I remember talking to a young founder about his startup idea lately. He was all excited about his solution, excited about how many people it would enrich.
When I asked him if he had talked to his target audience, he proudly said “No” and pulled out this infamous quote attributed to Henry Ford:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”*
He continued his thought: People often don’t know what they really want. “No one knew what a car was. Steve Jobs also created the iPod and got people excited about not knowing they even wanted such a device.”
The young founder found the “faster horses” answer absurd, almost ridiculous. He dismissed interviewing with target customers as a waste of time. He believed that as an innovator, he should bring a solution they don’t know they need.
He missed the point the whole quote is about.
Interviewing the target audience is not about asking people what they want. It’s about identifying people’s real pains and needs through stories.
So when people say they want “faster horses,” they’re implying a need that doesn’t seem to be immediately obvious to everyone -> To get from A to B faster. There is a clear opportunity here that can be turned into a value proposition, no matter what the solution is.
People tell you what they need or want when you let them tell you.
As a PM, it’s your job to mine their stories for undeserved needs and incorporate them into the product. They tell you in their own way.
*Note: There’s no evidence that Henry Ford ever said those words. Even if he didn’t, this quote is always ideal as a starter for exciting discussions.