The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Customer Needs – Part 1: Critical Pains

The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Customer Needs – Part 1: Critical Pains


In our article What I learned building 20+ startups in 5 years we touched on the Three Levels of Customer Insight: Critical Pains, Jobs to be Done, and Zeitgeist.

In this three-part article we'll unpack each of the three levels further, and show you how to discover your customer needs even before they do so themselves.

In The Ultimate Guide to Building Audience First we showed an audience is defined by shared goals, needs, and pains. I.e. a shared journey.

The three levels of insight help you better understand and define your audience. They will also help you spot opportunities for new products and services to sell to them.

In this article we will tackle the first level of customer insight: Critical Pains.

Critical Pains

Most founder advice will tell you to focus on a customer’s pains. This is a good place to start, especially for inexperienced entrepreneurs, because it forces you to build something that solves a problem, versus just building.

Every product solves a problem.

A product that doesn't solve a problem is either waste, or art. (Although you could argue art addresses a Job to be Done – f.i. to signal intellect, or creating an atmosphere)

Though people occasionally purchase something that sparks joy, they more often spend money to kill a pain.

People ocassionally buy vitamins, but they are always stocked up on painkillers.
MJ when asked “Would you take a painkiller if there was a 10% chance it would kill you?”
MJ when asked “Would you take a painkiller if there was a 10% chance it would kill you?”

Pains indicate problems. Critical pains indicate critical problems.

Solutions to problems generate business

Solutions to critical problems, generate major business.

Pains are useful for founders looking to start a business, because they are tangible. They are the low-hanging fruit for product opportunity. 🍇

Let’s start with a throwback to our Audience-building article’s definition of an audience:

An audience is a group of people who share pains, goals and dreams. These people share a journey, chasing a similar outcome.

On that journey, people will face problems. Obstacles if you will. If they cannot be solved effectively, efficiently and easily, these problems become pains. They stay on your audience’s mind and prevent them from progressing on their journey.

It is your job to help your audience resolve their critical pains.
Source: Zero to Sold, Arvid Kahl

What are Critical Pains?

Another way of saying “Critical Pain” is “Mission Critical Pain”.

This already reveals a little bit about what makes a pain a critical one.

A critical pain prevents your audience from progressing on their journey and fulfilling their mission.

Arvid Kahl defines the most Critical Pain as:

"The one that, when solved, will change their life."

Breaking it Down:

  1. Your audience is on a journey to fulfill a mission (the Job to be Done).
  2. Problems cause friction on that journey and cause them pains.
  3. Some problems cannot be solved effectively, efficiently and easily, and become critical pains.

For example:

  1. Venturism is on a journey to help founders leverage NoCode to turn their ideas into online businesses.
  2. On that journey we face a multitude problems, such as translating our ideas and experience into content that is useful, yet not too technical. We are creatives at heart, so content creation is not a critical pain for us, just a minor one.
  3. A critical pain is effectively, efficiently and easily editing, publishing, and distributing that content without too much delay or hassle.

Hence, we manage our content in Notion and publish it using, removing all friction between the two, then distribute through Substack.

How has this changed our lives, you wonder? Quite significantly. Venturism now publishes consistently, and has therefore started to amass an audience.

This, in turn, has allowed us to ideate, test, and launch our first products: Launch OS and Sneak-Peek.

You are rewarded in proportion to the size of the problems you solve.” – Elon Musk

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How to Validate a Critical Pain?

Now that you have a conceptual understanding of what a critical pain is, let’s put some meat on the bone. How do you actually know a critical pain when you see one? Glad you asked.


A Critical problem is specific, as opposed to generic.

Generic, unarticulated problems are difficult to solve. People don’t necessarily feel the generic pain.

Niche audiences face niche problems. Actually, they are pretty much defined by them. After all, shared problems bring people closer together.

The more specific the pain, the better the chance nobody solved it yet.


Critical pains require immediate attention, following the logic of the Eisenhower Matrix.

They are both Urgent and Important.

They are Important, because they are Mission Critical.

They are Urgent, because progress is halted until they are dealt with.


The critical pain is not a one-off thing. If you stub your toe against a piece of furniture once, you don’t immediately hop online searching for reinforced shoes. As a carpenter or professional mover though, it will take you less than a week to make the purchase.

Do not confuse this with a recurring solution. Pains requiring a recurring solution are great for business models with recurring revenue, but one-time solutions can solve recurring problems.

If you live in a very cluttered house, causing you to lose and bump into stuff all the time, you only need Marie-Kondo to drop by once to solve that for you.

Perceived as Wasteful

Most critical pains have one common denominator: Waste.

  • They waste someones time
  • They waste someones money
  • They cost great effort, either physically or mentally

The ‘best’ pains are a combination of the above.


People are not always aware of their problems. Nobody knew smoking was bad for them until governments started investing in educational campaigns, creating a business opportunity for filter cigarettes, nicotine patches, and later eCigarettes. We put this one between brackets, because you can educate people about a problem. It takes effort, but some pains will make good on the investment. Awareness of a problem is not to be confused with awareness of a need. The latter relates to Jobs to be Done and Zeitgeist.


Caution – When Jobs said:

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

He wasn’t talking about educating them about a problem. He was talking about aligning products to peoples Mission and their social identity.

But more on that next time!

The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Customer Needs – Part 2: Jobs to be Done

One more Thing...

If you're interested in how to discover your customer pains:


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See you next time.

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