When considering ideas for a startup, there are three variables one runs into:
- What is your problem domain?
- Who are your customers?
- What is your product?
Just like in high school math, to solve equations with multiple variables you need to have at least the same number of equations as you do variables. However, in the startup world being fixated is never a good idea, and so it turns out that most startups fix two variables and leave the third to be solved. Often that last variable changes a few times along the way - although if it weren't for the two other variables acting as "anchors", each such disruption would send the company right back to square one.
Let's analyze startup archetypes based on the variables they choose to fix.
Fixed problem domain, fixed product: who is your customer?
This is the classic "problem looking for a solution". These startups have an incredible product that works wonders, they're just not sure who needs it (someone surely needs it!). They need marketing and sales expertise to take that modern marvel and sell it to the right people. Ironically these are usually startups created by technology-oriented founders, lacking those skills exactly.
Fixed problem domain, fixed customer: what is your product?
A different class of companies chooses who their customers are and builds one or more products that serve those customer's needs. These require solid product expertise to really "get in the customer's head" and a dynamic technological team can build a solutions for problems they might not yet have fully understood.
These are customers which will do almost anything their customers need. Often the problem domain won't be entirely open but will be loosely defined ("technology"), leaving a lot of room for full-service. Companies like IBM and EDS serve their enterprise customres in this way. Few startups find themselves in this category.