Startup Growth: Asking the Right Questions

8/15/2018 | By Kyle Edriel Tomagan


Going back to an established principle in an earlier startup guide, the purpose of every organization is to identify a problem or need, then provide a solution for that specific issue. But even as you’ve determined what to address, more questions inevitably stem from your initial problem.

Today, we’ll discuss the steps in reconciling these additional questions to find equilibrium; a problem-solution fit that eliminates any further discrepancies.

The Universal Problem And The Four Misses

lobal problems are difficulties that affect us on a worldwide scale, like the worsening pollution issue. On the other hand, individual problems deal with personal concerns, such as a consumer’s need for groceries but wanting to lessen their waste. When these global and individual problems collide, this is where the universal problem arises.

Universal problems reconcile the first two to create just one problem: your problem. Now, it’s your responsibility to your consumers/potential customers to create a solution that addresses it.

But what if your universal problem doesn’t fit your customers’ agenda? This is where you consult the "Four Misses":

  1. The customer doesn’t have the problem
  2. It’s not an important or painful problem
  3. You’re not finding the right language to describe the problem
  4. They are not aware that they have the problem

These considerations now give you a clear understanding of what needs to be addressed next. In this next stage, there is another set of questions that you need to ask which will clarify the entire situation: the “Five WHYs”

Why The Five Whys?

The Five WHYs help you to develop your product in a manner where it becomes a necessity, not just nice to have. The Five WHYs also give you insight on your customers’ priority list, allowing you to determine (to a minimal degree) whether or not they’ll patronize your product/service.

But the true strength of the Five WHYs lies in its ability to launch you into an abstract area called the Whitespace, where unaddressed consumer issues are uncovered, allowing you to determine points of interest which you can exploit to disrupt your market with innovative features or ideas that you can integrate into your product/service. While some may argue that the Whitespace is a growing problem for incumbent service providers and startups alike, it gives you a challenge; innovate or fall short.

When developing a Five WHYs map, the general rule goes as follows:

  • Draft your problem statement
  • Apply 5 WHYs (Ask yourself and your prospective customers)
  • Each WHY starts from your problem statement
  • Subsequent WHYs answer specific details emerging from the problem statement


Problem Statement: The machine stopped

1. Why did the machine stop?

○ There was an overload and the fuse blew.

2. Why was there an overload?

○ The bearing was not sufficiently lubricated.

3. Why was it not lubricated sufficiently?

○ The lubrication pump was not pumping sufficiently.

4. Why was it not pumping sufficiently?

○ The shaft of the pump was worn and rattling.

5. Why was the shaft worn out?

○ No strainer was attached and metal scrap got in.

Simplifying your problems through the Five WHYs is an easy process if you know where to look, but that’s not the end of your problem-solution fit journey. Click on our pop-up or the button below to learn more about problem solving, Pivots, and running your business with LEAN.

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