Are you building a product nobody wants?

One of the most common mistakes when starting up is to focus on the solution instead of the problem. I’ll tell why but first allow me to tell you two quick stories. One about paintings and one about buffalos.

Paintings, happiness and the intricacies of human mind

Chosing a painting

This story is an actual study on what makes people happy. You can find the full TED talk here: The surprising science of happiness, by Dan Gilbert.   

In a room, the study participants are presented with 6 paintings and they are asked to order them from the most liked to the least liked. They order the paintings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. After the experiment, they are offered as a present one of paintings 3 or 4. A rather difficult choice, because none was strongly preferred over the other, but most subjects still chose painting #3. The experimenters told the subjects they would mail the print.

Two days or two weeks later, in the second part of the experiment, the subjects are presented with the same 6 paintings and asked to rate them again… and the resulting order is 1, 3, 2, 5, 4, 6.

The painting that was rated 3 jumped to the second position in the top, and the painting that was rated 4, jumped to the 5th. “The one I chose was really better than I thought; the one I didn’t get, sucks”

In other words, people “fell in love” with their choices. And before you say anything, there’s more to the story. And this is rather spectacular.

The researchers decided to repeat the test, just be sure… but this time they did it with people with chronic amnesia, as in they forget everything within 30 min. You walk in you have a talk with them, you walk out of the room, come back in and they have no clue who you are. So, what were the results you might ask. Oh yeah, you guessed it: same results. People that have no recollection of what happened 5 min ago, did the same thing. Chose 3 and then 3 became 2. Amazing isn’t it? Of course it is, but what’s the key learning here?

Well, for me it’s clear that the process of falling in love with our decisions (solutions) happens at a subliminal level, and even if we think we are super objective, our subconscious plays tricks on us.

So now imagine if even people that suffer of amnesia prefer the paintings they choose prior, if there’s a connection at that level, imaging how strong and subtle that must be. So if you come up with a solution before knowing the problem, then according to this study chances are that as time goes by, your solution will go from 3 to 2 and from 2  to 1. You will end up building your solution just because you made an unconscious decision… without having all the puzzle pieces. Without understanding what people want.

And this leads me to the second story, with another important learning point at the end…

Buffalos, problems and banging at the wrong door


The second story is about bufallos. Well, on the surface at least… It goes something like this:

At one point Hornaday realized that the buffalos that were roaming the great America plains were almost extinct, so he did what every respectable conservationist would have done: he went to Montana to kill several dozens of them.

Yeah, that’s right. You see, William Temple Hornaday was one of the greatest pioneers in the early wildlife conservation movement in the United States. He was head taxidermist at the Smithsonian museum and he traveled the globe hunting exotic animals and stuffing those animals for the museum. It’s sounds weird, but for Hornaday killing all these animals was a kind of conservation. He believed that by stuffing them he was preserving endangered species for future generations that might not know them. Through taxidermy he could make the immortal…

After he hunted down and stuffed around 24 buffalos he arranged them in the natural museum around a fake watering hole. As he looked at them he realized he was just a funeral director embalming the species that America was exterminating.

Again, for me this story packs another strong lesson. If we go and start working on the first solution we think of, we might spend years doing the wrong thing. Hornday, didn’t know better when he became a “conservationist”, he could not imagine another solution because his knowledge was limited… he just didn’t know better.

And same applies to other situations as well. Chances are that your first idea is not the best idea, even when you are seen as a specialist in the field, like the gentleman above.

The above fragment of one of my earlier posts. For the full story and the audio version (which is amazing) head over to A story about buffalos, problems and solutions.

Building the ghost towns of China



Choosing a solution without understanding the problem first, might lead you on a dangerous path. A path on which you take the wrong decision based on limited information and then you become too attached to it t let it go. So what do you do? You end up building a product your customers don’t want.

Maybe the old saying “build it and they will come” shouldn’t be your motto in this case… otherwise you might end up building on a Chinese ghost town.

So how do you focus on the problem? Click here to find out.

When you shouldn’t listen to your customers

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

When building a product is important to know who’s feedback you can trust. Your customers might have the best intentions in the world but that doesn’t mean you should listen to them.

Why? Because usually they don’t know what they want, they don’t want to offend you, or they simply like the idea but that doesn’t mean they would actually buy the thing once it’s out.

