The High Price of the Wrong Solution

May 13, 2015

When I was a kid, my grandfather had chronic insomnia. A friend convinced him his mattress was the problem, and that he should go buy a waterbed (note: this is the 1970s). So he did.

That’s where a whole new string of troubles began. Waterbeds are heavy, so he had to have his floor assessed to make sure it could handle the load of a waterbed. The water in waterbeds make them cold to the touch, so he needed a heater to keep it at a comfortable temperature. Every time my grandmother moved the water would slosh around and wake him up, so they had to buy models with baffles and other technology to keep the waves to a minimum. It turned out the water could get bacteria and mold in it, so every month he had to add chemicals to keep it clean. One leak would spell disaster, so he was constantly checking for leaks.

That bed was a giant pain in the ass and finally he threw it away and bought a “white sound” machine. Insomnia gone. Problem solved.

I was reminded of my grandfather and the waterbed saga during a recent pitch. Here were founders who had defined a real, tangible problem. But their solution went after it piecemeal. Every time they discovered something new — a different facet to the problem, a different audience — they added a feature to address it. The result is what felt like a very complex, brittle product that will never fully solve the problem.

They haven’t launched anything yet but to me it seemed like they’re already headed full speed ahead on a waterbed solution — the kind of solution that will drain valuable time and money as they work to fix all the new, unrelated, increasingly frustrating problems associated with their solution. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a “white noise machine”out there that would easily solve the same problem.

The lesson? If you’re an early-stage founder and you find yourself spending the bulk of your time perfecting a solution that keeps falling apart, run a gut check. Are you focused on the problem or your solution? If the latter, take a step back and make sure you aren’t missing a better approach. It could save you a ton of time and money. And you will definitely sleep better.

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