Why startups should focus on a Job To Be Done rather than “market need”

Edited excerpt from 5 Tips For Writing A Job Story by Alan Klement:

Because personas are a mashup of assumptions and attributes, they can have a destructive effect on product design. They can give a false sense of knowing the customer and can thereby lead to gaps in design. For example, you can’t ask a persona about their anxieties, why they chose Product A vs Product B, what else was going on when they chose Product A vs Product B, or that when they first opened your app they didn’t know what to do first….

Specication of a Job To Be Done can only come from real customer interviews. Before designing a feature or new product, you must talk to real people and uncover all the anxieties and contexts which were in play when they used your or a competitor’s product.

(1) Early stage startups often describe their product as meeting a “market need”. But markets don’t have needs; real people have needs. Just as Alan Klement shows that personas, “a mashup of assumptions and attributes”, can have “a destructive effect on product design”, so too the abstract concept of “market need” can have a destructive effect on your startup’s positioning.
(2) Job To Be Done is a powerful framework for startup positioning, not just for product management. When you think about a Job To Be Done, you are forced to think about a concrete person (= target customer). You can then ask (i) How many other people share this Job To Be Done (= market size)? (ii) What solution do these people currently use to get this job done (= competition, including surprising competition)? (iii) How did the user find that solution (marketing and distribution)? (iv) Does the user currently pay to get this job done (= proven monetization potential)? (v) How valuable is this Job To Be Done for the user (= pricing potential)?
(3) To get to the right answers, clarify what your users ultimately care about. To do that, keep asking “Why does the user care about that?”, until you get to the point where the answer is completely obvious. (Cf. 5 Whys.)
(4) Cf. Documenting your product-market fit hypotheses.

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