So how can you go from not trusting them, to trusting them? Don’t ask for their opinion, ask for their money. You will see immediately what they really think of your product.

This video is part of a free course that helps Adobe employees become more creative. This course is packed with valuable date and did I mention is FREE. For more info visit Adobe Kickbox.

A free tool for market size estimation: Facebook ads

After you complete your market research and understand the market segment you want to reach with your product, the next step in your marketing strategy should be to do a market size estimation. This basically means that you need to understand how many people you can expect to be in a certain market.

For example, let’s say you want to open a yoga and fitness studio in Amsterdam and the customer profile you are trying to reach is: females, between 17 and 30, which speak Dutch or English, are bit more affluent and are interested in dieting, meditation, physical exercise and nutrition. Sounds like a complicated task isn’t it?

Luckily, since almost everyone is on Facebook nowadays and Facebook knows and learns so much about us, you can use the Facebook Ad  tool to estimate the size of your market segment.

Oh yeah, and it’s totally free.  How crazy is that?

Let me show you how to do that step by step.

First you will need a Facebook account. Once you have that, click on this link: .  Then pick one of the goals presented there. You can picks whatever you want, doesn’t matter, just click on one. And from here starts the fun part:

Define location of your target market

First set the location of your market segment. You can do that easily by simply typing the name of the city/country/region you are interested in. You can even refine that selection by selecting one of the predefined radiuses or define a custom one yourself.

Free tool for market size estimation 1

Define traveler vs local

After choosing the location you can select to see how many people  live in this location,  were recently in this location or intend to travel in this location. How does Facebook  know all this? Simple, based on your profile info, Facebook Checkins and travel updates. If your profile say you live in Brazil but you recently checked in  Amstredam, it’s safe to assume you were visiting Amsterdam. Same if you check in at the Sao Paolo airport and tell “your friends” you are going to Amsterdam.

Free tool for market size estimation 2

Define Sex, Age, Language spoken and a ton of demographics

Ok, so now you define the basic traits of your target market Age, Sex, Language and then you have a ton of options in terms of demographics. You can define: Relationship status, sexual preference, Education levels and schools, Work data, financial data … and so on and so forth. Basically whatever you dream of.

Free tool for market size estimation 3

Define the interests of your target market

And that’s not all, next are the interests. Again you can choose from a plethora of options. It never stops to amaze me how much Facebook knows about us.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 23.53.37

Define the behaviours of your target market

Yes, there is yet another step. Now you can define their behaviour. Are they early adopters, do they own a gaming console, are the expats from a certain country, do the work for a certain company and do the have a certain job title, do they use an iPhone or Android,  do they… and the list continues for ever. It’s insane how granular the data can get on Facebook.

Free tool for market size estimation 4

Your market size estimation

And voila, after all this hard work you finally have it. You have a pretty good idea of how many people are in your target market, and you had to pay $0 and did it in about 10 min. We live in the future huh?

So, let’s go back to our example. How many females in Amsterdam, are between 17 and 30, speak Dutch or English, are bit more affluent (I used iPhone ownership as a proxy for audience) and are interested in dieting, meditation, physical exercise and nutrition.  about 3700…  see below.

Free tool for market size estimation 6

Your turn. Let me know what you think about it in the comment section below.




Should I keep my startup idea secret? TLDR: No

A few months ago I received the following question on the Startup Maze Amsterdam meetup group:

Hi Andi, I recently joined the group and I’m new to meetup, so pardon me if this has been discussed already. In the next workshop we are to discuss our ideas and products and what need/ problem they are meant to address – great topic – but how does one make sure that someone else doesn’t steal or copy the idea?

I answered the question and moved on. I thought that it was a one-time question. However, in the following months this issue kept coming back over and over again. And this Friday, as I was talking with a friend, I realised that I have answered this question so many times that now I have a script ready for it. And it sounds like this…

I think you should share it with as many people as possible and here’s why:

Ideas are simple, implementation is hard

Scott Belsky Bēhance Quote

Don’t believe me? Well, if it’s really that simple, why didn’t you do it already? Believe it or not a ton of people have a ton of ideas on a daily basis and still we don’t have a ton of new companies opening every day.  Toying with your idea in your mind, achieving virtual success, selling your imaginary startup for millions and then spending all the money on a nice car, a nice house, vacation on sunny islands and becoming a Angel Investor… well, I’m sorry to break it to you… we all do that. What we don’t do is actually go through all that…because if F’in hard.

