When the team arrived in Ghana they were thrilled. After more than a year of waiting to help some of the less-fortunate villagers in rural areas of the country, the Americans had arrived. Their non-profit was focused on installing water pumps in towns around the world to bring local access to clean drinking water. After arriving at the first village they sat and observed the behavior of locals. It turned out that the women in the village had to walk 5 miles each day to acquire water. They’d walk back with large jugs on their head.
“Unacceptable!”, the Americans thought to themselves. “Why should these women have to carry such heavy containers, let alone walk 5 miles back and forth every single day?” The group came up with a solution. They decided to install a water pump in the center of the town. Now whenever anybody needed water they could just walk 10 steps, get their water, and return to the safety of their homes.
Weeks later the water pump was installed and the American team sat and observed. They were convinced that the locals would now have increased productivity as a result of not having to walk 5 miles each day. However something else occurred: nobody was using the pump! The group thought to themselves, “Why on earth would this town not want to reap the benefits of our kind gesture?”
Desperate to find the answer, they immediately started interviewing the women in the village to find out why they weren’t using the pump. The women told them why: “Our daily journey to the river is the highlight of our day. We get to leave our family and gossip about what’s going on in the town.” The team was shocked. They had flown to Ghana, travelled to a remote village, and installed a water pump only to find out that the local women didn’t want it!
This story happens all too often. For those in the world of technology, we consistently dream up solutions to perceived problems. “If only my phone did this one thing, I could be so much more productive!” Yesterday while mentoring a group at Codepath it dawned on me how often this problem occurs. Entrepreneurs frequently grasp for ideas to execute on, only to find out later that the problem they thought existed actually doesn’t.
The moral of the story: get out there and ask the end-user of your product whether or not they’ll find it useful. Otherwise you may find out that you’ve dug a well, installed a pump, and nobody wants to use it!