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14 September 2022

How to frame problems for effective venture ideation


by German Design Museum Foundation

Text by Jan Küster
How to frame problems for effective venture ideation

Problem framing is one important step in the venture ideation process. While the pure ideation might originate in an "Eureka!"-moment, speed of development is the definition of the actual problem that needs solving. We built good venture ideation on several pillars, including a foundation in new technology or advanced business models.

Often these inputs can correlate with an existing problem where the market currently only offers a poor solution. Several successful ventures also stem not from strict problem-solving, but from an enhancement of a specific situation. Once that first spark of entrepreneurial innovation is lit up, the successful entrepreneur should connect it to the method of problem framing to help clarify the environment of the offering.
Developing good venture ideas for your startup

Problem-solving is at the heart of any successful startup. After all, we build startups on solving problems that people face in their everyday lives. But ideation doesn't always come from an "Eureka!"-moment. Often, it's the result of a methodical process that considers the current state of technology and the market landscape.

Technology has always been a major driver of innovation and entrepreneurship. New technologies have given rise to new businesses and industries, while also solving existing problems in novel ways. In recent years, we've seen this play out with the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb) and blockchain (Cryptocurrency).

Most times, successful startups are born not out of pure problem-solving, but from an enhancement of a specific situation. Consider social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. They didn't set out to solve a problem per se, but they made it easier for people to connect and share information. And that was enough to create billion-dollar businesses.

I like to see an ideation to focus on or combine any of:

  • New technology, check out the Gartner Hype Cycle for upcoming technologies. New business models such as platforms, service as a service, subscription models etc.
  • Bad solutions to a sophisticated problem, such as many of the global warming problems of our time, where there's still a lot of room for problem-solving and lastly anything that provides just so much more fun and ease of use, such as streaming services provided.

Whenever you see concepts combining these pillars, the output is a substantial business. Such as Amazon connecting the new technology e-commerce, with new business models like connecting product marketplace with delivery infrastructure, solving a great problem by including ratings as sales consulting at the point of digital sale and finally making the experience more enjoyable through customer service and same-day delivery.

Why problem framing?

No matter what your ideation process looks like, it's important to frame the problem you're trying to solve to lead to a successful outcome.

One of the best ways to ensure that your idea is going to help solve a problem is to frame it in said problem. This is done by asking HMW questions (How Might We...?) and developing a narrative of how your offering will help. Problem framing forces you to think critically about your idea and consider all the different ways that it could be applied. It also allows you to develop a coherent message about your offering that will resonate with potential customers or clients. By taking the time to frame your idea in a problem, you can increase the chances of success and ensure that your idea is going to be helpful.
The elements of problem framing

In our ideation accelerator PunchOut.Tech we apply the problem framing canvas developed by software company Atlassian.

First, you state the nature of the problem and then move on to answering four questions:

  • Who is experiencing this problem? How do we know they are experiencing it?
  • What feedback have we received from them on it?
  • What is the nature of the problem? What signs point to there being a problem?
  • Why is the problem worth solving? What's the impact on the people experiencing the problem? What happens if we don't solve it? In what circumstances is this problem occurring? In what circumstances does it not occur.

Take-away for people with ideas

=> It is an excellent technique to always train your ideation muscle and give ideas time to develop and grow organically. Once you've nurtured an idea enough to get a solid grasp, then connect it to the problem framing canvas. This not only helps you to mature the idea into a concept, but furthermore enables you to share the concept with others and allow collaborating.
Closing thoughts

  • If you want to make your idea into a proper business, start by developing it into a concept that is shared and discussed with others.
  • Connecting the idea to a real-life problem that is experienced by a significantly relevant market will help you build solutions.
  • Applying techniques such as "How might we"-questions provides still enough breathing room for ample creativity.

With this solid foundation in place, you're ready to move on to feature development and ultimately bring your solution to the market.


Jan Küster coaches lean startup techniques and go-to-market-strategies in established corporations, university programs and various incubators. He co-founded the Founders Fight Club, hosts events and learning formats to promote the visibility of startups and the associated startup scene. Previously, Jan successfully established and subsequently led business development for technology projects in the areas of Chip Design, Software as a Service and Natural User Interface applications for both startups and early stage ventures of established corporations.


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