If it’s that simple to steal, then what’s your unfair advantage


Really, if you think that all it takes is for me to hear that idea in order to steal it than you are in serious trouble anyway. When building an product you want to have a unfair advantage, a way to protect that business. Some entrepreneurs rely on patents, some on their knowledge, some on their unique set of skills, some on their resilience….

So, if it’s so easy to steal, how will you protect it once you launch it? Or are you going to be even to scare to share your product with the media and customers? Think about it.

You might build an existent product

I actually have a joke ready for this one. It’s not mine, I heard it from Chris. It goes like:

“I love when people come to me and tell me:

Dude I have an amazing idea. I want to build a product that will be amazing. Not sure how come nobody else did it. Listen, I want to create something that will store your music online so you don’t need to have it on your phone or computer. Imagine you could stream all your music on the go, from the cloud on any device. And then I go: uuuuhhhmmm like Spotify? and he goes: Spotify? What’s that?”

birds owls head tilt_www.wall321.com_93

I know the example is a bit exaggerated … I hope. And while I believe/hope that nobody will want to pitch a startup idea like Spotify as a completely new concept,  unless they lived under a rock until now, it might be that for niche markets you haven’t heard of all the solutions yet and indeed your big concept might be already a massive success.

You’ll get instant, valuable feedback

Oh, and don’t share it with your mom, dad or close family. Share it with people you don’t know that well. They won’t feel the need to protect your feelings. You will see immediately if they get it or not, which is gonna be great feedback.

If they don’t get it then either:

  • your product sucks
  • you don’t know how to explain it
  • you didn’t pick the right audience

All of the above great learning points and you should do something about it.

If they do get it, if they do like your idea it’s aweosme because:

  • the counter reasons of the above points
  • plus, you can ask them if they want to be your beta testers. Ask them if it’s ok to contact them for feedback once you have a tangible solution.

It’s not the first thing you should focus on anyway

One of the most common issues with startups and entrepreneurs is that they start with an idea/solution. And on one hand, sure it’s normal to do that. That’s the fun part.

But, there’s a huge down side. If you start with an idea in mind, if you think that you already have every single detail of your solution figured out… well, you are in big trouble.  Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that the final product is not the product you have in your mind right now. It will evolve a lot on the way.

So there you have it. If you think that sharing your idea will let others steal it… well, maybe the stealing part is not your biggest problem anyway.





Inspiring quotes for entrepreneurs: Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison Photo Quote 2

Thomas Edison had a lot of wise words for us. Among my favourite Thomas Edison Quotes are the following:

  • Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
  •  Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
  • Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
  • I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.
  • Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.
  • The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

And my favourite…

There is no substitute for hard work.

What’s you favourite from the ones above?

Interview with Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten (founder of TNW)

As I was surfing the web last night, one click lead to another and all of a sudden I stumbled upon a great interview with Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten, one of the founders of

The interview is fun, cordial, candid and packed with inspiring facts, so I was amazed of how few people have actually watched it (only 176 as of this moment) … so I decided to give it a boost and promote it a bit. I hope you guys will enjoy it.


Customer Understanding as part of the Problem-Solution Fit


For this interview, I had the pleasure to talk to Douwe Wester and Edouard Dopper, co-founders at and experts in lean startup methodology, agile methodology, scrum management and innovation models for large companies.

Douwe Wester             Edouard Dopper

I met both Douwe and Edouard a few months ago at an event which they organized together with Rockstart Amsterdam and Adam Berk, on product innovation, problem solving, and the customer development process. I remember I enjoyed their energy so I asked them if they would like to share some of their know -how with the Startup Maze community. To my great pleasure they both agreed, so… I got my recording gear and headed up to Douwe’s apartment, which is an amazing place situated smack bang in the middle of Amsterdam, in a building full of character and with a view to one of the many picturesque canals.

We spent almost an hour and a half talking about customer understanding, customer experience, and startup development strategy. I selected the most interesting parts of our chat and shared them in the podcast below. This week we will explore the first part of the problem-solution fit, the customer understanding In the next episode we will dive into early adopter acquisition. Basically how do you find your first customers.

