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What do people do now?

We’ve been running an open invite for “Product Office Hours,” a lunch session where clients, friends and Pivots pitch new ideas and talk with our Product Management team.  These sessions have been great at grounding our thinking and honing the art of providing critical feedback.

I’d like to highlight an emerging theme I’ve seen.  Often, people jump into the great features they envision and the solution they’re building.  One of my first questions is always

“What do people do now?”

This seemingly obvious question often stops people in their tracks; they sometimes have a sense of their competitors but it’s more rare that people are domain experts in the analog of the digital service they want to build.  Or, simply, how are people cobbling together a solution to address this problem without a specific application?

Take Taxi hailing apps (I’ve used several).  The good ones understand how a person currently hails a cab in the “offline” world and optimize for quickly finding a cab.  Others require lots of input before coming to the conclusion that no, there are no taxis available!

If you’ve followed any of the recent WhatsApp news, you can get a great example from founder Jan Koum.  After semi-retiring, he found himself on the road and frustrated with the lack of communication options for travelers.  He built a simple iPhone app and posted it to the FlyerTalk forum for advice.

problem found – problem solved. so i spent a couple of months and developed a little tool called WhatsApp – it can let you set a status like “On the flight to munich, send email instead of calling me” or “In Japan for two weeks, my cell there is +81 829 282718″

Jan didn’t build a messaging app on top of SMS because he understood that people don’t always have an international cell plan; rather he looked at how travelers were staying connected and crafted a solution to take advantage of what they did have…data.

The next time you find your brain getting carried away with your awesome new app, do a sanity check by asking what your target audience is doing right now.

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