easily measure. Ideally it is based on hard data about the opportunity size, investment size, and a heuristic from past experiments. Here is some advice for defining your success criteria: This is pretty self-explanatory. Years ago my co-worker Peter pointed out the trick behind these ads — each of us is picturing our most ideal and delicious ideal burrito inside of that silver burrito. Open up the wrapper and make sure everyone agrees on the burrito inside.I personally took many learnings away from that experience, but most of all it instilled in me the importance of getting the problem statement right.Though many factors contribute to a project’s failure, nothing is more certain to cause a project to fail than a misunderstanding of the problem you are solving.You can solve many problems in many ways, but you can also build a beautiful product that solves no problems.Avoid this trap with a few good habits:“Problems are constant in life.


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