Douwe and Edouard say that one of the most common mistakes in the startup world is to start with building a product without truly understanding the problem to be solved and the riskiest assumptions that are the foundation of your business model. So what is the a better way? Start with the customer understanding

Customer Understanding

  • Step 1: understand the problem you are trying to solve
  • Step 2: understand who has that problem, define the archetype(s) of the customer
  • Step 3: see if you can find more people that display similar archetype behavior
  • Step 4: do market sizing as a reality check
  • Step 5: create and iterate Influence maps

Your turn. What do you think about this approach? Let me know below.

A startup that helps students and graduates to startup, with Mirena and Svilena

For today’s interview I had the pleasure to talk with Svilena and Mirena, two great girls that are on a mission to help others start their own business. Based out of Rotterdam, their platform combines business strategy and marketing coaching with crowd funding. So as pre-entrepreneur you get the knowhow and funding support.

Mirena RadulovaI think this is a fantastic platform for young people in university or recently graduates. Especially for those that don’t have a background in BA. I’m thinking art, sociology, IT, biology, …

At the moment is looking for new projects, so if you have an idea for a business or a big project that you want to undertake, you can get in contact with them and pitch your story. Mirena and Svilena will asses your idea, and if they think they can coach you and help you with the funding this could be the stSvilena Mateevaart of something awesome. And the cool part is that you will pay for the service only if you reach your funding goals.

In this interview we talk about their platform, but also about their journey to start a business together as expats in The Netherlands.

You can get in touch with Svilena and Mirena through their Facebook page , via email info [@] or website .


Use this proven offensive army tactic to win at startups

Last week I had the great pleasure to interview Holger for the Startup Maze podcast. He is a serial entrepreneur, an ex Dutch army officer and currently the founder and CEO of (more on that here).

As we were discussing, he mentioned a tactic which he learned as an officer and which he adapted for his startup, so he can maximize ROI. I forgot the actual name, so I’ll call it: the 5-point attack with 1 reserve behind.

The 5-point attack with 1 reserve behind

It goes like this: whenever you’re not sure where’s the weakest point in your enemy’s defence line, a common tactic is sending out 5 small groups of soldiers to attack in 5 different points.

Meanwhile, the rest of your unit (the reserve) waits behind. As soon as the weakest point is discovered, the entire reserve steams ahead and crushes the enemy line through the weakest point.

Makes sense, right?

Holger took this tactic and used it to maximize the ROI for his startup. Whenever he is unsure where to put his money, he “deploys” a 5-point investment in the most promising opportunities. The one that proves to be the winner is the one he invests in.

What a great way to frame your challenges! What I like about it is that is pretty simple and quite intuitive, yet I never heard someone think like this before.

So, there you go. Use this tactic wisely and if you enjoyed this post please share it with your friends.

From army officer to successful entrepreneur: Holger Breukink

While serving as an Officer in the Royal Netherlands Army, with 43 people under his command, Holger realized that this is not what he wants to do with his life. Work was good, salary was good but he just wasn’t satisfied.

So he quit, went aboard to learn Spanish and ended up working in a bar. But being a true entrepreneur at heart, he immediately spotted an opportunity. He saw a very cool looking discount pass for students and thought: “I should create one in The Netherlands”. So he came back to NL and spent 3 years building, pitching, selling and convincing everybody, including his family, that he was not crazy and this product will be successful.

Holger BreukinkKnaek logo

Even though few people believed in his idea at the beginning, now his student discount pass is available in 25 cities, in both The Netherlands and Belgium, he employs 32 people, works with and is respected by top consumer brands like Apple, Jupiler, AlbertHein and Philips, and students can’t wait to get their hands on the discount pass at the beginning of the year. Kanek distributes ˜350,000 Cards per year, has ˜50,000 app installs per year and at the moment they have a database of over 1.5 Million young people.

How did Holger manage to achieve that? His story is truly inspiring and it was a great pleasure to talk to him.

Below is the full interview with Holger Johan Breukink, of


And here are some cool lessons I distilled from our conversation:

In the beginning nobody believes in your idea, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful. Very few people believed in his idea but that didn’t stop him. You should not be discouraged by what other people think it would work or not. You should test your ideas and trust the results not the opinions of others.

Learn how to bluff. In the beginning you have to appear bigger, stronger, faster than you actually are so you have to project that image in the eyes of your clients. At times you will have sell your product first and build it later. In the interview Holger tells how he applied this to get his first customer.

Focus on bringing value to your customers, money will come from that.

These are only a few of the learning points. Make sure you listen to the full interview to hear them all.