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What Problem Does Your Product Actually Solve?

Alan Tsen
Alan Tsen
1 min read
What Problem Does Your Product Actually Solve?

Table of Contents

I saw a tweet doing the rounds on Twitter (sorry, never referring to it as X) that linked to an article by Joel Spolsky, where he shared a banger of a story about his time on the Microsoft Excel team.

Everyone initially saw Excel as the ultimate financial modelling tool, focusing on complex calculations and “what-if” scenarios – a power user tool for the titans of finance. However, customer visits revealed a surprising truth: most users were creating tables, not performing calculations.

This revelation changed everything. It wasn’t Excel’s advanced mathematical capabilities that made it invaluable; it was the format it provided. Excel excelled (pun intended) as a powerful tool for organising and presenting data in a simple, tabular format. This insight was a game-changer because it highlighted the real job Excel was hired to do.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of your product, but the true value lies in how it meets the actual needs of your users. Excel’s success wasn’t built on its ability to crunch numbers but on its utility as a tool for creating and managing tables. That's it. Users needed a straightforward way to organise information, and Excel delivered that perfectly.

Sometimes, the features you think are most important aren’t what drives user adoption. Instead, it could simply be the format and structure your product provides that can be the key to its success.

It's a good reminder to focus on the genuine needs of your users. By doing so, you’ll create a product that not only meets their needs but also stands the test of time. Excel thrived because it provided a simple, effective way to organise data—a lesson that’s as relevant today as it was back then. Knowing what problem your product actually solves is the cornerstone of creating lasting value.

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🌞 Day: Looking for my next thing 🌚 Night: investor in fintech startups + former chair of Fintech Australia, writer of Fintech Radar.